Someone who quit smoking accepts a cigarette, even though he promised himself to never smoke again. He does so, knowing it is better not to; that is, he does something he does not want to do. How can this be? The Greek philosophers already struggled with this phenomenon and called it "akrasia”, often translated as “weakness of will”.
Professor of developmental psychopathology Reinout Wiers, co-director of the Centre for Urban Mental Health, wrote a book titled Akrasia, about the neuroscience, philosophy, and psychology of addiction.
How can it be that a person loses control over his actions? And what does it take - physically, psychologically, and socially - to bounce back?
The dominant view in the biomedical literature is that addiction is a chronic brain disease: an explanation once intended as an alternative to addiction as a moral problem, a matter of depraved character.
Although it is commendable that the latter idea has lost influence, there are also questions to be asked about addiction as a chronic brain disease. For what does this idea do to addicted people and their practitioners?
On Feb 17th, Reinout Wiers and colleagues discuss these matters in SPUI25 to celebrate the release Akrasia. During the symposium On Free Will, Addiction and Change experts from philosophy, addiction, and neuroscience introduce an alternative view on addiction that boils down to "compromised choice”. Choices in the context of addiction differ from choices in other situations, but that does not imply a total loss of the possibility to choose. Specific trainings and a focus on long-term goals can help people who wrestle with addiction make different choices.
The panel will also discuss other akrasia issues in current society, such as the climate crisis and our actions in it.
Want to attend the symposium? Subscribe here (the program will be in Dutch).