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Diachronic self-control, Synchronic self-control, Weakness of will, Akrasia, Partial excuse to criminal liability


Criminal Law | Law and Psychology


The exercise of synchronic self-control is the way in which an actor can attempt to bring a desire into alignment with his better judgement at the moment and during the interval of time over which, but for the exercise of such self-control, the desire would become the actor’s preponderant desire, which the actor would then translate into an act contrary to his better judgment. The moral psychology of an actor who fails to achieve such self-control can be analyzed in two ways. One way is meant to be consistent with compatibilist metaphysics; the other with libertarian metaphysics. The implications of these analyses for the criminal law are complicated, but perhaps the most important is this: the criminal law should in principle recognize a partial excuse for an actor who exercises synchronic self-control but who gives up his effort because he believes that he can no longer continue to resist. His effort to achieve self-control thus fails, and he ends up translating into action the very desire he set out to control.

Publication Citation

Stephen P. Garvey, "Dealing with Wayward Desire", 3 Criminal Law and Philosophy (2009)