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Frontiers of Philosophy in China

Front. Philos. China    2019, Vol. 14 Issue (1) : 29-46
When Virtues, Roles and Duties Fail: Early Greek and Chinese Accounts of Akrasia
Lisa Raphals 瑞麗()
Department of Comparative Literature and Languages, University of California, Riverside, CA 92521-0321, USA
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Both the Mohist canon and the works of Aristotle recognize that people sometimes fail to act according to virtues, roles and duties, what in a Western context is called akrasia or “weakness of will,” an important topic in both Greek and contemporary philosophy. I argue that questions of akrasia are treated different in the early Chinese and ancient Greek philosophy. Greek accounts focus on issues of will and control, while some Chinese thinkers treat akrasia as a lack of a skill, and the failure to act in the right way is less lack of will than lack of skill. I begin with a brief account of the problem of akrasia as first presented by Plato in the “Protagoras” and Republic, and developed by Aristotle in the Nicomachean Ethics. I then turn to akrasia in an early Chinese context, focusing on a very different Mohist view of akrasia as lack of a skill. Finally, I contrast the “skill” the Mohists find lacking with a very different account of skill in the Zhuangzi.

Keywords akrasia      Aristotle      Mozi      “Protagoras      ” skill      Zhuangzi     
Issue Date: 16 April 2019
 Cite this article:   
Lisa Raphals 瑞麗. When Virtues, Roles and Duties Fail: Early Greek and Chinese Accounts of Akrasia[J]. Front. Philos. China, 2019, 14(1): 29-46.
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