published on September 14, 2022
A Higher-Order Approach to Diachronic Continence
We often form intentions to resist anticipated future temptations. But when confronted with the temptations our resolutions were designed to withstand, we tend to revise our previous evaluative judgments and conclude that we should now succumb—only to then revert to our initial evaluations, once temptation has subsided. Some evaluative judgments made under the sway of temptation are mistaken. But not all of them are. When the belief that one should now succumb is a proper response to relevant considerations that have newly emerged, can acting in line with one’s previous intention nonetheless be practically rational? To answer this question, I draw on recent debates on the nature of higher-order evidence and on what rationally responding to such evidence involves. I propose that agents facing temptation often have evidence of “deliberative unreliability”, which they ought to heed even when it is “misleading” (that is, even when their evaluative judgments are in fact proper responses to the relevant considerations then available). Because evidence of deliberative unreliability can “dispossess” agents of normative reasons for evaluative judgments and actions that they would otherwise have, being continent despite judging that one should now succumb can often be more rational than giving in.