Akrasia in Augustine

Augustine personifies the bad habits of his life before conversion:

My old mistresses still enthralled me; they tugged at my flesh and whispered softly, will you part with us shall we no more be with you forever? Do you want it to be unlawful for you forever? And what did they suggest to me in the words this or that? [They were] muttering, as it were, behind my back, and furtively plucking me as I was departing, to make me look back upon them. Yet they did delay me, so that I hesitated to shake myself free from them, [since] an unruly habit was saying to me, Do you think you can live without them?

The stress is on the loss of the object of desire forever, explicitly said twice and integral to his closing fear of having to “live without them.” We can pass on any one pleasure but to give up a lifetime of them is beyond our strength.

The same thing happens with pains or fears: dealing with any one might be trivially easy, but what about all the ones coming?

All this is irrational. As we have no access to future pleasures we can neither enjoy or renounce them.  We likewise can’t seccumb to or resist a future temptation, or endure or be overcome by future evils. Whatever brownies you might run into six months from now (who knows if there will be any?) can’t be now gorged on, abstained from, or moderately consumed.

We change too: giving up X forever doesn’t mean wanting X forever. Desires, which are fickle and inconstant anyway, tend to die when left unfed. So “living without something forever” turns out to be a phantom twice over: the object can’t be enjoyed or renounced and the subject can’t be sure of his wanting to enjoy or renounce it.

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