Ancient Greeks

Akrasia in Ancient Greeks ment lack of will power

Ancient Greeks had a word Akrasia  which is described as a lack of self-control or the state of acting against one’s better judgement. The adjectival form is “akratic”

The problem goes back at least as far as Plato. Socrates (in Plato’s Protagoras) asks precisely how this is possible—if one judges action A to be the best course of action, why would one do anything other than A?

In the dialogue Protagoras, Socrates Ancient Greeks attests that akrasia does not exist, claiming “No one goes willingly toward the bad” (358d). If a person examines a situation and decides to act in the way he determines to be best, he will actively pursue this action, as the best course is also the good course, i.e. man’s natural goal. An all-things-considered assessment of the situation will bring full knowledge of a decision’s outcome and worth linked to well-developed principles of the good. A person, according to Socrates, never chooses to act poorly or against his better judgment; actions that go against what is best are only a product of being ignorant of facts or knowledge of what is best or good.


Aristotle on the other hand took a more empirical approach to the question, acknowledging that we intuitively believe in akrasia. He distances himself from the Socratic position by locating the breakdown of reasoning in an agent’s opinion, not his appetition. Now, without recourse to appetitive desires, Aristotle reasons that akrasia occurs as a result of opinion. Opinion is formulated mentally in a way that may or may not imitate truth, while appetites are merely desires of the body. Thus opinion is only incidentally aligned with or opposed to the good, making an akratic action the product of opinion instead of reason. For Aristotle, the antonym of akrasia is enkrateia, which means “in power” (over oneself).

The word akrasia in Ancient Greeks occurs twice in the Koine Greek New Testament. In Matthew 23:25 Jesus uses it to describe hypocritical religious leaders. The Apostle Paul also gives the threat of temptation through akrasia as a reason for a husband and wife to not deprive each other of sex (1 Corinthians 7:5).

In Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queene, book II, Acrasia, the embodiment of intemperance dwelling in the “Bower of Bliss”, had the Circe-like capacity of transforming her lovers into monstrous animal shapes.