The pertinence of incontinence


  • António Zilhão University of Lisbon



In this paper I suggest a reconstruction of the traditional concepts of continent and incontinent action. This reconstruction proceeds along the lines of a standpoint of bounded rationality. My suggestion agrees with some relevant aspects of Davidson’s treatment of this topic. One of these aspects is that incontinent action is typically signalled by the following two subjective experiences: a feeling of surprise towards one’s own action
and a difficulty in understanding oneself; another is that incontinence cannot simply be disposed of in terms of some inability of the agent to avoid “succumbing to temptation”; still another is the view that incontinent action is common in real human affairs. But my suggestion disagrees with other relevant aspects of Davidson’s treatment of incontinence too. In particular, it avoids what I take to be its two major drawbacks. These are a view of continent action that falls prey to a completely unrealistic concept of psychological rationality and the idea that incontinence necessarily involves a dimension of essential irrationality.