Akrasia in the Early Modern Thought

Risto Saarinen, Weakness of Will in Renaissance and Reformation Thought (New York: Oxford University Press, 2011), ISBN 978-0-19-960681-8, pp. vi+248
Sebastian MATEIESCU*

Medea’s famous words “I see the better and approve it, but I follow the worse”1 fully illustrates men’s paradoxical way of acting known in the ancient Greek under the name of akrasia.
Aristotle’s seventh book of Nicomachean Ethics put forward a subtle philosophical analysis of akrasia or the weakness of will, which became a standard reference for further discussions on this issue in antiquity. Largely interpreted as one person’s acting against his or her better judgment, akrasia continued to be a topic of interest in the Middle Ages, where started to be translated as ‘incontinentia’ (hence ‘incontinence’ as one of its English correspondents). However, not too much has been said of the history of this term in the Early Modern period. The most recent book of professor Risto Saarinen, Weakness of Will in Renaissance and Reformation Thought, aims at filling this gap. Although the novelty of the study consists in the discussion of some selected thinkers of the Renaissance and Reformation, the book equally deals with the ancient time and some of the echoes Reformation had in modernity. The historical account of incontinence is based here on a discussion of an extended list of authors, running from Socrates to Shakespeare.

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