The Will in the World
By Cordelia Fine, the Wall Street Journal
'If there were an Olympics of desiring," the philosopher William B. Irvine once observed, "we would all make the team." Desire animates us: What, quite literally, would we do without it? Yet all too often—for about four hours a day, according to one estimate—unwanted impulses (to eat a doughnut, check Facebook, have sex with someone else's spouse) clash with our long-term goals (to be healthy, professionally productive, of good moral character). In "Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength," Roy F. Baumeister, a psychologist at Florida State University, joins forces with the New York Times science columnist John Tierney to provide an accessible, empirically grounded guide to willpower and how best to deploy it to overcome temptation. What's at stake is more than the resolve to pass up another cookie. After all, an individual who is systematically unable to bring her behavior in line with her "real," carefully considered preferences lacks not just willpower but autonomy. She may enjoy an abundance of discrete freedoms: to choose between 12 kinds of doughnut and 20 kinds of fruit; to spend money she doesn't yet have or wait to earn it; to watch one of 100 TV channels or none. But if she lacks the willpower to restrain the desires that conflict with her overall blueprint of self-governance, then she is a slave to her urges and hardly free at all.
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