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Breakdown of Will 1st Edition

5 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0521596947
ISBN-10: 0521596947
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Editorial Reviews


"Breakdown of Will advances a novel position on motivation, the will, and the will's failures and successes." Alfred Mele, Department of Philosophy, Davidson College, North Carolina

"Breakdown of Will should interest many philosophers of pyschology...there are interesting and important ideas within the text, and it should spur fruitful philosophical discussion." Philosophy in Review

Book Description

Ainslie argues that our responses to the threat of our own inconsistency determine the basic fabric of human culture. He suggests that individuals are more like populations of bargaining agents than like the hierarchal command structures envisaged by cognitive psychologists. This perspective helps us understand so much that is puzzling in human action and interaction: from self-defeating behaviors to willfulness, from pathological over-control and self-deception to subtler forms of behavior such as altruism, sadism, gambling, and the "social construction" of belief. A profound and expert account of human irrationality.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press; 1 edition (March 19, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521596947
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521596947
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #883,258 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Peter McCluskey on July 8, 2010
Format: Paperback
This book analyzes will, mainly problems connected with willpower, as a form of intertemporal bargaining between a current self that highly values immediate temptation and future selves who prefer that current choices be more far-sighted. He contrasts simple models of rational agents who exponentially discount future utility with his more sophisticated and complex model of people whose natural discount curve is hyperbolic. Hyperbolic discounting causes time-inconsistent preferences, resulting in problems such as addiction. Intertemporal bargains can generate rules which bundle rewards to produce behavior more closely approximating the more consistent exponential discount model.

He also discusses problems associated with habituation to rewards, and strategies that can be used to preserve an appetite for common rewards. For example, gambling might sometimes be rational if losing money that way restores an appetite for acquiring wealth.

Some interesting ideas mentioned are that timidity can be an addiction, and that pain involves some immediate short-lived reward (to draw attention) in addition to the more obvious negative effects.

For someone who already knows a fair amount about psychology, only small parts of the book will be surprising, but most parts will help you think a bit clearer about a broad range of problems.
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15 of 15 people found the following review helpful By Product Auditor on October 11, 2008
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Not going to go into all the details, but this is a very good book. Quickly - I was reading Daniel Dennett's "Freedom Evolves" (another good book if not the best writing)and saw Ainslie's book mentioned multiple times in interesting ways and it piqued my interest. So I got this book and was glad I did. His theories about "hyperbolic discounting" and intertemporal bargaining are very interesting and plausible in terms of explaining some strange behaviors such as addictions - how is it that we can do what we know to be wrong? (e.g. breaking a promise to self, gamblers who keep taking risk until they lose despite knowing if they keep betting forever they will lose everything, etc.). Is addiction a mistake or a preference? I recommend this book for anyone interested in these kind of questions and prepared to read a fairly challening book.
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19 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Ty Klein on July 3, 2007
Format: Paperback
Breakdown of Will is an interesting and thought provoking book on the effect that hyperbolic discounting of valuation has on psychology and self control. Ainslie shows how his theory of picoeconomics and intrapersonal bargaining can shed light on phenomena such as willfulness,personal inconsistency,addiction and many other things that are difficult to explain via other theories. Highly recommended for anyone interested in psychology and philosophy of mind.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By R on July 25, 2014
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book has fundamentally impacted the way I think about decision making. There is no dearth of theories dealing with flaws and characteristics of decision making. From Prospect theory to expected utility, everyone talks about rational decision making and heuristic based decision making. This book touches on the idea of decision making from the perspective of will power.

Willpower and bargaining between our successive motivational states is the fundamental that this books stands on. In addition to many things, some of which are highly theoretical and difficult to understand for a casual reader, the author talks about 5 motivational states that a person has to deal with and continuously bargain with. Pains, Itches, Addictions, Compulsions, Optimal Behavior are the five states that we continuously deal with. A particular decision at any moment may fall into one of these states, so if you find yourself into a dilemma anytime, you most likely will be battling between these states. Your impulsive decision to buy a luxury car may battle with your optimal self of saving money for rainy day. So your decision at any time would depend on the state that you were in at that time.

The book, although difficult to understand, if absorbed would help in understanding the uncertainty of decision making in self and people around us. Literature and fiction is abundant with such examples where people make impulsive decision, this book would help in understanding why that happens and why a human beings, in spite of being so advanced may be helpless in the face of their own decision making.

Picoeconomics is another book by the same author and may be worth a read if you like this book. Picoeconomics: The Strategic Interaction of Successive Motivational States within the Person (Studies in Rationality and Social Change)
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1 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Irfan Samad on September 10, 2011
Format: Paperback
I experienced breakdown of will several times, once in front of my friends, an incident that I can recall very well! I think that the breakdown of will is not a very good thing.
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