There have been some empirical psychological studies, which seem to indicate — you should always be rather skeptical of “studies show… ” until you’ve looked carefully at how the study was carried out and what reasoning the researchers employed — that there is something to this idea of “willpower depletion.” And, this in turn has some implications for those in poverty:
the less money you have, the more situations you will encounter in which you must restrain yourself and make difficult purchasing tradeoffs, and this means you’ll have less willpower leftover later to deal with other situations in which you might need itWhat does this mean for virtue ethics?
we might wonder whether it is reasonable to maintain a commonsense view that willpower and self-control are virtues: stable states of character with rational, affective, and behavioral components, and which agents cultivate over time. Instead, the depletable self-control hypothesis suggests that the behaviors of individuals are largely subject to the circumstances in which they find themselves, financially and choices-wise. The fact of the psychological matter may be that willpower is less of a trait that one develops and more of a force to which one is susceptible.There’s an alternative:
I think it makes better sense to think about the depletable willpower hypothesis not as evidence that willpower isn’t a virtue, but as supporting the view that developing the virtues requires a sufficient amount of certain external goods (such as money, health, being born into a good family, etc).Are these the only alternatives?
It’s worth noting that classical virtue ethics don’t seem to have construed willpower or self control as actually being virtues — Aristotle is pretty clear about this, for one — though they are connected with the virtues. More to think out along these lines, no?