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Irrationality in philosophy and psychology: the moral implications of self-defeating behaviour

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The philosophical study of irrationality can yield interesting insights into the human mind. One provocative issue is self-defeating behaviours, i.e. behaviours that result in failure to achieve one's apparent goals and ambitions. In this paper I consider a self-defeating behaviour called choking under pressure, explain why it should be considered irrational, and how it is best understood with reference to skills. Then I describe how choking can be explained without appeal to a purely Freudian subconscious or ‘sub-agents’ view of mind. Finally, I will recommend an alternative way to understand self-defeating behaviour which comes from a synthesis of Peter Strawson's explanation of ‘self-reactive attitudes’, Mark Johnston's notion of -‘mental tropisms’, and revised Freudian descriptions of the causes of self-defeating behaviour.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Dept. of Philosophy, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA., Email:

Publication date: January 1, 1998


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