Perttu Salovaara ABSTRACT

Suomenlinna E 5 A 10
00190 Helsinki

17.9.2005 Finland

e-mail: perttu.salovaara(at)

Philosophy in Business and Management



The aim of this paper is to discuss a theme of ancient philosophy which is of central interest to business organisations and business coaching: akrasia or weakness will. Akrasia occurs when someone is “not strong enough” to complete a task he or she would like to fulfil.

A case study will be offered by the example of a 40-year old project manager who wants to “change her leadership behaviour”. Since the context of the coaching session was an organisational coaching-training, she formulated her point as follows: “I’m confident that coaching would work well with a certain difficult person. My normal leadership style doesn’t bring me the results I want!” Having asked her “what’s the problem then?”, she said: “With this particular person I sometimes just get so irritated that I can’t stop myself. Even if I’ve started with a coaching attitude, I fall back to my old behaviour. That means that I start arguing with him, and we end up in a struggle.”

What are the philosophical counsellor’s or coach’s analytical and practical means for framing and handling the case?

This paper discusses two models for analysing the situation: the definition of akrasia and practical syllogism. The client’s dilemma is further described in hermeneutic terms with the concept of Verstehen, understanding (Gadamer). This latter part will explain how my conversation partner then dealt with the dilemma during the course of the intervention.

The client’s case fulfils the classical conditions of akrasia:

1. Client has options A and B for her actions.

2. She thinks it is better to do A instead of B.

3. She does B.

4. A and B are conscious and free choices.

The theme of weakness of will is discussed in Plato’s dialogue Protagoras, where Socrates denies the existence of akrasia; instead he argues that people in this kind of situation wanted something else, namely to go back to their old routines (in this case: taking a hierarchical manager role, being a specialist, saying how the things are and should be done).

Aristotle returns to the theme in the Nicomachean Ethics book VII. His argumentat defends the phenomenon and explores it in more detail. Aristotle offers a practical syllogism for reframing the problem. Following the practical syllogism one should act in accordance with what one thinks is best. What is it that an akratiker does not fully comprehend: the general argument, the specification or the conclusion?

The latter part of the paper will follow the way we proceeded in coaching. My conversation partner was able to define a goal, but she realized that that behaviour was “not yet quite her own”. In other words, she had not internalized yet. Through a polarisation of the words “own” and “different” we were able to open a gap for further scrutiny. A hermeneutic analysis of her understanding shed new light on the problem and made her find a way to proceed in the future. She still doesn’t know how to close the gap, but she knows what she doesn’t know.

Keywords: weakness of will, change, hermeneutics, understanding