Contrôle de soi ou duperie de soi ? Une interprétation spinoziste du rôle de l’imagination

Emmanuel Petit

Table of Contents


The framework we develop here incorporates the evidence that self-control is a problem that can be characterized as an internal conflict between ‘rational’ consciousness and emotions. We analyse the nature of the interaction between the reason and the emotions by giving an explicit role to imagination (Spinoza (1677)). We define the emotion as a revision process of the beliefs and preferences (Livet (2002)). The revision process can however be blocked. For the individual who is subject to several motivations pointing in different directions will feel an unpleasant feeling of tension (Festinger (1957)) and will be prone to doubt. To eliminate this tension, the individual unconsciously uses a dualistic model of mind and body while cutting his emotions through imagination (self-deception). We show that preference reversals revealed by time-inconsistency can occur when individuals make choices between alternatives that are represented to the agents at different levels of abstraction. Indeed, a difference may prevail between what the individual feels and what he thinks he will feel later in an future identical situation. So, the individual can imagine that his impatience can be controlled or inhibited in the future. A solution with the problem of time-inconsistency thus implies that the individual is aware of his emotional state and its implications. The ‘true’ self-control is the capacity for each individual to take into account his emotional history fully. We argue that this type of self-control is accessible particularly by a work of the reason. Within this framework, we are able to explain self-control problems in general (including addictive behavior) and some elements related to the nature of risk aversion.

Key words

theory of emotions, dualistic model, self-control, imagination, time-inconsistency.