Gregory R. Peterson
This essay introduces the subject of habit and its significance for contemporary philosophy, science, and theology. The contributions of the text cover both the topic of “mere habit” and the richer conception of habitus as found in Aristotle and Aquinas. These ancient and medieval accounts of habit and habitus can provide a rich resource for contemporary approaches in virtue ethics and moral psychology, possibly providing insight as to how we should think of current dual-processing models.
Edited by Gregory R. Peterson, James A. Van Slyke, Michael L. Spezio and Kevin S. Reimer
Assuming that virtues are habits, this chapter will shed light on what kind of habits the virtues are by calling attention to Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas’s account of habit. For Aristotle our nature requires that we acquire a second nature, which is constituted by habits. Aristotle also thought how one becomes proficient in a craft to be quite similar to how one acquires the habits necessary to become a person of virtue. For Aquinas, habits are those qualities that are not easily changed, for the very word habit suggests a lastingness that the word disposition does not. The enduring quality of habits are the result of their relation to acts which are done in a manner that make the agent good as well as the act good. Our habituation is necessary because our appetitive powers, our desires, are underdetermined. Aquinas observes the will by its very nature is inclined to the good of reason, but because this good is varied in a manner, the will needs to be inclined by habit to some good fixed by reason so that the action may follow more readily. We are beings who need habituation because as we have seen we are composed of potentiality and act, making it necessary to be one thing rather than another.
Dispositional and teleological approaches to virtue depend upon one's views of person and nature. Reinterpreting a Thomistic embodied soul within findings of cognitive neuroscience and C.S. Peirce's objective idealism suggests fruitful resonances across mind, body, person, and nature. A turn toward habit as the primary construct for modeling reality identifies interconnected habits as providing sufficient stability for human dynamic processes without requiring a static substrate. Using tendencies to model molecular, physiological, and functional processes of the brain resonates with psychological models of mental habits and the habitus of the socially, historically, and culturally embedded human person. Connecting natural and social science with philosophical and theological investigations around a shared focus on dispositions yields a deep and rich framework for a teleonomic study of virtue.
Brian Patrick Green
This essay provides an introduction to the relation of habitus as a concept to Catholic ethical thinking and the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas in particular, and it argues in the first half that habitus plays a central role in Thomas's thought and Catholic ethics in general. The second half of the article then addresses three contemporary challenges: the challenge that our sense of teleology is a mistaken biological byproduct, the challenge denying conceptions of natural kinds, and the challenge of the is-ought distinction. Catholic virtue ethics is able to meet these challenges, and it provides a superior account compared to naturalistic alternatives.