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Habits in Mind

Integrating Theology, Philosophy, and the Cognitive Science of Virtue, Emotion, and Character Formation

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Edited by Gregory R. Peterson, James van Slyke, Michael Spezio and Kevin Reimer

The language of habit plays a central role in traditional accounts of the virtues, yet it has received only modest attention among contemporary scholars of philosophy, psychology, and religion. This volume explores the role of both “mere habits” and sophisticated habitus in the moral life. Beginning with an essay by Stanley Hauerwas and edited by Gregory R. Peterson, James A. Van Slyke, Michael L. Spezio, and Kevin S. Reimer, the volume explores the history of the virtues and habit in Christian thought, the contributions that psychology and neuroscience make to our understanding of habitus, freedom, and character formation, and the relation of habit and habitus to contemporary philosophical and theological accounts of character formation and the moral life.

Contributors are: Joseph Bankard, Dennis Bielfeldt, Craig Boyd, Charlene Burns, Mark Graves, Brian Green, Stanley Hauerwas, Todd Junkins, Adam Martin, Darcia Narvaez, Gregory R. Peterson, Kevin S. Reimer, Lynn C. Reimer, Michael L. Spezio, Kevin Timpe, and George Tsakiridis.

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Joseph Bankard

The importance of gratitude as a Christian virtue is often downplayed. In response, this chapter highlights four important features of Christian gratitude. First, some clarity is needed. Is gratitude a duty, a moral emotion, a virtue, or some combination of these? What, if anything, distinguishes gratitude as a moral emotion from gratitude as a virtue? Second, the chapter will show how Christian theology can help illuminate the importance of gratitude. More specifically, the doctrines of creation and Christian grace will be emphasized as a means of cultivating gratitude. Third, the chapter will highlight some of the recent social science surrounding gratitude. How does gratitude impact relationships? Does gratitude really increase human well-being? Can it help foster moral behavior? Finally, the chapter will explore several important practices for cultivating virtuous gratitude. Developing virtue requires practice and habituation. In a Christian context this process demands participation in spiritual disciplines. In the case of gratitude, studies exploring the effectiveness of gratitude journaling, letter writing, and prayer will be explored.

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Todd Junkins and Darcia Narvaez

A person’s moral life is deeply complex and mirrored in the diverse sets of moral associations, responses, and dispositions a person inherits and develops in a lifetime. The philosophical and biological meanings of dispositions are discussed, suggesting that they act as a frame guiding experience and action. Using triune ethics meta-theory, we discuss the dynamism of development, ongoing interaction of nature and nurture through epigenetic processes, and the interaction of brain maturation and caregiving in light of evolution, specifically, the evolved developmental niche. Each individual has capacities to help themselves and to self-author their moral habits, no matter what happened in childhood. Education, social environment, and personal and social practices influence personal and social moral life, including the difficult and communal task of understanding, defining and developing human well-being.

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Michael L. Spezio

Prevailing virtue theories, including those of Alasdair MacIntyre, Stanley Hauerwas, and Jennifer Herdt, rightfully acknowledge and effectively address the historical and philosophical tensions inherent in bringing contemporary virtue theory to bear on formation in faith, hope, and love. However, their proposed resolutions of these tensions fail in most respects, largely because of an adherence to contemporary terms representing concepts meant to stand in for habitus. In almost every case, these concepts are either poorly understood or are used in ways that do not reflect contemporary scientific theories about them. Scholars have a way out of this confusion by way of deeply integrative approaches that make use of the conceptual clarity in the sciences without sacrificing the theological and philosophical aims of the virtue theories in question. After grounding the paper in the kind of witnesses a virtue theory should aspire to understand, the paper makes several suggestions for integrative inquiry by drawing on models in contemporary decision science.

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Kevin Timpe

This chapter gives an account of the relationship between an agent’s reasons, her moral character, and the exercise of her free will. I argue for what I call the reasons-constraint on free action: roughly, the claim that if at time t an agent sees no reason for doing a particular action, then the agent is incapable at t of freely choosing to perform that action. I then show how what an agent sees as reasons, and how she weighs those reasons, depends upon her moral character. An agent’s moral character thus puts constraints on what actions she is capable of freely choosing to perform.

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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.