Thu Feb 4, 2021
Aristotle on the Nature of Habituation
That character virtue is produced through a process of moral habituation is a familiar feature of Aristotle’s ethics. And yet our feeling of familiarity with the notions of ‘habit’ and ‘habituation’ can engender a like feeling of familiarity with the process Aristotle describes, and encourage us to conceive of this in an overly narrow way. In this talk, I look directly at Aristotle’s discussions of ethos and ethismos (habit, habituation) in the Nicomachean Ethics in order to better understand the kind of process he has in mind when he describes the development of character virtue. In response to the view – endorsed by certain prominent thinkers, such as Jessica Moss – that habituation is essentially a ‘non-rational’ process, I argue that this characterisation is not grounded in the text. I show that habituation is characterised by Aristotle not as a non-rational process, but as a process that involves activity. This allows that the process of moral habituation may be understood in a relatively broad way, as potentially involving a range of activities which engage and develop a variety of psychological capacities. It also raises questions for the moral psychologist about what a learner’s activity affords and how this contributes to her successful development.