From habits to traces

Experience makes its mark on us in many ways. It leaves traces; it instills habits. A trace, as I define it here, is a quality of the soul or mind which is distinguished by its content, its intentional object. Aristotelian species and Cartesian ideas are traces. A habit I take, following Suárez, to be a quality of the soul which assists in the acts of a power of the soul, enabling them to be performed more easily and promptly. I will use the Latin word habitus for habits so understood. This paper examines, in a preliminary way, the fate of habitus in early modern philosophy. In comparing just two authors, Suárez and Descartes, it can only suggest, schematically, how that fate is to be understood. My suggestion is that the role of habitus in Suárez’s psychology is occupied in Descartes’ psychology by association, understood mechanistically, and by resolution—the mind’s act of binding itself to be guided by certain judgments. These, being acts of will directed toward ideas, are rather traces than habits. No doubt the history is not so simple as this contrast makes it appear. Already, we will see, in Suárez and Descartes, we must complicate the scheme: in Suárez’s case, by the fact that some habitus seem to be expressible as rules; in Descartes’, by phenomena resembling the Suárezian habitus. Nevertheless I think the scheme offers a useful first approximation to the early modern history of habit.
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