From time to time we explain what people do by referring to their habits. We explain somebody’s putting the kettle on in the morning as done through “force of habit”. We explain somebody’s missing a turning by saying that she carried straight on “out of habit”. And we explain somebody’s biting her nails as a manifestation of “a bad habit”. These are all examples of what will be referred to here as habit explanations. Roughly speaking, they explain by referring to (...) a pattern of a particular kind of behaviour which is regularly performed in characteristic circumstances, and has become automatic for that agent due to this repetition. (shrink)
Virtuous actions seem to be both habitual and rational. But if we combine an intuitive understanding of habituality with the currently predominant paradigm of rational action, these two features of virtuous actions are hard to reconcile. Intuitively, acting habitually is acting as one has before in similar contexts, and automatically, that is, without thinking about it. Meanwhile, contemporary philosophers tend to assume the truth of what I call the reasons theory of rational action, which states that all rational actions are (...) actions for reasons. Whilst interpretations of this phrase are disputed, I argue that neither of the two leading views – which I call reasons internalism and reasons externalism – makes room for habitual actions to count as actions for reasons; by the reasons theory, they cannot be rational either. I suggest one way of effecting the reconciliation which, whilst it allows us to keep the reasons theory, requires us to conceive of reasons as even more radically external than current externalists believe them to be. (shrink)
This chapter contains sections titled: The Place of Habit in Human Life Habits in Current Philosophy of Action The Habit ‐ Friendly Tradition Analyzing Habit Philosophy of Habit: Benefits and Challenges References.
Given the Sellarsian distinction between the space of causes and the space of reasons, the naturalist seeks to articulate how these two spaces are unproblematically related. In Mind and World (1996) John McDowell suggests that such a naturalism can be achieved by pointing out that we work our way into the space of reasons by the process of upbringing he calls Bildung. 'The resulting habits of thought and action', writes McDowell, 'are second nature' (p. 84). In this paper I expose (...) one implication of this remark, namely, that Bildung naturalism requires a conception of a type of action which is at once rational and habitual. Current orthodoxies in the philosophy of action prevent these two features from easily co-existing. Whilst various reconciliations are possible, I argue that only one keeps Bildung naturalism intact. This, however, commits the naturalist to a conception of reasons more radically external than any to be found in current literature, according to which the agent need have no conception of what her reasons are at the time of acting. This is what I call acting in the dark of reasons. One upshot for McDowell is that this conception of reasons may be in tension with some of his other claims. (shrink)
In this paper I offer a critique of the view made popular by Davidson that rationalization is a species of causal explanation, and propose instead that in many cases the explanatory relation is constitutive. Given Davidson’s conception of rationalization, which allows that a huge range of states gathered under the heading ‘pro attitude’ could rationalize an action, I argue that whilst the causal thesis may have some merit for some such ‘attitudes’, it has none for others. The problematic ‘attitudes’ are (...) those which can be attributed to the agent only on the basis of her history of doing this sort of thing. In other words, they are among the agent’s habits. I argue that such temporally extended states cannot be the causes of any present occurrence. Instead, I suggest we should think of the present action as partly constituting the state in question, and give a corresponding interpretation of the explanatory relation. Such explanations invite us to abandon a conception of agency narrowly based on psychology, in favour of an enriched one which takes an agent’s habits to partly constitute the agent. (shrink)
We are creatures of habit. Familiar ways of doing things in familiar contexts become automatic for us. That is to say, when we acquire a habit we can act without thinking about it at all. Habits free our minds to think about other things. Without this capacity for habitual action our daily lives would be impossible. Our minds would be crowded with innumerable mundane considerations and decisions. Habitual actions are not always mundane. Aristotle famously said that acting morally is a (...) matter of exercising the right habits.2 For him, a lack of conscious thought is no bar on an action’s moral status. Habits are involved in our most prized activities. Of course our natural capacity for acquiring habits is sometimes a nuisance, and we acquire bad habits all too easily. But we nevertheless could not do without a vast array of habits which are not like this, and we can’t help but exercise them in our daily lives. It does not seem too strong to say that we spend much more of our time acting habitually than we do acting in the light of conscious thought. We are also rational creatures. It is because of our rationality that we naturally think that most human actions are different in kind from the behaviour of other animals. This difference is manifest in the fact that we hold rational creatures personally responsible for what they do, in ways that would make no sense for nonrational creatures. Our rationality, then, appears to give our actions a unique quality. (shrink)
• Life sciences: Father was Macedonian court doctor; ¼ of surviving work on biology • Alienation: spent most of life as an exile in Athens; can’t be assumed to be naïve defender of status quo. • Plato: Worked with Plato at the Academy in Athens for 20 years; later formed the..
Ruling Passions is Simon Blackburn’s latest attempt to defend a theory of practical reason which he calls “expressivism”.2 In the first three chapters Blackburn outlines an account of how we should understand statements of right, good and virtue, as well as their negative counterparts (“the Ethical [or Moral] Proposition”, as he terms this amalgam). This he calls “quasi-realism”. I shall describe what this position entails in the first section. Secondly I shall consider the opposition to this view advanced by McDowell (...) (1987), who in turn takes his inspiration from Wiggins (1976a, 1976b). Finally I shall assess Blackburn’s reply to McDowell and Wiggins (found in Chapter 4 of RP), and argue that it is inadequate. (shrink)
• Historical: Adam Smith, Thomas Reid; Kant; Bentham and Mill • Contemporary: Normative ethics: indirect influence through Utilitarian theory; Meta-ethics: “Humean” theories of moral motivation (Smith, Blackburn), (also influences accounts of rational action in general). Non-cognitivism (Mackie, Blackburn, Gibbard).