Habits in Mind: Integrating Theology, Philosophy, and the Cognitive Science of Virtue, Emotion, and Character Formation 900434294X, 9789004342941

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Habits in Mind: Integrating Theology, Philosophy, and the Cognitive Science of Virtue, Emotion, and Character Formation
 900434294X, 9789004342941

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Habits in Mind

Philosophical Studies in Science and Religion Series Editors Dirk Evers (Martin-Luther-University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany) James Van Slyke (Fresno Pacific University, usa) Advisory Board Philip Clayton (Claremont University, usa) George Ellis (University of Cape Town, South Africa) Niels Henrik Gregersen (University of Copenhagen, Denmark) Antje Jackélyn (Bishop of Lund, Sweden) Nancey Murphy (Fuller Theological Seminary, usa) Robert Neville (Boston University, usa) Palmyre Oomen (Radboud University Nijmegen, The Netherlands) Thomas Jay Oord (Northwest Nazarene University, USA) V.V. Raman (University of Rochester, usa) Robert John Russell (Graduate Theological Union, usa) F. LeRon Shults (University of Agder, Norway) Nomanul Haq (University of Pennsylvania, usa) Kang Phee Seng (Centre for Sino-Christian Studies, Hong Kong) Trinh Xuan Thuan (University of Virginia, usa) J. Wentzel van Huyssteen (Princeton Theological Seminary, usa)


The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/pssr

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

Edited by

Gregory R. Peterson James A. Van Slyke Michael L. Spezio Kevin S. Reimer


Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Peterson, Gregory R., 1966- editor. Title: Habits in mind : integrating theology, philosophy, and the cognitive science of virtue, emotion, and character formation / edited by Gregory R. Peterson, James A. Van Slyke, Michael L. Spezio, Kevin S. Reimer. Description: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2017. | Series: Philosophical studies in science and religion, ISSN 1877-8542 ; volume 7 | Includes index. Identifiers: LCCN 2017001805 (print) | LCCN 2017011646 (ebook) | ISBN 9789004342958 (E-books) | ISBN 9789004342941 (hardback : alk. paper) Subjects: lcsh: Habit (Philosophy) | Habit. | Conduct of life. | Virtues. | Virtue. | Character. Classification: LCC B105.H32 (ebook) | LCC B105.H32 H33 2017 (print) | DDC 128/.4--dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2017001805

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface. issn 1877-8542 isbn 978-90-04-34294-1 (hardback) isbn 978-90-04-34295-8 (e-book) Copyright 2017 by Koninklijke Brill nv, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill nv incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi and Hotei Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill nv provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, ma 01923, usa. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Acknowledgments vii Contributors viii

part 1 Habits & Virtues: Resources in History and Religion Introduction: From Habit to Habitus in Science, Philosophy, and Religion 3 Gregory R. Peterson 1 Habit Matters: The Bodily Character of the Virtues 24 Stanley Hauerwas 2 Habitus in the Roman Catholic Tradition: Context and Challenges 41 Brian Patrick Green 3 Virtue is Not in the Head: Contributions from the Late Medieval and Reformation Traditions for Understanding Virtue Extrinsically 58 Dennis Bielfeldt 4 Habit as a Spiritual Discipline in Early Christianity 77 George Tsakiridis

part 2 Psychology, Habit, and the Development of Character 5 Disposition Formation and Early Moral Development 91 Todd Junkins and Darcia Narvaez 6 Faith and Imitatio for the Understanding of Habitus 117 Michael L. Spezio 7 stamina: Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships 128 Kevin S. Reimer and Lynn C. Reimer



part 3 The Limits of Habit? Situationism, Individualism, and Freedom 8

Habit, Character, and the Situationist Challenge 153 Gregory R. Peterson


Paying Attention to the Will: On the Neuroscience and Psychology of Self, Volition, and Character 175 Adam Martin


Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character 196 Kevin Timpe

part 4 From Habit to Virtue: Integrating Science, Philosophy, and Religion 11

In the Image and Likeness: Theological Reflections on the Science of Habits 215 Charlene P.E. Burns


Science, Humility, and the Galileo Affair 232 Craig A. Boyd


Cultivating a Grateful Disposition: Increasing Moral Behavior and Personal Well-being 248 Joseph Bankard


Habits, Tendencies, and Habitus: The Embodied Soul’s Dispositions of Mind, Body, and Person 281 Mark Graves Index 301

Acknowledgments Much content in this volume frames a related grant award from the John Templeton Foundation entitled Love, Compassion, and Care: Virtue Science and Exemplarity in Real Life and the Laboratory. Several contributing authors in this volume are involved in the Templeton award. We are grateful for ongoing friendship and scholarly collaboration strengthening discourse on all matters of habitus.

Contributors Joseph Bankard is an associate professor of philosophy at Northwest Nazarene University. His research is focused primarily on the interdisciplinary dialogue taking place between science, religion, and morality. He is the author of Universal Morality Reconsidered: the Concept of God (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2013) as well as several journal articles including “Training Emotion Helps Cultivate Morality: How Loving-kindness Meditation Hones Compassion and Increases Prosocial Behavior,” Journal of Religion and Health (forthcoming); “Moral Instincts and the Problem with Reductionism: A Critical Look at the Work of Marc Hauser” Theology and Science, 9, no. 4 (2011); “Is Christian Hope a Form of Long Term Economy?: An argument from the writings of Albert Camus” in Gift and Economy: Ethics, Hospitality, and the Market, (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2012); and “Theological Implications of the Evolution Debate,” in Nazarenes Exploring Evolution (SacraSage, 2014). Dr. Bankard also serves as philosophy department chair at nnu. Dennis Bielfeldt is currently President of the Institute of Lutheran Theology (ilt), and he has previously held positions in philosophy and religion at South Dakota State University, Grand View University, and Bethany College. Dr. Bielfeldt’s primary research is on Luther and the late medieval tradition, but he also has written numerous articles in Lutheran theology, the theology & science discussion, and the philosophy of religion. He is co-author of The Substance of Faith: ­Luther’s Doctrinal Theology for Today. Craig Boyd received his PhD in philosophy from St. Louis University in 1996. He has published three books: Virtues and Their Vices (Oxford University Press, 2014, with Kevin Timpe); A Shared Morality: A Narrative Defense of Natural Law Ethics (Brazos Press, 2007); and Visions of Agapé: Problems and Possibilities in Divine and Human Love (Ashgate Publishing, 2008). He has also published more than three dozen scholarly articles and chapters in such academic journals as the American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly, The Modern Schoolman, Theology and Science, Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science, and New Blackfrairs. He is currently Associate Professor of Philosophy at St. Louis University.



Charlene Burns is Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy & Religious Studies, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. Her research interests include issues raised by technological and scientific developments for Christian moral and theological reflection. She is the author/editor of four books, including Divine Becoming: Rethinking Jesus and Incarnation (Fortress Press, 2002); More Moral than God: Taking Responsibility for Religious Violence (Rowman & Littlefield, 2008); Mis/Representing Evil: Evil in an Interdisciplinary Key (editor, Inter-disciplinary Press, Oxford, 2009); and the forthcoming Christian Understandings of Evil: The Historical Trajectory (Fortress Press, 2016). She has also written numerous articles addressing issues important to theological reflection in the 21st century. Mark Graves is a Research Faculty at Travis Research Institute at Fuller Theological Seminary and a Visiting Associate in Psychology at California Institute of Technology. He earned his PhD in computer science at University of Michigan in the area of artificial intelligence and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in genomics at Baylor College of Medicine as one of the first computer scientists to work on the Human Genome Project. He worked in biotechnology and pharmaceutical research for ten years before studying theology at Graduate Theological Union (gtu) and Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. He taught science and religion at gtu, University of California Berkeley, and Santa Clara University, and he has published 40 technical works in computer science, biology, and theology, including the books Designing xml Databases (Prentice-Hall, 2002); Mind, Brain, and the Elusive Soul: Human Systems of Cognitive Science and Religion (Ashgate, 2008); and Insight to Heal: Co-Creating Beauty Amidst Human Suffering (Cascade Books, 2013). Brian Patrick Green is Assistant Director of Campus Ethics Programs at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics and faculty in the School of Engineering at Santa Clara University. His doctorate and ma degrees are in Ethics and Social Theory from the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, and his undergraduate degree is in Genetics from the University of California, Davis. He spent two years with the Jesuit Volunteers International as a high school teacher in the Marshall Islands, a nation suffering the effects of both past nuclear testing and current sea-level rise. During this time he became interested in the intersection of science, theology, technology, and ethics. He has written on genetic anthropology, the cognitive science of the virtues, engineering ethics, medical ethics,



t­ ranshumanism, space exploration and ethics, cultural evolution and Catholic tradition, and Catholic natural law. Stanley Hauerwas is a theologian whose work cuts across disciplinary lines as he is in conversation with systematic theology, philosophical theology and ethics, political theory, as well as the philosophy of social science and medical ethics. Dr. Hauerwas, who holds a joint appointment at the Duke Divinity School and the Duke Law School, delivered the prestigious Gifford Lectureship at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland in 2001. His book, A Community of Character: Toward a Constructive Christian Social Ethic, “was selected as one of the 100 most important books on religion of the 20th century.” Dr. Hauerwas recently authored Matthew: Brazos Theological Commentary on the Bible (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, 2006) and The State of the University: Academic Knowledges and the Knowledge of God (Oxford: Blackwell Publishing, 2007). Todd Junkins has degrees in philosophy, theology, and social work. His writings have focused on the relationships between psychology, politics, biology, and early development. This has included work on the relation of psychology of violence, the development of moral dispositions, and their implications for education, economics, and socio-political activities. He is currently studying psychoanalytic practice and working in both clinical and administrative capacities. Adam Martin is an assistant professor of political science at Graceland University in Lamoni, Iowa. He received his Ph.D. in political science from the University of California, Irvine, where he specialized in political psychology and political theory, and he was a graduate affiliate at the University’s Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality. At Graceland University, he teaches courses in political science, international studies, and peace and conflict studies. His research and teaching interests include the psychology of forgiveness and reconciliation, the role of religion in politics, the implications of neuroscience for ethics and politics, and the political philosophy of Michel de Montaigne. Darcia Narvaez is Professor of Psychology at the University of Notre Dame. She publishes extensively on moral development and education. Her books include Moral Development in the Professions (with Rest; Erlbaum, 1994); Postconventional Moral Thinking (with Rest, Bebeau and Thoma; Earlbaum, 1999); Moral Development, Self and Identity (with Lapsley; Erlbaum, 2004); Personality, Identity and Character



(with Lapsley; Cambridge 2009); Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development (with Panksepp, Schore & Gleason; Oxford, 2013); Ancestral Landscapes in Human Evolution: Culture, Childrearing and Social Wellbeing (with Valentino, Fuentes, Mckenna & Gray; Oxford 2014); and Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture and Wisdom (Norton, 2014). She is executive editor of the Journal of Moral Education. Gregory R. Peterson is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at South Dakota State University. Dr.  Peterson’s primary areas of research include religion and science, ethics and moral cognition, and political philosophy. Author of over 30 articles on religion and science in books, encyclopedias, and journals, he has published the book Minding God: Theology and Cognitive Science (Fortress, 2002), and he is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Religion & Science (with James Haag and Michael Spezio, 2011), and of Theology & the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience (with James van Slyke et al., Routledge, 2012). Lynn C. Reimer is a National Science Foundation (nsf) Graduate Research Fellow in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. She spent twelve years teaching integrated math and science to underserved youth in the San Joaquin Valley of California. A specialist with problem-solving pedagogy, she served as visiting educator at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. The stamina project emerges from pilot interventions developed by Reimer during her tenure in public education. Kevin S. Reimer is Director of Liberal Arts and Professor of Education at Fresno Pacific University. He completed postdoctoral fellowships at the University of British Columbia (moral psychology) and Oxford (science and religion). A developmental psychologist, Kevin’s research on disability and moral identity was showcased on National Public Radio. Michael L. Spezio is Associate Professor of Psychology & Neuroscience at Scripps College and Visiting Faculty in Affective and Social Neuroscience at the California Institute of Technology. His research spans social neuroscience, affective neuroscience, applied cognitive neuroscience, neuroscience of autism, virtue science, and religion and science, with a particular focus on transdisciplinary approaches to complex problems such as human moral action, human freedom, and religious



experience. He is also interested in the influence of contemplative practices on these processes in the mind. Dr. Spezio is Research Director of the Center for Engaged Compassion at the Claremont School of Theology, and he is a Senior Fellow with the Mind and Life Institute. He is also an ordained minister in the Presbyterian Church (u.s.a.), and works to facilitate the positive engagement of religious and scientific perspectives. He is co-editor of The Routledge Companion to Religion & Science (with James Haag and Gregory Peterson, 2011), and of Theology & the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience (with James van Slyke et al., Routledge, 2012). Kevin Timpe holds the W.H. Jellema Chair in Christian Philosophy at Calvin College and is a former Templeton Research Fellow at St. Peter’s College, Oxford University. His research is focused on the metaphysics of free will and moral responsibility, virtue ethics, and issues in the philosophy of religion. He is the author of Free Will: Sourcehood and its Alternatives 2nd ed. (Bloomsbury, 2012) and Free Will in Philosophical Theology (Bloomsbury, 2013). He has edited a number of volumes, including Free Will and Theism: Connections, Contingencies, & Concerns (Oxford, 2016); The Routledge Companion to Free Will (Routledge, 2016); Virtues and Their Vices (Oxford, 2014); Arguing about Religion (Routledge, 2009); and Metaphysics and God (Routledge, 2009). He has published articles in Philosophical Studies, American Philosophical Quarterly, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Faith and Philosophy, and Religious Studies; he has also contributed chapters in a number of edited collections. George Tsakiridis is a Lecturer in philosophy and religion at South Dakota State University. He is also an active participant in the Pappas Patristic Institute summer program as an instructor. George’s research is at the intersection of patristic thought and religion and science, specifically publishing in the realm of the cognitive sciences and emotion as they relate to theological study. He is the author of Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts (Pickwick, 2010). George holds a Ph.D. in theology/religion and science from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. James A. Van Slyke is Assistant Professor of Psychology in the School of Humanities, Religion, & Social Sciences at Fresno Pacific University. He is also a Research Assistant ­Professor in the Travis Research Institute at the Fuller Graduate School of ­Psychology and a Tobis Research Fellow at the Center for the Scientific Study



of Ethics and Morality at the University of California, Irvine. His research is primarily in psychology of religion, moral psychology, and religion & science. His first book was entitled The Cognitive Science of Religion (Ashgate, 2011), which was based on a grant from the Cognition, Religion, and Theology Project at the University of Oxford. He is also lead editor and contributor for the volume entitled Theology & the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience (Routledge, 2012), which was based on grant from the Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences entitled The Rationality of Ultimate Value: Emotion, Awareness, and Causality in Virtue Ethics and Decision Neuroscience.

part 1 Habits & Virtues: Resources in History and Religion

Introduction: From Habit to Habitus in Science, Philosophy, and Religion Gregory R. Peterson The idea of character, that sum of traits that in some sense defines who we are, is central to much of current moral thought. One has a character, we say, and if asked we can easily enough list traits that are integral to understanding whom a person is and how she or he behaves. A central question concerns understanding what exactly character is. But often enough, we don’t want to know only about someone’s current, existing character, but how that person came to be that way. How does one acquire character, whether good or bad? If one is a parent, this question takes on a much more personal aspect: how can I ensure that my child develops good character rather than bad character? To borrow some terminology from contemporary psychology, we might ­answer by saying that character is wholly the result of explicit processes: conscious and focused effort on the part of the individual. Character just is the sum result of one’s own concerted and focused effort over the years. We can say that Terry is generous precisely because Terry decided, perhaps on Tuesday, to become generous. This emphasis on explicit, conscious decision-making is commonly attributed to Immanuel Kant, who placed the whole of moral ­attribution on the rational will. But we might also answer in a different way. Perhaps explicit decision-­ making plays no role at all, and our character, such as it is, is shaped ­entirely by implicit processes of which we are wholly unaware. On this account, Terry’s generosity is not due to any conscious willing but to a host of shaping mechanisms, from genetics to the social and physical environment, that ultimately determines how Terry thinks and behaves. On this account, character neither consists in conscious decision-making, nor does it arise out of conscious decision-making. Although it is difficult to find moral philosophers who endorse this particular view, it has some affinity with that of David Hume, who saw the passions as largely fixed endowments of human nature that drove our rational faculties to do their bidding. Stronger support is sometimes found among psychologists such as B.F. Skinner, who often enough implied that it was, in the end, implicit processes through conditioning and reinforcement that ­determined human (indeed, all) behavior. A third option in some sense combines the two, but also moves beyond them. Terry’s generosity is due neither merely to an explicit conscious ­willing



nor merely to implicit and unconscious psychological processes, but rather ­involves both in a way that is productive and in accord with Terry’s aims and, indeed, Terry’s very well-being. We find something like this in Aristotle’s ­account of the virtues. Historically, much of the reflection on character, both its nature and how it comes to be, has been understood in terms of habit. The word “habit” itself is unfortunately ambiguous. In most ordinary usage in the English language, it is associated mainly with the implicit processing view: habits just are those traits that have become rote and automatic, and they are very often undesirable. We might call habits in this sense “mere habits.” On this view, they typically involve the kind of thoughtless, repetitive actions that we frequently aim to avoid falling into. But we also often speak of good habits, such as the habitual way someone exercises every morning to stay fit. Although this usage of habit is frequent enough in the philosophical tradition, it is not the only one. The term habit comes from the Latin habitus, itself a term employed in translation for the Greek hexis used by Aristotle and others to speak of the enduring dispositions that constitute the virtues.1 Associated as it is with Aristotle, this usage is typified by the third account of the formation of character, one that insists not on an either-or choice between implicit and explicit decision-making, but rather, it may be argued, incorporates both. This is a collection about habit in all its variety and its significance for moral thought and action. Although the notion of habit, whether as mere habit or habitus, may seem at first distant from reflection on the moral life, one need only scratch the surface a little to see its significance. In a real sense, we are our habits, and our decision-making and character is reflective of the forms of habit and habitus that we have developed. If our habits are beyond our ­control, this would seem to be bad news for any optimism about the moral life. The crucial questions then concern whether and how character is cultivated, what habitus is, how it comes to be, and what role do mere habits play in its formation. Prior work on habit has been almost exclusively philosophical, engaging ­ancient/medieval conceptions of habitus, and psychological, engaging modern problems with mere habits.2 The past two decades have witnessed shifts both in philosophy and theology and in scientific approaches to morality that have converged in fruitful and unexpected ways. On the side of philosophy and theology, this has been in no small part due to the rise of virtue theory as critique 1 For a further discussion of the translation issues, see Lockwood 2013; Sachs 2005. 2 A brief survey of online bookstore catalogues also reveals a significant body of self-help works claiming to provide advice on the shaping of mere habits.



and framework for doing ethics. Meanwhile, early work in moral ­psychology that focused almost entirely on explicit moral reasoning has moved to include consideration of unconscious processes and moral development, creating rich possibilities for dialogue with the virtue theoretic accounts worked out by philosophers and theologians. While there has been preliminary exploration of these themes, only minimal reflection has been given to habit and habitus across disciplines.3 The essays in this volume go some way towards bridging this divide.

Out of the Dustbin of History: The Revival of Habitus in Philosophy and Theology

It is from the ancient Greeks, Aristotle in particular, that we inherit the original conception of habitus. As already noted, the usage of the term “habit” in English translations of Aristotle’s ethical thought, notably in his Nicomachean Ethics, is deeply problematic. Importantly, there are two Greek terms at play.4 Aristotle uses one, hexis, to speak of those states that are virtues. Just as with modern mere habits, they are propensities to act, but unlike modern mere habits, they are not understood to be merely the result of or characterized by thoughtless repetition. Such states are clearly emotional, and indeed one of Aristotle’s central virtues, even-temper, explicitly concerns the management and expression of anger.5 But hexeis are also cognitive and, most importantly, they are not contravolitional: on Aristotle’s account an action that reflects one’s hexis is in accord with one’s willings and deepest desires, not against them. Thus, practical wisdom, phronesis, takes on central importance in Aristotle’s account of the virtues. The repetition associated with mere habits, however, does have a role in how a hexis is acquired, and Aristotle cites repetitive action as a means by which one acquires the virtues. As he famously puts it, one becomes ­virtuous by d­oing virtuous actions.6 The doing of the virtuous action, repeatedly, ­eventually ­results in the development of the relevant character trait, and it is an important element in the acquisition of virtue for Aristotle. That the acquisition of virtue involves repetitive action is a plausible reason for thinking of virtues as habits in the modern sense since they are the result of ­habituation. 3 4 5 6

Examples include Casebeer 2003; Flanagan 2007; Snow 2010; Miller 2014. Lockwood 2013. Nicomachean Ethics, 2.7. Nicomachean Ethics, 2.1.



It is thus understandable if one is not reading carefully to make the move to thinking of Aristotle’s habitus as simply habit in the modern sense. Understandable, but wrong. Aristotle’s account is far more subtle. This is not to say that the ancient Greeks were not familiar with habit in our modern sense of mere habit, and we find something like this in the later Roman Stoic treatment of habit. On the Stoic account, emotions are erroneous thoughts, and the reason that emotion can and does cause us so much grief is precisely because emotions involve false beliefs about what is truly important. The Stoic solution aims at true happiness, ataraxia, by elimination of such false beliefs. It is noteworthy how the Stoic treatment of the emotions is construed as habits of thought that need to be eliminated. Thus, Seneca’s On Anger (De Ira) extensively treats the ills that anger leads to, and he treats anger itself as a destructive emotion that we are habituated into, leading us down patterns of behavior that are automatic and destructive. Anger itself, he writes, is produced by habits of mind that we must work to expunge.7 Living only slightly after Seneca, Epictetus writes that we must “oppose one habit to another”: the solution to bad habits is the cultivation of good ones.8 Given this Stoic account of habit, it is not surprising that, by the time of the Enlightenment, we find Aristotle’s account of habitus lost. For many early moderns, Aristotelianism smacked of the “dark ages” of medieval Europe, and instead we find some influence of the Stoics in the writing and mood of the ­early moderns.9 In this new contrast between emotion and reason, emotion has almost no positive role to play, and for Kant even happiness is shorn of its ethical significance.10 To read Jeremy Bentham and J.S. Mill is to read an ­account of moral psychology where neither habit nor habitus plays any ­positive role in the ethical life. Conceivably, Henry Sidgwick implies some positive role for habit (but not habitus) in his rejection of the publicity criterion for utilitarian ethics. For Sidgwick, it is conceivable that most people lack the time or the wit to carefully calculate how to maximize outcomes. Since only the elite few do this, the rest are left to follow the rules of society, presumably habitually, that are given to them by their wiser and better educated peers.11 7 Seneca, On Anger, 2.20; Stephens 2013, 46. 8 Epictetus, Discourses, 3.12; Stephens 2013, 58. 9 See Schneewind 2002, 10–13, but important exceptions exist (Carlisle 2010, 2014). It is important to note that while religious thought in many ways followed the trends of the philosophical thought of the time, there are important exceptions and differences. See, e.g., Herdt 2008. 10 As he famously argues in Section 2 of the Groundwork. 11 Sidgwick 1884, 484–5; Gosseries 2010.



It is only in the late 20th century that we find a revival of interest in the classical accounts of virtue, reacting both to the perceived failures of the standard normative frameworks of deontology and utilitarianism and to the abandonment of normative thought altogether in mid-20th century analytic philosophy. Much of this early work concerned issues of normativity and its connection to human flourishing, but it was also concerned with the general inadequacy of rules-based approaches in dealing with the complexity and “thickness” of moral life.12 We find a similar pattern in American theological ethics: by ­mid-twentieth century theological ethics was emerging as its own discipline, often in conversation with philosophical ethics and wrestling with the new and complex moral issues of the 1960s and 1970s. Here, Alasdair M ­ acIntyre’s account of the virtues has had particular influence, and his account of the communal aspects of the moral life has, in particular, resonated with theologians and their ethical understanding of the church.13 Although conceptualizing character and the virtues in contrast to the kinds of decision-making associated with deontology and utilitarianism is a central concern of many of these works, habitus only rarely appears as a central ­concept. The issue of moral formation likewise receives attention, including the roles of imitation and repetition, but the attention has been primarily in terms of broad strokes, not detailed analysis. Thus, Alasdair MacIntyre’s ­Dependent, Rational Animals places emphasis on the significant role of the community and of exemplars in the moral formation of individuals capable of mature moral reasoning, but it does not go into detail concerning how the relation ­between exemplar and impressionable youth proceeds, whether there are stages of such growth, whether mere habits do or do not play a role, and so on. Similar issues of specificity emerge in such important works as ­Rosalind ­Hursthouse’s On Virtue Ethics and Julia Annas’s Intelligent Virtue. Martha ­Nussbaum’s work on the specific domains of political philosophy and education is an important exception, and Nussbaum makes a limited but no less significant effort to engage some of the relevant scientific literature in her argument.14

12 13 14

Although not all would count themselves as virtue ethicists, important works include ­ nscombe 1958; Foot 1978; MacIntyre 1981; Williams 1985; and McDowell 1997. A Hauerwas 1991, 2003; Murphy, Kallenberg, and Nation 1997; Porter 1990; Cessario 2009; for a critical view of these developments, see Stout 2004. Nussbaum 2010, 2013.



Habit and Habitus across Traditions

The current volume combines approaches from the sciences, philosophy, and Christian theology and philosophy of religion. Although the specific conception of habitus engaged here primarily utilize frameworks developed in Greek philosophy and Christian thought, the application and relevance of both the ideas of mere habit and habitus promise broad purchase, seen not least in the way that modern scientific approaches to human functioning and morality have been able to engage the concepts. Both concepts are at home in the wide variety of approaches to virtue ethics, including a diverse range of secular ­accounts that do not presume specifically religious frameworks.15 In this light, the re-emergence of interest in Stoic thought is particularly interesting, since Stoicism does engage the idea of habit, but in a way very different from Aristotle and his followers.16 Similarly, although virtue ethics as a category is strongly associated with the traditions stemming from Aristotle and Aquinas, it is important to note that many of the central features and concepts found in virtue ethics as now ­theorized have analogues in other cultural and religious frameworks. Both Confucianism and Buddhism provide rich resources for engagement with ­virtue ethics and the categories of habit and habitus, and, in the case of Confucianism, a modest but substantial literature already exists on the topic.17 This is no accident, since Confucian ethics is strongly characterological, emphasizing the cultivation of those dispositions constitutive of being a junzi, an individual with exemplary or noble character, and in Mencius and Aquinas, Lee Yearley engages the role of mere habit in the two thinkers.18 We find the importance of exemplars stressed in both traditions, and the Chinese and by no means uniquely Confucian conception of “effortless action” has much affinity with the Aristotelian conception of virtue as a disposition that integrates implicit and explicit processing.19 Although much less developed to date, there exists similarly rich potential for engagement with Buddhist frameworks. While Buddhist thought is diverse and less explicitly characterological than Confucianism, categories of character are central to much of Buddhist ethical thinking and, in the context of Mahayana Buddhism, to reflection on the qualities of

15 16 17 18 19

Hursthouse 1999; Casebeer 2003; Annas 2011; Swanton 2005; Flanagan 2007. Becker 1999; Irvine 2008. Angle 2012; Angle and Slote 2013; van Norden 2012; Yu 2007. cf. Wong 2013; Yearley 1990, 68–71. Olberding 2012; Slingerland 2007.



the Bodhisattva, including compassion.20 Alongside its rich intellectual tradition, the resources found in Buddhist meditational practices lend themselves to virtue theoretical categories, including consideration of mere habits and habitus.21 Although the focus here is primarily on ethics and its emphasis on the ­person in the context of small-scale interpersonal relations, community, and decision-making, it is worth pointing out possible ramifications for the larger scale frameworks engaged by social and political philosophy. Such philosophies rely on conceptions of human nature; if humans are the sort of beings that fall prey to mere habits in ways that are beyond their (or anyone’s) control, this entails a very different political philosophy than one based on the capacity of humans to cultivate sophisticated virtues in a way that integrates implicit and explicit forms of decision-making. Much of the empirical “nudge” literature, with its emphasis on how human behavior can be modified by ­manipulation of implicit decision-making below the level of conscious awareness, is a case in point.22 If, by contrast, human beings are capable of the cultivation of the virtues through education, this is a very different prospect, impacting how we conceive of the role of education in 21st century democratic societies.23

The History of Habit

Part 1 of this volume, “Habits & Virtues: Resources in History and Religion,” begins with four essays that engage some of the important historical motifs that set the stage for addressing the basic questions of habit. Two essays centrally engage Aquinas as a major interpreter of habitus and the Aristotelian account of virtue more generally. The first, by Stanley Hauerwas, compares the account of the virtues and habit found in Aristotle to that in Aquinas. In ­Aquinas, ­Hauerwas discovers a rich moral psychology, linking the importance of habituation to Aquinas’s account of the passions. Even the location of ­Aquinas’s “Treatise on Habits” in the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologica is significant, following the “Treatise on the Last End” which accounts for how human nature differs from that of other animals in its possession of a rational 20 21 22 23

Whitehill 2000; Keown 2001. For popular accounts, see also the Dalai Lama and Cutler 1998; Makransky 2007. For a development of a Buddhism and ethics in relation to contemporary scientific ­studies, see Flanagan 2011. Thaler and Sunstein 2009; Gladwell 2000. Gutmann 1987; Nussbaum 2010.



will. There is thus a link between rational will, passion, habituation, and habitus that is deep, complex, and as essential to being human as being a sort of creature that likes to eat. In Aquinas’s account, Hauerwas finds the beginnings of a solution to findings in social psychology highlighted by Anthony Appiah that cast doubt on the very notion of character itself. The second essay, by Brian Patrick Green, situates Aquinas’s conception of habitus in the larger context of Catholic thought. Green emphasizes the link between habitus and Aquinas’s teleological conception of human beings. Highlighting Aquinas’s claim that action follows being (agere sequitur esse), what makes the virtues virtues is their fulfillment of conditions of human ­excellence. But Green also suggests a feedback loop, since it is the doing of such actions that are conditions for fulfilling our “second nature.” As with Hauerwas, Green does not treat Aquinas as a merely historical figure; instead, he connects Aquinas’s thought to contemporary debates and objections to teleological accounts of human nature, notably engaging recent experiments by Deborah Kelemen implying that humans have an innate propensity for “promiscuous teleology,” a propensity to invent teleological explanations that begins in childhood. Dennis Bielfeldt delves into the Reformation and Luther’s critique of the virtues. Theologians of the Reformation era are rarely cited in the virtue literature for the obvious reason that they were critical of Catholicism, including Catholicism’s adoption of Aristotelian principles. While some virtue ethicists cite the thought of Ockham and his influence on Reformation thinkers as the beginning of a centuries long decline in ethical thinking, Bielfedt makes a ­sophisticated argument for giving the Reformation thinkers their due. Central to the Reformation case is the claim that virtue, or rather righteousness, is not something that is achieved, but rather something that is bestowed by God’s grace. In other words, there is an important sense in which virtue is external to the agent. As Bielfeldt puts it, “virtue is not in the head.” According to Bielfeldt, this argument is not of merely antiquarian interest. The contemporary study of semantics associated with Hilary Putnam makes the case that “meaning is not simply in the head” but in a real sense out there in the world. This semantic externalism, Bielfeldt argues, entails a moral externalism as well. Counterintuitively, Bielfeldt argues that two individuals may have identical neural states but different moral ones, much like the Reformation thinkers of old argued. The final essay prominently highlighting historical sources for thinking about habit and habitus is that by George Tsakiridis, who analyzes the role of habits in the work of the fourth century theologian Evagrius Ponticus amidst the thought of the Desert Fathers. In Evagrius’s work we can see a dual movement of good and bad habits. On the one hand, Evagrius was concerned with the way that monastic discipline was confounded by repetition of thoughts



that would not go away. Eight kinds of thoughts in particular, which later ­became the basis for the seven deadly sins in medieval Europe, are the source of Evagrius’s concern, and Tsakiridis highlights their habitual and, from Evagrius’s perspective, maladaptive and destructive character. But according to Evagrius, their chronic repetition is to be cured by a different set of habits, ones concerning the right kind of prayer and discipline in the monastic life. Thus, the cure to one kind of repetition is that of another when done in the context of a monastic community. Tsakiridis invokes the work of contemporary French philosopher Pierre Hadot to remind us that, as with the other thinkers discussed in this section, the thoughts of the past are not merely past, and we would do good to remember that ancient philosophers saw their task as one of developing a way of life, not simply one of analyzing the world. Together, these essays demonstrate that what once was old is now again new. Not only did early modern philosophers and theologians outside of traditional Catholic thought rarely if ever reference Aristotle and his account of ethics, such engagement remained atypical through the mid-twentieth century. Now we see a broad engagement with the ethical thought of the ancient world, especially but not only Aristotle. And while habit and habitus were once often discussed only in brief, we are becoming increasingly aware that these concepts are central to our contemporary understandings of the ethical life.

Habit and Habitus among the Scientists

We find a very different but related story among the scientists. It is only a ­modest generalization to characterize the dominant schools of thought in mid-20th century psychology, psychoanalysis and behaviorism, as rooted in a rebellion against older forms of psychology that were in various ways indebted to the Enlightenment era philosophies of mind that began with René Descartes and culminated in the reflections of Immanuel Kant. Sigmund Freud’s account of psychoanalysis in particular rejected the Enlightenment optimism that our conscious level reflection and reasoning is the primary driver of our behavior. Rather, as Freud famously argued, our reason-giving is often little more than post-hoc rationalizations, masking deep seated, conflicting, and unconscious drives pushing and pulling us in contrary directions. Behaviorists, led by John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner, aspired to develop a science devoid of any reference to interior states of the mind, regarding them as a black box about which nothing could be scientifically said. Accordingly, these approaches had very l­ittle to say about habitus in terms of virtuous dispositions, but they were friendly to providing accounts of habit. In the case of behaviorism, habits just are a



product of operant conditioning as a result of reinforcement, epitomized by the rat in the cage pressing a sequence of buttons for food. For the psychoanalyst, pathological habits, such as those associated with obsessive-compulsive disorder, could be understood as the result of deep seated and unconscious psychological problems due, at least for Freud, to unresolved issues in childhood development. An exception to these approaches that became widely influential is that of Jean Piaget. Piaget’s work, with its emphasis on stages of cognitive development eventually found root in American moral psychology through the work of Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, and Elliot Turiel.24 Kohlberg modified and adapted Piaget’s early pioneering work to undergird an account of the development of stages of moral reasoning from childhood to adulthood. On Kohlberg’s model, what matters are deliberative reasons and the forms of ­deliberative reasoning that emerge as the child matures. Habit, habitus, or the emotions have no positive role to play in Kohlberg’s framework, which is not only descriptive but also normative. Indeed, while Kohlberg draws his notion of stages of development from Piaget, his overall account shows considerable indebtedness to Kant. Over time, Kohlberg’s model of moral cognition proved to be problematic in its claims and, at best, limited in scope. Since then, an alternative “dual process” model has become dominant in scientific accounts of morality. Rather than attributing behavior only to unconscious drives as an extreme Freudian might, or only to conscious level motives as an extreme Kantian might, the dual process model envisions two processes: both a conscious and an unconscious one. One might think that the dual process model would give equal weight to unconscious and conscious level motives as drivers of behavior, but dominant theorizing in this area has strongly favored an account that, like Freud’s, gives weight to the unconscious.25 Thus, Jonathan Haidt uses the metaphor of an elephant and its rider, where the large elephant (intuition and emotion) is the one mainly choosing the direction, with the rider having at best modest pull.26 It is notable that such a model provides little room either for habit or habitus, since the unconscious drivers of moral behavior are often understood to be in large part innate and only modestly amenable to self-modification.27 24 25 26 27

Piaget 1932; Kohlberg 1981; Gilligan 1982; Turiel 1983. E.g., Haidt 2001; Haidt and Greene 2002. Haidt 2012. Jonathan Haidt (2012) complements his moral intuitionist account of moral judgment with his “moral foundations theory” that claims the existence of five to six foundations that are innate but subsequently shaped by culture, explaining among other things the



Part 2 of the volume, “Psychology, Habit, and Development of Character” highlights how current and ongoing research in cognitive science can and does support a rich account of habitus and not simply mere habit. The first essay by Todd Junkins and Darcia Narvaez provide a general theory grounded in ­developmental psychology to understand habitus as distinct from mere habit. On their account, proper development requires the balancing and integration of three distinct moral systems: a safety ethic grounded in survival, an engagement ethic grounded in our mammalian social nature, and an imagination ethic that is able not only to perceive existing social relationships, but to imagine possibilities not yet conceived. Drawing on a significant body of developmental research, Junkins and Narvaez argue that a childhood subject to stressors and inadequate care leads to a hyperactivated safety ethic, whereas a childhood rich in social bonds contributes to the development of engagement and imagination ethical systems. Although the emphasis on the social environment may be taken to imply a passive agent reminiscent of old style behaviorism, Junkins and Narvaez argue that it is crucial to understand the agent as an active participant in the process. Even later in life, actions taken by agents to participate in mindfulness practice, active play, or engagement in the ­political life can contribute to moral development. The result, Junkins and Narvaez argue, is individuals with active dispositions—virtues—for a­ cting and living well. Whereas Junkins and Narvaez provide a more general account, Michal ­Spezio focuses on the interplay of imitation, the theological conception of imitatio, and habitus as distinct from mere habit. Spezio’s concern is the extent to which current theologians, including Stanley Hauerwas in the essay ­contributed for this volume, arguably conflate mere habit and habitus in a way that is detrimental to their own theological and ethical endeavors. Spezio suggests that the fault lies partly in their imbibing of widespread but dated psychological accounts of habit that are indebted to the behaviorist’s ­framework of ­reinforcement learning. Spezio indicates that the traditional conception of habitus in fact fits well with the development of a more sophisticated ­psychological account of human decision making in terms of ­interactive ­partially ­observable Markov decision processes (ipomdp). This partisan divide in modern American politics. Haidt has not to date provided a substantive account of the cultural influences, and his account suggests that he conceives of these as typically occurring early with little susceptibility for change in adulthood. Further, Haidt provides no reason to think that such influences involve much in the way of ­voluntary, conscious level reflection. The role of culture is thus one of early contagion, not persuasion.



model ­enables researchers to ­incorporate both an agent’s ability to update perceptions and beliefs much in the way that Aristotle envisioned the formation of ­habitus occurring. Such an approach can aid in our understanding of real world ­exemplars, and Spezio highlights Homeboy Industries, an organization that provides outreach to f­ ormer gang members in Los Angeles, as a case study of moral exemplarity. The final paper in the section by Kevin Reimer and Lynn Reimer connects theory and application, focusing on the issue of adolescent development in troubled neighborhoods and efforts to promote educational success. Reimer and Reimer focus on a particular disposition--persistence--and its relation to academic success and personal well-being. Such persistence, they argue, is reinforced by a healthy pride in one’s achievements that encourages further persistence in a reinforcing loop. Reimer and Reimer apply their model to an ongoing project in Science, Technology, and Math in Nurturing Associations (stamina). This project employs cross-peer tutoring, where older students ­tutor students from lower grade levels. An important feature of this project is its emphasis on mutual benefit for both tutees and tutors. Because the ­tutors are drawn from a higher grade pool, they do not always have to be stellar students, and the experience of working one on one with younger students appears to improve both their academic and social skills. Further, tutors are trained to share aloud their own thought processes, modeling good problemsolving skills for their tutees. In this project we have not only an emphasis on exemplars and modeling, but also modeling of active reasoning and not simply rote imitation, i.e., mere habits. The three essays taken together serve an important function, demonstrating the relevance of the philosophical and theological frameworks, ideas, and arguments laid out in the first section. Each contributes to the effort to connect the theoretical to the concrete, showing not only how understandings of habit and habitus may be understood to be consistent with existing research, but also how the philosophical and theological conceptions can serve to support new research. The level of detail and engagement of the psychological ­literature is thus of considerable importance, for it exemplifies the truly interdisciplinary endeavor required for understanding and developing suitable concepts of habit and habitus. It is perhaps worth noting, in this respect, one historical figure so far left out of our account: William James. Bridging the 19th and 20th ­centuries, James in important respects blended the older, more ­philosophically minded psychology with the then cutting edge developments of scientific psychology and neuroscience, all while also contributing to the establishment of the new pragmatist school of philosophical thought. James is interesting here for two reasons. First, his own understanding of ­psychology, laid out primarily in his massive two volume Principles of Psychology, ­anticipated many of the



d­ evelopments of the later cognitivist revolt against behaviorism, even though his psychological work was soon eclipsed in the decades immediately following him. Second, James provides an account of habit that approximates elements of the Aristotelian habitus.28 To a certain extent, we can see the three contributions reviving a broader, Jamesian psychology that bridges the philosophical and the scientific.

Too Good to be True? Habitus and the Critics of Character

Although virtue theory has experienced a revival of interest in both philosophy and psychology, it is important to note that this enthusiasm is not universal, and critics have raised important issues that advocates of virtue generally and habitus specifically need to address. Two of these criticisms are addressed here. The first arises out of a large body of findings suggesting that our motives are other than what we say they are, and that, even when it comes to moral action, we are shaped more by our immediate situation than by any longstanding ­convictions or traits of character. This “situationist” critique was first given definitive form by John Doris and Gilbert Harman in independent journal articles, but the issue has since drawn widespread attention among philosophers.29 Thus, Doris highlights an early study by Isen and Levin, which concluded that helping behavior could be influenced by such trivial factors as whether or not one had just found a coin in a phone booth.30 The conclusion: if our behavior can be influenced by such trivial environmental factors, ­perhaps there is no such thing as character at all. A second line of criticism goes a very different direction. Assuming there is such a thing as character, to what extent can we say that choices are freely made? If my character determines my action, then it seems that I could not do otherwise. Indeed, many individuals whom we regard as exemplars or heroes say precisely this.31 The denial of freedom may not be troublesome for some, including compatibilist accounts of freedom, but the issue is potentially more serious for advocates of libertarian free will and for those who connect free will and moral responsibility.

28 29 30 31

E.g., Chapter 4 of Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1. See also Leary 2013. Doris 1998; Harmon 1999. Responses include Miller 2003; Levy 2006; Adams 2006; Appiah 2008; Upton 2009; Snow 2010; Sarkissian 2010. Isen and Levin 1972. For some striking examples of this phenomenon, see Kristen Renwick Monroe’s (2004) interviews of Holocaust rescuers.



Part 3, “The Limits of Habit? Situationism, Indvidiualism, and Freedom,” provides responses to these two lines of criticism. Peterson takes a slightly different route on the situationist literature by examining in detail two of the ­experiments most frequently cited in support of the situationist thesis: the “obedience to authority experiments” of Stanley Milgram conducted in the 1960s and the 1973 “Good Samaritan” experiment of John Darley and Daniel Batson. In both cases, Peterson argues, the experiments do not clearly demonstrate situational effects to the extent popularly claimed, because in both cases we do not know the motives of the participants themselves, and we have some evidence in the Milgram case that the motives among subjects could be quite different. While the Milgram experiment does provide support for a ­situationist effect, Peterson argues that the Darley and Batson experiment capitalizes on situational ambiguity, creating a borderline situation where the right ­action in fact is not obvious. Peterson concludes with a comparison to ongoing ­research in the areas of moral exemplarity and expertise, both of which provide evidence for the kind of stable character traits that strong situationism denies. The following two articles address the relation of free will and character. Adam Martin approaches the question of free will primarily from the scientific side, examining some of the recent psychological and neuroscientific research on free will, including the famous experiments conducted by Benjamin Libet. Martin argues that the relation between attention and free action has not been adequately considered, and he stresses that it is important to recognize that what we consciously attend to is itself the result of choices we make. Martin suggests that, when connected to a global workspace theory of consciousness, an updated account of attention provides a route for better understanding freedom and its relation to moral action. Martin concludes by highlighting the connection of attention to mindfulness meditation, providing insight to a new route for thinking about the relation of freedom, attention, habitus, and character. While Martin proceeds by primarily engaging the scientific literature, Kevin Timpe engages the question of free will and character as it occurs in philosophy. Timpe addresses the central question of the relation of character and free choice by developing a “reasons-constraint on free choice” account of character. Working in dialogue with Peter Van Inwagen’s account of free choice, Timpe argues that a key element of free choice is the fact that we act according to reasons, and if we don’t have a reason to do something, or even a reason against doing something, then we won’t do it. On Timpe’s account, the fact that I don’t choose to do something because it never occurred to me to do that thing does not count against the fact that my choice is freely made. Our c­ haracter



consists precisely of this kind of shaping, providing reasons to do things we ought to do and winnowing out reasons to do those things we ought not to do. On Timpe’s account, habit just is the accrual of such processes: to regularly abstain from doing wrong is precisely to develop a habit avoiding such action. Such habits, however, are not contrary to reason or freedom, because they are simply the result of the prior free actions we performed. Freedom and character can and do go hand in hand.

Habit and Habitus: Theology, Metaphysics, and Applications

Throughout the volume, issues of theology, metaphysics, and practical application have been of some importance, but not always explicitly. The final section, “From Habit to Virtue: Integrating Science, Philosophy, and Religion,” brings these issues to the fore. The first, by Charlene Burns, combines theology and application. Returning us to Aquinas’s language of the acquired and infused virtues, Burns argues that science can play some role in helping us think about a central Christian virtue: caritas. As with all virtues, we are not simply born with the fully fledged virtue of caritas; it is something that must be developed. Highlighting recent research on self-control that interprets free choice as a kind of muscle that can be exerted and worn out, Burns argues for an account of freedom that itself requires development. Recent work on empathy training and compassion meditation provides, Burns argues, contemporary and scientifically supported means of developing the virtue of caritas. While such effortful training may seem inconsistent with Aquinas’s understanding of caritas as an infused virtue, Burns draws on the thought of Gregory Palamas to provide an account of how our own actions can also be an energon, a work of God. While Burns focuses on caritas, Craig Boyd analyzes humility as both an intellectual and moral virtue. Boyd notes the emergence of virtue epistemology alongside of and partly due to the renewed interest in virtue ethics, and while virtue epistemologists have often drawn on virtue ethics, the reverse has less often been the case. Boyd argues for a reconsideration of this arrow of influence, and he does so by examining the significance of the virtue of humility for scientific practice. Although Aristotle himself viewed science as he understood it to be itself an intellectual virtue, Boyd draws greater inspiration from Aquinas’s notion of “right reason” and Alasdair MacIntyre’s concept of acknowledged dependence, both of which entail a proper sense of intellectual humility. Boyd then employs Galileo as a case study, for while Galileo was ­obviously brilliant and correct on heliocentrism, his pride and insensitivity (famously placing the views of his former friend turned Pope in the mouth of



a character named “Simplicio” in his Dialogues Concerning Two World Systems) contributed to Galileo’s troubles that followed. Ironically, as Boyd argues, while Galileo was progressive in ideas compared to the traditionalists of his time, he was unreceptive to newer developments, leading, Boyd argues, to his erroneous theory of the tides and his unwillingness to engage the newer thought of Johannes Kepler. Joseph Bankard alternatively considers the virtue of gratitude. Bankard’s argument is both theological and applied. From the perspective of Christian, specifically Wesleyan, theology, gratitude is integral to the Christian life, an ­acknowledgement not only of God’s free gift of creation, but also of the cross and God’s gift of grace. Bankard emphasizes the point that a sense of gratitude, which includes a deep affective as well as cognitive component, is not ­something we are simply born with but something that is itself cultivated and developed. Bankard cites the scientific literature both to show the benefits of gratitude, which is linked to helping behavior, a sense of well-being, and measures of physical health, and to show that gratitude can be cultivated by such simple behaviors as gratitude journaling and the writing of letters of gratitude. Bankard points to the habitual character of these two activities, consistent with Aristotle’s argument that the doing of virtuous acts contributes to the forming of virtuous disposition. Mark Graves concludes the collection by consideration of habit as a metaphysical principle. Although virtue thought was born in the context of Greek substance metaphysics, process metaphysics emphasizes becoming over ­being. Drawing on the work of Jonathan Edwards and C.S. Peirce, Graves argues for an understanding of the real in terms of tendencies and possibility. It is, he claims, habit all the way down. Graves argues that understanding this allows us to then build back up to a better understanding of the human. The brain itself, characterized by change and synaptic plasticity, exemplifies a form of ­habituation, while persons as wholes are themselves parts of interacting communities, characterized by both tendency and possibility.

Conclusion: Habits in Mind

The title of this volume, Habits in Mind, conveys the dual thought joining these essays. First, the notions of habit and habitus, much neglected until recently, are worthy of our attention and study. Second, understanding how habit and habitus in fact function is equally important, and speaks to the interdisciplinary character of this volume. While habit and habitus have ancient roots, their importance is now recognized in philosophy and theology, and ongoing ­developments in the cognitive sciences also demonstrate the



significance of these concepts. Further, a shared feature of the essays in this volume is the i­mportance of engaging across disciplines, and it is noteworthy the extent to which philosophers and theologians are drawing on the scientific literature while the scientists are themselves drawing on key thinkers and concepts in philosophy and theology. Nearly all subjects that engage the human ­person now need to speak across disciplines, and this volume exemplifies that model. Although each of the essays included here take us a helpful step forward in understanding both habit and habitus, they also illustrate how much there is yet to learn. Not only can we learn more from engaging the classic works of the ancient world, as the essays by Hauerwas, Green, and Tsakiridis point to, there remains considerable need for greater engagement with other ­traditions, ­notably Buddhism. Ongoing work in the science of meditative ­practices, ­highlighted in particular by Martin and Burns, provide just one route of ­exploration. Further, a true understanding of habit and habitus will require the development of solid longitudinal studies that move past immediate associations to the kind of persistent commitments that form the core of habitus as a concept. In particular, the articles by Junkins and Narvaez and by Spezio ­contribute to formulating such an effort. Although continued reflection on habitus and ­habit holds considerable promise, such reflection must do so in engagement with other approaches and criticisms, as demonstrated by Bielfeldt, Peterson, and Timpe. Finally, it is important to note that such ongoing conceptual and empirical work is not merely of abstract interest. Reimer and Reimer are examining one such implementation, but the articles by Boyd and Bankard illustrate the resources for thinking about habitus in the context of particular virtues and the possibilities of implementation. Much of the work on character, habit, and habitus focuses on the individual in isolation. But as Graves argues, humans are always in context and in community, and so much of this further work and implementation will need to examine not only the notion of virtuous individuals, but also, without sounding too hubristic, virtuous communities. That is work for another volume, one that we anticipate to be able to build on the contributions here. References Adams, Robert Merrihew. 2006. A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good. New York: Oxford University Press. Angle, Stephen C. 2012. Contemporary Confucian Political Philosophy. Cambridge: ­Polity Press.



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Harman, Gilbert. 1999. “Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99: 315–31. Hauerwas, Stanley. 1991. The Peacable Kingdom: A Primer in Christian Ethics. South Bend, IN: University of Notre Dame. Hauerwas, Stanley. 2003. “Character, Narrative, and Growth in the Christian Life.” In The Hauerwas Reader, 221–54. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Herdt, Jennifer A. 2008. Putting On Virtue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Hursthouse, Rosalind. 1999. On Virtue Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. Irvine, William B. 2008. A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Stoic Art of Joy. New York: Oxford University Press. Isen, A.M., and H. Levin. 1972. “Effect of Feeling Good on Helping: Cookies and Kindness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21: 384–88. James, William. 1950. The Principles of Psychology, Vol. 1. Reprint edition. New York: ­Dover Publications. Kant, Immanuel. 1998. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Mary Gregor. New York: Cambridge University Press. Keown, Damien. 2001. The Nature of Buddhist Ethics. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Kohlberg, Lawrence. 1981. The Philosophy of Moral Development: Moral States and the Idea of Justice. San Francisco: Harper & Row. Leary, David E. 2013. “A Moralist in an Age of Scientific Analysis and Skepticism: Habit in the Life and Work of William James,” In A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu, edited by Tom Sparrow and Adam Hutchinson, 177–208. Plymouth, UK: ­Lexington Books. Levy, Neil. 2006. “Cognitive Scientific Challenges to Morality.” Philosophical Psychology 19 (5): 567–87. doi:10.1080/09515080600901863. Lockwood, Thornton. 2013. “Habituation, Habit, and Character in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” In A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu, edited by Tom ­Sparrow and Adam Hutchinson. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1981. After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1999. Dependent Rational Animals: Why Human Beings Need the Virtues. Chicago: Open Court. Makransky, John. 2007. Awakening Through Love: Unveiling Your Deepest Goodness. Boston: Wisdom Publications. McDowell, John. 1997. “Virtue and Reason.” In Virtue Ethics. New York: Oxford University Press. Miller, Christian. 2003. “Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics.” Journal of Ethics 7: 365–92. Miller, Christian B. 2014. Character & Moral Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.



Monroe, Kristen Renwick. 2004. The Hand of Compassion: Portraits of Moral Choice during the Holocaust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Murphy, Nancey, Kallenberg Brad J., and Nation Mark Thiessen, eds. 1997. Virtues & Practices in the Christian Tradition: Christian Ethics after MacIntyre. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press. Nussbaum, Martha C. 2013. Political Emotions: Why Love Matters for Justice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Nussbaum, Martha C. 2010. Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. Olberding, Amy. 2012. Moral Exemplars in the Analects: The Good Person Is That. New York: Routledge. Piaget, Jean. 1932. The Moral Judgment of the Child. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, ­Turbner, & Co. Porter, Jean. 1990. The Recovery of Virtue: The Relevance of Aquinas for Christian Ethics. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. Porter, Jean. 2001. “Virtue Ethics.” In The Cambridge Companion to Christian Ethics, ­edited by Robin Gill. New York: Cambridge University Press. Sachs, Joe. 2005. “Aristotle: Ethics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed ­November 1, 2014 http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-eth/. Sarkissian, Hagop. 2010. “Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problem and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy.” Philosopher’s Imprint 10 (9): 1–15. Schneewind, J.B., ed. 2002. Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant. New York: ­Cambridge University Press. Seneca. 1995. Moral and Political Essays. Edited by John M. Cooper and J.F. Procopé. New York: Cambridge University Press. Sidgwick, Henry. 1884. The Methods of Ethics. London: Macmillan. Slingerland, Edward. 2007. Effortless Action: Wu-Wei as Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China. New York: Oxford University Press. Snow, Nancy. 2010. Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory. New York: Routledge. Stephens, William O., Tom Sparrow, and Adam Hutchinson. 2013. “The Roman Stoics on Habit.” In A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu, 37–61. Plymouth, UK: Lexington Books. Stout, Jeffrey. 2004. Democracy and Tradition. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Swanton, Christine. 2005. Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View. New York: Oxford University Press. Thaler, Richard H., and Cass R. Sunstein. 2009. Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness. Reivsed & Expanded. New York: Penguin Books. Turiel, Elliot. 1983. The Development of Social Knowledge: Morality and Convention. New York: Cambridge University Press.



Upton, Candace L. 2009. “Virtue Ethics and Moral Psychology: The Situationism ­Debate.” The Journal of Ethics 13 (2–3): 103–15. doi:10.1007/s10892-009-9054-2. Van Norden, Bryan W. 2012. Virtue Ethics and Consequentialism in Early Chinese Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wong, David. 2013. “Chinese Ethics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/spr2013/entries/ ­ ethics-chinese/. Whitehill, James. 2000. “Buddhism and the Virtues.” In Contemporary Buddhist Ethics, edited by Damien Keown. New York: Routledge. Williams, Bernard. 1985. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Yearley, Lee H. 1990. Mencius and Aquinas: Theories of Virtue and Conceptions of C ­ ourage. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press. Yu, Jiyuan. 2007. The Ethics of Confucius and Aristotle: Mirrors of Virtue. New York: Routledge.

chapter 1

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character of the Virtues Stanley Hauerwas

Why Habits Matter According to Aristotle

I am a theologian and ethicist. I have never liked the “and” because I think theology done well is a discipline of practical reason. I also do not like to be known as an ethicist.1 To be so identified invites questions that can drive you mad. For example, some think that if you teach “ethics” you must be able to answer questions such as “Why should I be moral?” That kind of question seems equivalent to the response offered by many when they discover the person they have just met is a minister. Such a discovery often elicits the confession, “I have been meaning to go to church again, but I find that walking in the woods is how I really connect with God.” This confession is meant to be a challenge to those in the ministry to show why this sensitive soul should go to church. But people who present such challenges fail to understand that any minister who knows what they are about would find any attempt to answer them on their own terms uninteresting. How could you even begin to help someone understand that the god they find in the woods is probably not the God the church worships? In a similar way, I find the question “Why should I be moral?” not only uninteresting but misleading. Any attempt to answer the question cannot help but confirm the presumption that morality is a clearly identifiable set of principles about right or wrong acts. It took me some years but I finally learned to respond to those who wanted me to convince them of why they should be moral with the question “Do you like to eat?” To ask that question challenges the presumption, a presumption legitimated by Kantian-inspired ethical theory, that a clear distinction can be drawn between ethics and, for example, manners at the dinner table. I also think “Do you like to eat?” is a good response because it reminds my questioner that we are bodily creatures whose desires pull us into the significant ­engagements that constitute our lives. Of course “significance” may be a description of those aspects of our lives rightly associated with being moral. In other words, the attempt to distinguish 1 A version of this essay was originally published in Hauerwas 2013. Reprinted by permission of the publisher; all rights reserved.

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


morality from other aspects of our lives may entail judgments about what we take to be significant. I have no objection to such a suggestion as long as those who make it remember that eating is one of the most significant things we do. I should like to think that the response, “Do you like to eat?” owes something to my early attempt to develop an account of character that would help us better understand what it might mean to live well. Character and the Christian Life was published in 1975.2 I made many mistakes in the book but I had at least begun to grasp that the dualism between body and agency, so characteristic of much of moral theory at the time, could not be sustained if you attended to character and the virtues. Influenced by Wittgenstein, Anscombe, and Ryle I was trying to avoid accounts of agency that presumed that our ability to act requires an account of autonomy or the will that was not bodily determined. Yet as I acknowledged in the “Introduction” to a later edition of Character and the Christian Life the account of agency I developed in that book, an account I thought necessary to avoid behaviorism, came close to reproducing the dualism between body and agency I was trying to avoid.3 I had tried to develop an account of agency by presuming that conceptual primitive notion was “action” rather than, as I later learned from MacIntyre’s account in After Virtue, that “intelligible action” not action is the determinative notion if we are to properly understand agency.4 Though I think that was a step in the right direction I find it interesting that one of the mistakes I did not acknowledge in the 1985 edition of the book, and I think it is a mistake that was implicated in my understanding of agency, was my failure to develop the significance of habit for any account of the virtues. To be sure I had a brief account of habit in which I tried to suggest that ­Aristotle and Aquinas had a richer account of habit than the modern relegation of habit to the unreflective aspects of our lives.5 I even footnoted George Klubertanz still very important book, Habits and Virtues, in which he had drawn on then recent work in psychology to develop an account of habit that 2 Hauerwas 1975. 3 Hauerwas 1985. 4 For my discussion of this issue see the “Introduction” of Character and the Christian Life (1985), pp. xix–xxi. 5 Hauerwas 1985, 69. Of course that way of stating the problem, that is, how to distinguish the kind of habituation the virtues name from the unreflective aspects of our lives reproduces presumptions that need to be challenged for a proper understanding of habituation. It is no accident that baseball players must “unreflectively” throw and catch the ball numerous times in order to respond “without thinking” to a ball hit to them or to a throw from another fielder. Such habits are skills that make possible complex forms of action that require equally complex retrospective descriptions if we are to say what “happened.”



distinguished complex from simple habits.6 But it is still the case that in my early work on character and the virtues I did not develop an account of habit that is surely necessary for an adequate account of the virtues. At least, such an account is required for anyone who would draw upon the work of Aristotle and Aquinas. For I should like to think that a question such as, “Do you like to eat?” is one Aristotle might have appreciated given the way he explores happiness in Book One of the Nichomachean Ethics. There ­Aristotle observes, even though many, i.e., those whom he calls the uncultivated, may associate happiness with pleasure, wealth or honor, such goods cannot make us happy because they are so easily lost.7 To begin by asking someone if they like to eat is a way to remind us that our desire to eat pulls us into life in a ­manner that we cannot fail to discover there is more to life than eating.8 It is, therefore, never a question whether we will or will not develop habits and virtues, but what kind of habits and virtues we will develop. We are complex creatures constituted, according to Aristotle, by non-rational as well as rational capacities. The non-rational, however, in some way “shares in reason” just to the extent that the non-rational is capable of being habituated.9 We eat by necessity but how we eat is determined by habits that the necessity of our eating requires if we are to eat as human beings. For Aristotle our nature requires that we acquire a second nature which is constituted by habits. Habits come, moreover, in all shapes and sizes requiring that we develop some habits that make possible our acquisition of other habits. Aristotle often directed attention to how one learned to ride a horse or wrestle to suggest how through repetition our bodies acquire the habits that make complex activities seem “effortless.”10 Indeed he not only thought learning to ride or to wrestle to be a good way to begin to acquire habits necessary for the moral life, he thought such activities were what taught the young to become virtuous.11

6 Klubertanz 1965. 7 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1095a15–1095b10. 8 I use the language of “pull” to resist the presumption that “habits” are “efficient causes.” For Aristotle and Aquinas we are purposive beings capable of acquiring a history through the acquisition of habits. 9 Ibid., 1102b15–1103a10. 10 For an insightful account of habit as effortless see Wells 2004, 73–82. 11 There is obviously a hierarchy that should determine the acquisition of habits in order that we become what we do. How such a hierarchy is to be understood, however, may well vary from one tradition to another. I suspect such a hierarchy in order to be spelled out will require a narrative display.

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


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. Just as we learn a craft by repetitively producing the same product that was produced when we first were learning the craft, so we become virtuous by performing actions that are virtuous. But the analogy with the crafts can be misleading because the relation between the actions that produce the habits that make us virtuous are constitutive of the habit in the way the product ­produced by the craftsman is not.12 According to Aristotle like actions produce like virtues, but to determine “likeness” is a complex process that presumes common judgments. That is why Aristotle argues that legislators must attend to the training of citizens in the virtues by instilling good habits. A good politic, according to Aristotle, must aim through the law to instill in citizens the habits necessary for the development of the virtues. For it is crucial that the young acquire early in their lives the right habits. That they do so is not just very important, but it is all important. It is so because if we fail to acquire the right habits rightly we will have a character that is incapable of acting in a manner that makes us virtuous.13 Jenifer Herdt observes that Aristotle’s insistence on the significance of early formation of a virtuous person is wrapped in what she characterizes as “the mystery of habituation.”14 The “mystery”, Herdt identifies, is how the habits a child acquires are at once necessary but not sufficient for their becoming virtuous. For children often learn what they should or should not do for reasons that are not the morally compelling reasons for why they should or should not do what they do. They are, for example, told not to be unkind to their brother or sister because “I said so.” Herdt observes, however, that the transition from obeying authority to the acquisition of the habits of virtue is aided by our instinctual desire to imitate our elders. She does not think that our instinct for imitation is sufficient to make us virtuous, but by imitating those who act virtuously we can at least begin to acquire the habits that will produce a firm and unchanging character. Such a character is required if we are to be the kind of person who can act in a manner that what we do is not different than what we are.15 12 13 14 15

ne, 1105a25–35. Ibid., 1103b1–25. Herdt 2008, 25. Ibid., p. 26. Aristotle suggests a person who would act in a manner that so acting they ­become virtuous must act in a manner that they know what they do as well as acting from a “firm and unchanging state” (1105a–10).



The problem is how do we make the transition from habits acquired by imitation to the habits necessary for us to be virtuous, that is, habits that are formed by our having chosen what we have done in a manner that a just or temperate person would act. Herdt suggests that if one’s desires are to be transformed into those of a virtuous person the person acting must not only act in manner that they not only enjoy what they do but that the enjoyment that ­accompanies the act is elicited by the love of the one they imitate.16 I feel quite sure there is great wisdom in Herdt’s suggestion that the relations in which the habits are formed make a great deal of difference, but that still does not seem sufficient to understand how the acquisition of habits are sufficient for making the transition to being a person of virtue.17 In order to explore how we might think further about the “mystery of habituation” I want to direct our attention to Aquinas’s development of Aristotle on habit. I do so because I think Aquinas provides a richer account of the kind of habits necessary for our becoming persons of virtue. Aquinas’s understanding of habituation does not “solve” all the questions associated with a stress on the kind of habits necessary for the development of the virtues, but I hope to show that in drawing on Aristotle’s work he helps us better understand the process of habituation.

Aquinas on Habituation

Aquinas develops his account of habit in the appropriately entitled the “Treatise on Habits” in the Prima Secundae of the Summa Theologica.18 I call attention to the title because the “Treatise on Habits” includes not only Aquinas’s 16 17


Ibid., p. 28. In an essay responding to the Second Edition of The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics entitled, “The Virtue of the Liturgy,” Herdt (2011) observes that a focus on the virtues does not play a prominent role in most of the essays in the Blackwell Companion. She argues that is appropriate because we have come to recognize that the virtues are not individual achievements but can be sustained only in the context of a community. ­Accordingly, the task of Christian ethics is not to promote a virtue ethic but to show how the virtues are in service to growth in human friendship with God. Therefore, the virtues are not ends in themselves but constitutive of the life we are called to live with one another and God. The focus on the liturgy is one way to suggest how an “imaginative grasp of the whole form of life in which one’s own activity participates” is required if we are to have the capacity to extrapolate from one situation to another what we must do if we are to act, for example, with courage. See Herdt 2011, 536–537. Aquinas 1981.

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


account of the habits but also his initial account of the virtues: his understanding of how the virtues are individuated as well as interconnected, the role of the gifts of the Spirit, and the nature of sin and the vices. The latter is particularly important to insure that we not forget that the vices are also habits. That the “Treatise on Habits” includes what in effect is the outline of Aquinas’s understanding of the Christian moral life indicates how important habituation was for Aquinas. Yet it is equally important to recognize that the “Treatise on the Last End” had preceded the “Treatise on Habits.” The “Treatise on the Last End” begins with the claim that man differs from the irrational animals because as creatures who possess will and reason we can be masters of our actions.19 “­Mastery” is Aquinas’s description of what it means for us to be able to act in a manner that what we do and who we are is inseparable. It is this ability that enables us to acquire the habits necessary for the virtuous life. Aquinas will distinguish between the intellectual and moral virtues, but it is crucial to note that both the intellectual and moral virtues must be habituated in a manner that they cannot be separated from one another.20 Aquinas develops his account of our ability to act in a manner such that habits are formed which make us virtuous by introducing a concept unknown to Aristotle, that is, the will. The will is a rational appetite that makes possible our ability to act in a manner that our actions, by being directed by reason, become our own.21 It is extremely important that he not be read, as he is often read, to suggest the will and reason are independent capacities. The exact opposite is the case. For example, in his fine-grained account of what makes an act an act Aquinas observes, “acts of the reason and of the will can be brought to bear on one another, in so far as the reason reasons about willing and, the will wills to reason so that the result is that the act of the reason precedes the act of the will, and conversely. And since the power of the preceding act ­continues in the act that follows, it happens sometimes that there is an act of the will insofar as it retains in itself something of the act of reason; and conversely, that there is an act of the reason insofar as it retains in itself something of the act of the will.”22 For Aquinas the will and reason are interdependent because every act of the will is preceded by an act of the intellect, but it is also the case that an act

19 20 21 22

i–ii, 1. i–ii, 58, 2. i–ii, 8, 1. i–ii, l.



of the intellect is preceded by an act of the will.23 Accordingly, Aquinas does not invite the presumption that habit is the result of the will being tamed by reason. Rather, as Herdt suggests, for Aquinas reason and will are “formed in tandem through habituation; the will must learn to conform reliably to reason’s grasp of the good.”24 But reason’s grasp of the good depends on the will being disposed to the good through habit. Aquinas uses the language of the soul but it should be clear, given his ­account of the will and reason, that the soul and the body are inseparable. The soul names for Aquinas that we are bodies destined by our desires to be befriended by God. Accordingly, he understands reason to be rational desire and will to be desiring reason. We are creatures shaped by our desires, desires as basic as our desire to eat, to have a last end. By being so determined we necessarily acquire habits through our actions shaped by our desires. Aquinas does not think, therefore, we are souls who happen to have a body, nor are we bodies who have a soul. Rather Aquinas thinks we are ensouled bodies.25 That is why he says that a living body is of a different species than a dead body.26 Aquinas understands the soul as the animating principle of the body but, following Aristotle, the soul is also the form of the body. Dana Dillon nicely characterizes Aquinas’s view this way: “the soul is the principle of life in the body, and the organizing principle or form of the whole person.”27 The significance of our bodies for how we understand the habituation of our desires is particularly evident in Aquinas’s account of the role of the ­passions. Aristotle had suggested that virtue is about pleasure and pain, but Aquinas provides an extended account of the passions that enriches what and

23 24 25



i–ii, 4, 4, ad 2. Herdt 2008, 83. Herdt supports her interpretation by calling attention to i–ii, 56, 3. Fergus Kerr suggests that Aquinas’s understanding of the body as the form of the soul is quite close to Wittgenstein’s remark in the Philosophical Investigations (2, 152) that “the human body is the best picture of the human soul.” See Kerr 2008, 94. i–ii, 18, 5, ad l. Alasdair MacIntyre, without referencing Aquinas, argues “a corpse is not a human body, just because it no longer has the unity of a human body. The unity of a human body is evidenced on the one hand in the coordination of its voluntary and directed movements, in a way in which different series of movements by eye and hand are directed to one and the same end and in the ways in which movement towards a range of different ends is directed, and on the other in the coordination of its nonvoluntary and nonintentional movements. No such teleology, no such directedness, and certainly no voluntariness characterizes the movements of a corpse.” “What is a human body?” in MacIntyre 2006, 88. i, 76, 5; Dillon 2008, 20.

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how pleasure and pain are understood.28 In the process we are better able to appreciate how the passions at once make the habituation of our bodies not only possible but necessary. For, in the words of Kent Dunnington, habits turn out to be “strategies of desire.”29 Aquinas provides a more nuanced account of the passions than Aristotle. The passions for Aquinas are movements of the sensitive appetite and are, therefore, to be distinguished from the desires that constitute our animal and rational appetites. Sensitive appetites are quite simply inclinations toward some good that is perceived as pleasant. Aquinas further distinguishes the concupiscible passions from the irascible passions. The passions that “regard good or evil absolutely, belong to the concupiscible power; for instance, joy, sorrow, love, hatred and such like: whereas those passions which regard good or bad as arduous, through being difficult to obtain or avoid, belong to the irascible faculty; such are daring, fear, hope and the like.”30 The concupiscible and irascible passions are so to speak the engine that pulls the body into engagements by which the acquisition of habits are not only necessary but possible befitting a being who is destined to have a history.31 28

29 30 31

ne 1104b15–1105a15. For the best contemporary treatment of Aquinas’s account of the passions see Miner 2009. Miner notes that even though Aquinas dedicates Questions 22–48 of the Prima Secundae of the Summa to the passions his “Treatise on the ­Passions” ­remains the most neglected of his corpus. This neglect Miner suggests may well be due to the Kantian reading of habits so dominant in our time. See for example Milbank 2011. Milbank observes that “Hume broke with rationalism by empirically observing that r­ eflection cannot seriously separate itself from habit and that even the most basic a­ ssumed stabilities (substance, the self, causation) depend upon habit and not upon sheer intuited ‘givenness.’ But he also began to break with empiricism by allowing (albeit in a highly reserved fashion) that, in being slaves to habit, human beings must acknowledge the workings of a natural power that exceeds our capacity to observe it” (p. 281). This issue of Modern Theology consists of papers written for a conference put together by Sarah Coakley dedicated to exploring the role of the passions for our understanding of faith and reason. Other papers from the same conference appear in Faith and Philosophy, 28, 1 (January, 2011). Together these papers are extremely important for the development of issues raised in this paper. Dunnington 2011 credits this way of putting the matter to Paul Wadell. i–ii, 23, 1. MacIntyre put it this way: “Agency is exercised through time. To be an agent is not to engage in a series of discrete, unconnected actions. It is to pursue ends, some closer at hand in time, some more remote, some to be achieved for their own sake, some for the sake of furthering some end, and some for both. And to pass from youth through middle age toward death characteristically involves changes in and revisions of one’s ends. ­Furthermore, the ends that one pursues through sometimes extended periods of time



Given his account of the passions we can say to be human for Aquinas is to be a body destined by love. We are created to be creatures of desire for goods known through reason and will making us agents through the acquisition of habits. Aquinas observes that the very word passion “implies that the patient is drawn to that which belongs to the agent.”32 We are moved movers because we are creatures created to be capable of love made evident by our capacity for joy, sorrow and hatred. As beings constituted by such desires, such hopes, means, for example, that courage requires that we will need to be daring given the fears that our loves create.33 The passions so understood are the condition of the possibility for the habitual perfection of a power.34 Thus Aquinas’s contention that the moral v­ irtues such as temperance and courage, that is, the virtues that form the concupiscent and irascible passions, do so by drawing on movements that constitute those passions.35 A claim that may seem too obvious to mention unless one remembers such an understanding of actions that instill the habits necessary for our acquiring the virtues stands in marked contrast with the Stoic contention that the passions are to be if possible suppressed.36 In contrast to the S­ toics, Aquinas argues that the presence of the passions is a sign of the “intensity of the will” indicating a greater moral goodness than would be the case if the ­passions were absent.37 Aquinas, drawing on Aristotle, describes habit as “a disposition whereby that which is disposed is disposed well or ill, and this, either in regard to itself or in regard to another: thus health is a habit.”38 In particular habits are those

32 33 34 35


37 38

are often not only one’s own, but are ends shared with others, ends to be achieved only through the continuing cooperation of others, ends to be achieved only through the continuing cooperation of others or ends that are constituted by the ongoing participation of others. And so the exercise of the powers of the body through time in the exercise of agency requires a variety of types of engagements with others.” MacIntyre 2006, 100. i–ii, 2. i–ii, 23, 1. Miner 2009, 289. i–ii, 59, 5. Aquinas observes that the body is ruled by the soul just as the irascible and concupiscible powers are ruled by reason, but he notes that the irascible and concupiscible powers do not obey reason blindly because “they have their own proper movements” (i–ii, 56, 4, ad 3). Martha Nussbaum has argued that the Stoics did not think that all passions are to be eliminated but only those that are “subrational stirrings coming from our animal nature,” which can be “cured” by a philosophical therapy. See Nussbaum 1994, 366–372. i–ii, 24, 3. i–ii, 49, 1.

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qualities that are not easily changed for the very word habit suggests a lastingness that the word disposition does not.39 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. Aquinas follows Aristotle suggesting that by like acts like habits are formed.40 Aquinas provides, however, an account of actions that enriches Aristotle’s understanding of choice and the voluntary. In particular Aquinas introduces the notion of intention that enriches his understanding of act by making clear how the means used to achieve an end are constitutive of the end that is pursued. Thus the “intention of the end is the same movement as the willing of the means.”41 The reason this is so important is it helps us see how, at least if we are to act in a manner that our actions form habits that are virtuous, the very description of the act and the character of the agent are mutually implicated. Thus Aquinas’s argument that “consent” is crucial for an act to be an act, that is, the necessity of a person “to approve and embrace the judgment of their counsel.”42 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 that the will needs to be inclined by habit to some good fixed by reason so that the action may follow more readily.43 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. We need habits. God does not.44 39

40 41 42 43 44

It would be a fascinating study to compare how William James understands the nature and significance of habit to Aquinas. Some might think James account of habit too “biological” compared to Aquinas, but I hope I have at least suggested that habits for Aquinas are rooted at least initially in our most basic desires. I do not think Aquinas would dispute James’s understanding of habit “from the physiological point of view” as “but a new pathway of discharge formed in the brain, but which certain incoming currents ever after tend to escape” (James 2010, 102). Aquinas would have also been in agreement with James’s observation that we are born with a tendency to do more things than the ready made arrangements of our nerve-centers can handle thus the need for habits. Aquinas might, however, challenged James suggestion that habit diminishes the conscious attention by which our actions are performed. It all depends on what you might means by “conscious.” i–ii, 50, 1. i–ii, 12, 4. i–ii, 15, 3. i–ii, 50, 5, ad. 3. Felix Ravaisson in his extraordinary book, Of Habit (2008) provides an account of the metaphysics of habit. Ravaisson’s book was written in 1838 in French but only recently translated. That may account for why this important book has been so overlooked.



Habits are the result of repeated actions because the appetitive faculty can oppose the formation of settled dispositions. But a habit can be directed to a good act in two ways. First a person can acquire, for example, the habit of grammar to speak correctly, but grammar does not insure the person will ­always speak correctly which means they may sometimes be guilty of a barbarism. But a habit in the second sense may confer not only aptness to act, but also the right use of that aptness. Thus the virtue of justice not only gives a person a ready will to do just actions, but also makes them just by their ability to act justly.45 Therefore, to have the habits of the second kind means a person not only does the good but is good. Moreover “since virtue is that which makes its possessor good, and his work good likewise, the latter habits are called virtuous simply; because they make the work to be actually good, and the subject good simply.”46 Such is the character of what Aquinas identifies as the acquired moral virtues, that is, the cardinal virtues of courage, temperance, justice, and prudence. These virtues dispose us to act for our end insofar as that end can be known by reason, but we have an ultimate end, friendship with God, that exceeds our nature.47 To be put on the road to that end we need the infused theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity. Just as the moral virtues cannot be without prudence and prudence cannot be without the moral virtues it is also true that the acquired moral virtues cannot be fully virtues without charity. Thus Aquinas’s claim that only the infused


46 47

­ avaisson, for example, observes “that habit is not an external necessity of constraint, but R a necessity of attraction and desire. It is, indeed, a law of the limbs, which follows on from the freedom of the spirit. But this law is a law of grace. It is the final cause that increasingly predominates over efficient causality and which absorbs the latter into itself. And at that point, indeed, the end and the principle, the fact and the law, are fused together within necessity” (p. 57). Though the language is foreign to Aquinas, I suspect the fundamental intuition to be quite similar to Aquinas’s understanding of grace. Later Ravaisson will suggest “Nature lies wholly in desire, and desire, in turn lies in the good that attracts it. In this way the profound words of a profound theologian might be confirmed: ‘Nature is prevenient grace’. It is God within us. God hidden solely by being so far within us in this intimate source of ourselves, to whose depths we do not descend.” Ravaisson 2008, 71, quoting Fenelon. Justice, according to Aquinas, is an operative virtue. He uses that language because justice is not clearly correlative to a passion, but rather suggests the habitual formation of the will. Justice, like friendship, is the qualification of a relation. Such a “qualification” is surely habitual but what the habit qualifies is not clearly named by Aquinas. The “qualification” entails the formation of practical reason but surely more needs to be said. i–ii, 56, 3. i–ii, 51, 4.

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


virtues are perfect since they direct us to our ultimate end, but the acquired virtues are virtues in a restricted sense because they direct us to some particular end.48 Aquinas, therefore, claims that with charity all the virtues are given to us including what he calls the “infused moral virtues.”49 That Aquinas makes this turn may seem to make unclear why he had spent so much time developing his account of habit. Given his account of the infused moral virtues one can only wonder what to make of the acquired moral virtues?50 Does the introduction of the infused moral virtues make Aquinas account of habituation irrelevant? These are complex matters of interpretation of Aquinas understanding of the Christian life. But I think Sheryl Overmyer is right to suggest that Aquinas by introducing the infused moral virtues does not leave behind the importance of habit and the acquired virtues. Rather the infused moral virtues lack what only the acquired virtues can supply, that is, the pleasure that comes from ­acting well.51 The infused moral virtues, that is, the virtues formed by charity, provide the habits that make us capable of living lives of joy. John Milbank, in a manner not unlike Overmeyer, suggests what Aquinas sees is that our acquired “natural” habits are approximations of supernatural infused habits. All habits in order to be habits require ongoing development, but in order to become a habit the acquired habits must so to speak be made more than they can be on their own by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Accordingly “habit as fundamental is only explicable as grace, and that for this reason the grace of eternal life which we receive again through Christ—a supernatural infused habit as Aquinas puts it—is, although superadded, paradoxically the most fundamental ontological reality in the universe: the undying force of life itself.”52 To rightly interpret Aquinas on these matters requires that we not forget that he assumes we are always on the way to being virtuous. Thus his favorite metaphor for the moral life is that we are wayfarers who are on a journey of the soul to God. Accordingly the distinction that most determinatively informs his

48 49 50 51


i–ii, 65, 2. i–ii, 65, 3. For a good account of these issues, see Kent 1995, 24–38. Overmyer 2010, 91. Aquinas says “acts produced by an infused habit do not cause a habit, but strengthen the habit already existing, just as medicinal treatment given to a man who is naturally healthy does not cause a healthy condition, but invigorates the health he ­already has” (i–ii, 51, 4). Milbank 2011, 288.



account of the virtues is that between the imperfect and perfect virtues.53 That we are “on the way” to being virtuous means, therefore, that though we may have acquired the habits to be, for example, temperate unless those habits are shaped by a more determinative way of life they may be a semblance of virtue rather than the virtue itself. Aquinas observes, for example, that a miser may appear to be prudent and even have the virtue of temperance. For the miser may think the satisfaction of lust costs too much. But to have the habits of prudence and temperance determined by the fear of losing control of our wealth cannot be what it means to be virtuous.54 Accordingly we must acquire the habits necessary for us to be virtuous in a manner that the virtues “qualify one another by a kind of overflow.”55 For just as prudence overflows into all the other virtues each of the virtues overflows to the others in a manner that one who can curb their desires for pleasure of touch, which is a very hard thing to do, will also be more able to check his daring in dangers of death so they will not go too far. In this way “temperance is said to be brave, by reason of fortitude overflowing into temperance; in so far, to wit, as he whose mind is strengthened by fortitude against dangers of death, which is a matter of very great difficulty, is more able to remain firm against the onslaught of pleasures.”56 I am painfully aware that I have not done justice to the complexities of Aquinas’s understanding of how habit is fundamental for any account of how we are drawn by God into a life of beatitude. But hopefully I have at least provided a sufficient account that helps us see that Aquinas would have no reasons to resist what we might learn from the neurosciences about the bodily character of our becoming more than we are through the habituation of our desires. Indeed it seems that recent developments in neurobiology that draw on dual process models of thought and activity may well provide an account quite compatible with Aquinas’s understanding of how our complex habits ­become “second nature.”57

53 54 55 56 57

I am in debt to Overmyer for this important interpretative point about Aquinas’s understanding of the virtues. ii–ii, 23, 7. i–ii, 61, 4. i–ii, 61, 5. I am thinking of Spezio 2011. That said I am sympathetic to Stephen Mulhall’s (2011) argument in the same issue of Modern Theology that suggests that if Wittgenstein is rightly understood then brain sciences may have little to add to the philosophy of mind.

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


Putting on Virtue

Kwame Anthony Appiah, however, in Experiment in Ethics calls attention to work in psychology that seems to challenge the approach to the moral life ­Aristotle and Aquinas represent.58 He notes that psychologists have called into question what many take to be the core claim of those that make character central to our understanding of morality, that is, that we are consistent in what we do and do not do. Yet psychologists have found that what most of us do is not best accounted for by traits of character but by systematic human tendencies to respond to situations that no one preciously thought to be crucial. In other words someone who may be honest in one situation will often be reliably dishonest in other situations.59 He calls attention to experiments by psychologists such as Alice Isen and Paula Levin who found that if you dropped your papers in a phone booth you were far more likely to have them returned if those who found the papers had just had the good fortune of finding a dime in the coin-return slot. John Darley and Daniel Batson followed up Isen and Levins’s study by showing someone slumped in a doorway under distress was less likely to be helped by seminarians if they were told they were late for an appointment. In a similar kind of experiment Robert Baron and Jill Thomley have shown you are more likely to get change for a dollar outside a fragrant bakery than a dry-goods store.60 Such studies, Appiah suggests, challenge the perspective of the virtues, that is, the view that through the acquisition of virtuous habits we can be counted on to act consistent with those habits. In short human beings are just not “built that way.” Appiah quotes Owen Flanagan, who he describes as having long worked at the intersection of psychology and moral theory, maxim: “Make sure when constructing a moral theory or projecting a moral ideal that the character, decision processing, and behavior described are possible, or are perceived to be possible, for creatures like us.”61 Appiah comments by noting that the deep epistemological challenge for a virtue ethic is no actual virtuous people exist. Appiah, however, does not think this is a decisive challenge to an understanding of the moral life understood as a life of virtue. According to Appiah a life of virtue is good because of what a virtuous person is not because of what they do. So a distinction is possible between having a virtue and being d­ isposed 58 59 60 61

Appiah 2008, 33–72. Ibid., 39. Ibid., 41. Ibid., 46.



to do the virtuous act over a wide range of circumstances.62 He thinks, therefore, it is a mistake to think that virtue ethics to be a rival to deontological or consequential approaches to ethics. For a virtue approach is one in response to the question of how we should live our lives rather than a cluster of duties or calculations about what to do in X or Y circumstance.63 Needless to say I am deeply sympathetic with Appiah’s attempt to defend a virtue perspective, but I find it odd that he seems to have forgotten that the virtues are habits. Of course the habitual character of our lives does not “solve” the problem of our moral inconsistencies. Indeed, I should think calling attention to the role of habit should help us better understand why we are so often inconsistent. We are inconsistent because we have not sufficiently acquired the habits that make certain decisions non-decisions. The inconsistencies identified by psychologists would not have made Aristotle or Aquinas rethink their positions. Indeed, they would have expected the kind of behaviors identified by the psychologist because they were acutely aware that often we possess the semblance of a virtue rather than the true ­virtue. That is why Aquinas thought it so important that the virtues are interconnected. It is not enough that we are courageous but we must be courageous in a manner that the temperate person is courageous. If courage determines all our actions we may well live disordered lives. Accordingly, the moral life is never finished requiring as it does retrospective judgments about what we may have thought we rightly did but later discover we were self-deceived.

62 63

Ibid., 61. Ibid., 63. I am extremely sympathetic with Appiah’s general approach to ethics and, in particular, the stress on exemplification in his most recent book, The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen (2010). He observes he has spent a good deal of his life trying to get his fellow philosophers to recognize the importance of aspects of our lives about which they may take too little notice such as race and ethnicity, gender and sexuality, and nationality and religion. In particular, he thinks honor a crucial topic philosophers have neglected, but honor is crucial for our social identities because it connects our lives. Attending to honor helps us to treat others as we should as well as making the best of our own lives. His book is a series of studies dealing with such matters as the end of dueling, how the binding of women’s feet was ended, the suppressing of Atlantic slavery, the recognition of the full humanity of women which turned on the extrapolation of some to discover what honor requires. He argues that we need to reckon with honor because our desire for respect “draws on fundamental tendencies in human psychology. And it is surely better to understand our nature and manage it than to announce that we would rather we were different…or worse, pretend we don’t have a nature at all. We may think we have finished with honor, but honor isn’t finished with us” (2010, xix).

Habit Matters: The Bodily Character Of The Virtues


A sobering conclusion but one I think also quite hopeful. For it may be that as creatures who must acquire habits to be able to act we are not thereby condemned to be determined by our past. We dare not forget that hope is also a habit. Hope at once is that which requires the development of habits that makes hope pull us into life. We are hardwired by our bodies to be people of hope. After all, we do like to eat. References Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 2008. Experiments in Ethics. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press. Appiah, Kwame Anthony. 2010. The Honor Code: How Moral Revolutions Happen. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. Aristotle. 1985. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Irwin Terence. Indianapolis IN: Hackett. Dillon, Dana. 2008. As Soul to Body: The Interior Act of the Will in Thomas Aquinas and the Importance of First-Person Perspective in Accounts of Moral Action. Durham NC: PhD Diss., Duke University. Dunnington, Kent. 2011. Addiction and Virtue. Downers Grove IL: IVP Press. Hauerwas, Stanley. 1975. Character and the Christian Life. San Antonio: Trinity University Press. Hauerwas, Stanley. 1985. Character and the Christian Life. Notre Dame IN: University of Notre Dame. Hauerwas, Stanley. 2013. Approaching the End: Eschatological Reflections on Church, Politics, and Life. Grand Rapids MI: William B. Eerdman’s. Herdt, Jennifer A. 2011. “The Virtue of the Liturgy.” In The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells, 533–546. 2nd ed. Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell. Herdt, Jennifer A. 2008. Putting On Virtue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. James, William. 2010. “Habit.” In The Heart of William James, edited by Robert Richardson, 101–15. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Kent, Bonnie. 1995. Virtues of the Will: The Transformation of Ethics in the Late Thirteenth Century. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of American Press. Kerr, Fergus. 2008. Work on Oneself: Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Psychology. Arlington VA: The Institute for the Psychological Sciences Press. Klubertanz, George. 1965. Habits and Virtues: A Philosophical Analysis. New York: ­Appleton, Century, Crofts. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 2006. The Tasks of Philosophy: Selected Essays. Vol. 1. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Milbank, John. 2011. “Hume versus Kant: Faith, Reason and Feeling.” Modern Theology 27 (2): 276–97. Miner, Robert. 2009. Thomas Aquinas on the Passions. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Mulhall, Stephen. 2011. “Wittgenstein on Faith, Rationality and the Passions.” Modern Theology 27 (2): 313–24. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0025.2010.01678.x. Nussbaum, Martha. 1994. The Therapy of Desire: Theory and Practice in Hellenistic E­ thics. Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press. Overmyer, Sheryl. 2010. The Wayfarer’s Way and Two Guides for the Journey: The Summa Theologiae and Piers Plowman. Durham NC: PhD Diss., Duke University. Ravaisson, Félix. 2008. Of Habit. Translated by Clare Carlisle and Mark Sinclaire. New York: Continuum. Spezio, Michael. 2011. “The Neuroscience of Emotion and Reasoning in Social ­Contexts.” Modern Theology 27 (2): 339–56. Wells, Samuel. 2004. Improvisation: The Drama of Christian Ethics. Grand Rapids: ­Brazos Press. Wittgenstein, Ludwig. 1953. Philosophical Investigations. Edited by G.E.M. Anscombe and R. Rhees. Translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.

chapter 2

Habitus in the Roman Catholic Tradition: Context and Challenges Brian Patrick Green St. Thomas Aquinas defines habitus, following Aristotle, Augustine, and Averroes, respectively, as “a disposition whereby someone is disposed, well or ill,” as “that whereby something is done when necessary,” and as “that whereby we act when we will.”1 Aquinas also defines habitus as “a disposition in relation to a thing’s nature, and to its operation or end, by reason of which ­disposition a thing is well or ill disposed thereto.”2 Contemporary commentators have a­ ttempted to help clarify this tangle of meanings, with Craig S­ teven ­Titus saying that “Aquinas defines habitus as an acquired quality that we alter only with difficulty. It is a disposition to act which has become second ­nature (connaturalis),”3 and Anthony Kenny (quoted approvingly by Brian Davies) saying that “a habitus for Aquinas is ‘half-way between a capacity and an ­action, between pure potentiality and full actuality.’”4 Clearly, there is much complexity underlying the concept of habitus. The philosophical and theological concept represented by the Latin word habitus has its roots in both Aristotle and the Bible.5 Humans have known for a long time that what one does becomes who one is, and, when this is applied to morally relevant behavior, what we do makes us better or worse as persons. The medieval Scholastic phrase, “agere sequitur esse,” describes this linkage

1 Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 49.2–3. Bonnie Kent helpfully points out, however, that Averroes does not say exactly what Aquinas attributes to him (and Aquinas knew that, using the correct quotation of Averroes in the Summa Contra Gentiles), and so we ought to consider the definition Aquinas attributes to Averroes as rather attributable to Aquinas himself (Kent 2013, 107–108). 2 Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 49.4. 3 Titus 2006, 119. 4 Davies 2014, 190, and Davies, 2002, 16, both quoting Kenny 1990, xxi, citing Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, i–ii, 50.4. See also the same quote in Kenny 2005, Ch. 6. 5 Aristotle 1999, and (for a few Biblical examples) Proverbs 3:1, 4:20–27 (attentiveness in internalizing virtue); Jeremiah 13:23, Ezekiel 33:31, and 1 Corinthians 10:1–6 (difficulty in changing habitus); 1 Timothy 4:13–16 (practicing virtue); Hebrews 5:14 (moral practice).



between doing and identity, stating that “action follows being.”6 This concept still forms the basis for most versions of natural law ethics found among Roman Catholic theologians and philosophers. Plainly speaking, it means that, as humans with free will and rationality, we can, through our action and to a limited extent, adjust our “being.” Through our actions we dispose and predispose ourselves (recalling that habitual character is one’s “disposition”) towards future similar actions. We not only have a first nature, our genetic-biological selves, but also a second nature, our habitual-biological selves.7 In this chapter, I will examine some of the Catholic tradition that forms the context for discussion of the idea of habitus. I will then look at some main challenges to the network of ideas that form the context for the concept of habitus, and attempt to neutralize these challenges. My overall goal is to provide a resource that gives a broad background for further investigations into the concept of habitus, whether from philosophical, theological, or scientific perspectives, so that as progress comes to this field, the implications of this progress might be more readily recognized.

Habitus in the Context of Catholic Moral Theology

Catholicism has many philosophical and theological strands. I cannot address all of them, so I will here merely discuss some major ideas from one strand – Thomism – which is based on the ideas of the 13th century saint, Thomas Aquinas. St. Thomas managed a synthesis of Aristotle’s philosophy and Biblical Christianity; thus, Thomism is a kind of Aristotelianism informed by JudeoChristian religious ideals such as the paradigmatic figure of Christ, human ­dignity and equality, the value of work, and so on. At the largest scale, Thomistic virtue ethics relies on an understanding of human nature and what traits contribute to being an excellent person; in other words, it relies on an “is” and an “ought,” a description and a ­prescription, 6 See, for example, Aquinas, 1955–57, iii, 69.20 and 97.4. James Bretzke (1998, 10) calls this phrase an “Important metaphysical and moral principle in which one’s moral duties and possibilities are grounded in one’s being. Thus the moral ‘ought’ is founded on the ‘is,’ the given reality of the individual. This principle indicates the inseparable connection among ontology, obligation, and ethics.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer (2009, 103) says of it “Agere sequitur esse: this ontological, fundamental thesis of Catholic and orthodox Protestant dogmatics….” 7 Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 58.1. These should not be thought of as dualistically non-interacting categories. Our behaviors and experiences embed into our neural biology and through epigenetics can even influence future generations, while our genetics can predispose us towards certain behaviors, such as alcoholism or violence.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


a philosophical anthropology (including natural science) and a normative ­anthropology. The relationship of “is” and “ought” is a necessary one for virtue ethics because, as Alasdair MacIntyre noted in After Virtue, in virtue ethics, “nature,” “ethics,” and “good” form a progression: “untutored human nature, man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-telos and the moral precepts which ­enable him to pass from one state to the other.”8 Metaphorically speaking, nature is our origin, telos is our destiny, and ethics is the path between the two. Natural science, as well as philosophy and theology, can tell us something about the first term, “nature,” and determine tests for whether we are succeeding in attaining the third, telos, via the second, “ethics,” but only philosophy and/or theology can describe the third term and thereby guide the second. In Catholicism in general, not just Thomism, several sources help articulate what “good” is for a virtuous person. There are Biblical ideas, such as the Ten Commandments and the Golden Rule.9 There are philosophical ideas such as those from the Greeks and Roman stoics, which are considered valid for ­Christians because they are valid for all humans. And there are exemplary figures such as Jesus Christ and the saints who serve as models for human excellence and imitation. Moral exemplars such as Jesus and the saints serve as “case-studies” of what good human lives look like. Based on these examples of lives-well-loved, we can use our analogical imagination to, in the words of Jesus (and reiterated by theological ethicist William Spohn), “go and do likewise.”10 A normative understanding of excellence relies on the idea that humans are normatively “for” something, that there is something towards which we need to develop in order to attain fulfillment. In this case, it is the virtues: habitus made excellent. This requires, as theologian Jean Porter has noted, a teleological perspective on nature that is potentially difficult to reconcile with some worldviews, particularly some forms of philosophical naturalism or materialism.11 Since the Scientific Revolution, teleology has been deemed by many scientific thinkers (though not all12) to be outside the scope of the scientific enterprise.13 But it is not outside the scope of philosophy. Teleology 8 9 10 11 12


MacIntyre 1984, 54–55. The Ten Commandments: Exod. 20:1–17 and Deut. 5:6–21; the Golden Rule: Lev. 19:18, Matt. 22:39, and Luke 10:27. Luke 10:37; Spohn 2006. Porter 2005, 82–103. For example, Robert Boyle (1688), Pierre Gassendi (1649, iii, iii), Isaac Newton (1726, iii), and Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz (1989, 35–68, 126, 155–166, 213–224, 242, 281–284, 319). Cited in Johnson 2005, 25–26. For example, Francis Bacon (1605, III.4) and Rene Descartes (1644, I.28), both cited in Johnson 2005, 24. See also, Bacon 1863, Book 1, Aphorism xlviii, and Benedict Spinoza 2001, 34, Part i, Appendix 1.



can be s­ upported by numerous worldviews ranging from various religions, to Aristotelian metaphysics, to various forms of panpsychism, and even atheistic worldviews such as Marxism. Anthropologist Terrence Deacon provides a contemporary non-theistic account of teleology in his recent book Incomplete Nature, which I think provides one strong defense for the existence of natural teleology, and this account could be of interest to Catholic natural law.14 Natural law ethics emerges where virtue ethics roots, through habitus, into human nature. Virtue ethics relies on an anthropology, and natural law is the ethical aspect of that anthropology. In fact, with natural law in mind, ethics can be thought of as “normative anthropology.”15 St. Thomas defines natural law as “the rational creature’s participation” in the eternal law of God.16 Because God created us, God’s eternal rationality is embedded in us, and, therefore, our own nature contains the ethical directives of our Creator in us: the natural law. Contemporary Catholic ethicists have many perspectives on natural law, and differ on a wide variety of questions concerning it, including such basic questions as “how theological is natural law?” and “how might natural law relate to natural science?” But the fundamental theory behind most forms of natural law is, as mentioned before, agere sequitur esse. The idea that action follows being helps to illustrate further what St. Thomas Aquinas meant when he said that the natural law is our participation in the eternal law. God is B ­ eing itself. God is also pure act; God contains no unrealized potencies. But we humans are not this way. We are not pure being or pure act; but being is a part of us, and our actions do (or should, if subject to our choice) follow that being. We should try to maintain our health, we should learn to speak, we should relate to others kindly. Thomas called habits “the intrinsic principles of human acts.”17 Thomistic virtue ethics speaks of our “second nature” being formed by our actions, yet Thomistic natural law speaks of action coming from our nature.18 These are not contradictory; rather, here Thomistic moral theology posits a kind of reciprocity of nature and virtue. We begin with natural capacities for action, and by expressing actions we further refine our nature towards virtue or vice, which then in themselves, as constituents of our second nature, further form 14 15

Deacon 2012; As I have argued elsewhere: Brian Patrick Green 2013, 2015, 89–95. Franz Scholz (1979, 158) continues: “That means that moral theology in its search for ­concrete (secondary) norms must consider the verified results of the human sciences.” 16 Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 91.2. 17 Ibid., i–ii, 49. 18 Ibid., i–ii, 58.1.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


our actions. For clarity’s sake: ontologically, action follows being; habitually, action forms being; and, epistemologically, we know what something is by the actions it performs. Thus, when people murder, we call them murderers. Their action has changed who they are, changing their being and identity. We are not born murderers, but we are born with the capacity to murder. Only through our free actions can we change our nature towards such a different state. Natural capacities are the bedrock upon which natural law is grounded. For every natural capacity, such as hunger, there is a “natural” way in which it should be expressed. When we experience hunger, we should probably eat some food.19 If we do not, we may eventually weaken. Similarly, we should not eat wool or pebbles. Such things will not nourish us. Another more moral capacity would be fear– we have the capacity to be afraid. We can then habituate this capacity towards courage – a virtue – or towards vice – either cowardliness (an excess of fear) or foolhardiness (a deficiency of fear). As we develop as human beings, our natural capacities are moved from their original positions and they become disposed, becoming our character, or “­disposition.” These character traits are habits of character, our habitus. As many social theorists and anthropologists have noted, humans are biologically unfinished.20 Habitus is what finishes us; it is our “second nature.”21 H ­ abitus forms the bridge between biology and behavior, or, more philosophically speaking, between natural law and virtue ethics. Properly speaking, natural law, habitus, and virtue ethics all ought to be thought of as one overarching theory encompassing the scientific, philosophical, and theological aspects of human nature, ethics, and telos. Because there is a normative end for human existence – to be an excellent human being and to live eventually with God in heaven – there are normative ways for us to habituate our natural capacities. Here we must, then, look at the idea of freedom. According to the Dominican friar and Thomistic scholar Servais Pinckaers, St. Thomas understands there to be two kinds of freedom: freedom for excellence and freedom of indifference. Freedom of indifference is “freedom of choice,” where we can do as we see fit, without a normative goal in mind. Freedom of excellence on the other hand, is a freedom that one must develop over time, through training and hard work.22 19 20 21 22

See, for example, Stanley Hauerwas (2017), this volume. For example, Berger and Luckmann 1966; Geertz 1973. Pierre Bourdieu (1984) goes so far as to use the word “habitus” as a major concept in his theory. Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 58.1. Pinckaers, 2003, 65–75; Pinckaers, 2005, 137–143, 163, 167–184, 211–235, 343–347, 364–366.



From this perspective, the moral life is like learning to play a sport or a musical instrument, or learning to paint or speak another language. We have the capacities within us to do many of these things and to do them well, but these capacities must be developed through diligence if we are even to become truly excellent at them. No one can run a marathon who has never run one mile. Only through training can one gain the freedom to run longer races and run them well. Likewise, no one can freely speak a second language without practice. No one can learn to play Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Flight of the Bumblebee without immense effort and practice. Most instrumental musicians may never be able to play it well. But if one does rise to that level of excellence, one has proven that one has “freedom” of the instrument, the freedom to play the most difficult pieces. As a saying goes in art: “First discipline, then freedom.” The moral life is the same. Only with training and practice does good moral decision-making become second nature to us. If instead we do not develop our moral talent, if we instead exercise our “freedom of indifference” and degrade and debase ourselves through laziness, pride, injustice, lust, greed, and gluttony, then – like the student who refuses to practice piano – we will never be able to perform more than the moral equivalent of Chopsticks. In other words, we will have become bad humans. Capacities made excellent are virtues. While technical skill in a sport or with a musical instrument is easy to comprehend, a moral virtue such as practical wisdom is somewhat more difficult to appreciate. Virtues must be developed not only by practice, but by actually living life and facing real moral choices. Compared to the moral life, sports and music are just games. The moral life is the real thing – it is no game. We live it, and our “plays” reflect who we are and make us into who we will be.23 Furthermore, these choices, which build into our habitus, ultimately affect our natural and supernatural happiness. Excellence that comes with effort and training can lead to natural happiness, but the excellence for our supernatural end – the excellence of the theological virtues that lead to the joy of the beatific vision and union with God – is by the grace of God alone.24 But, importantly, grace does not replace nature, grace perfects it. Nature is the beginning which grace completes. In contrast to virtues, capacities degraded are vices. We become vicious as vices grow in our lives, through our habitual commitment to them. With each 23


This idea is not unfamiliar to players of role-playing games such Dungeons and Dragons or various massively multiplayer online role-playing games, such as World of Warcraft, where characters are developed over time. These games better capture certain aspects of virtue ethics than some contemporary scholars. Aquinas 1947, i–ii, 109–114.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


vicious act, vice becomes harder to remove, embedding more and more deeply into our character. It becomes our habitus – the way we have habitually disposed our character. For Aristotle, moral virtues are a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency, as noted above with the example of the virtue of courage and the vices of cowardice and foolhardiness. Therefore the moral life is a constant process of directing our behavior towards the virtuous mean. Without this intentional directing we are unlikely to achieve virtue – we are much more likely to stray into vice. If we degrade into vice, we will not be “playing life” well. We will not be moving towards our telos, and we will not be growing towards the natural and supernatural happiness for which we were made.

Is it All for Naught? Teleology, Essentialism, and Is-Ought

At least since the ancient Hebrews and Greeks, it has been understood that happiness comes from living an excellent life, whether that meant seeking to live a holy life and/or pursuing the virtues. But the question we must face ­today is, “Is this correct?” The Catholic Church has been facing challenges to its system of natural law-habitus-virtue ethics for millennia. Some of these objections can be very helpful for better understanding exactly what a ­habitus-focused ­outlook is and is not. Habitus, as a crucial link between natural law and virtue ethics, is subject to these critiques. If any one of these objections is correct, then the e­ ndeavor of using a teleological notion of human nature as a bridge between science and ethics must be re-thought. There are three c­ hallenges which I think are particularly worthy of attention. These are the ­psychological objection: that scientific data undermines natural law by ­explaining the human psychological compulsion to seek teleology; the nominalist objection: that natural kinds do not exist and therefore ethical guidance cannot be ­generated from or for those kinds; and the is-ought objection: that the mere existence of human natural capacities and/or even teleology does not provide support for any kind of ethics; one cannot derive an “ought” from an “is.”

Objection 1: Scientific Data Undermines Natural Law by Explaining the Human Psychological Compulsion to Teleonomically Seek Teleology

This is the psychological objection: scientific data revealing the human propensity to seek teleology throws natural law theory into question as an



e­xpression of that hyperactive capacity – “promiscuous teleology,” to use Deborah Kelemen’s phrase.25 Natural law theory universalizes human desires for teleological explanation beyond what is scientifically correct, and those who appeal to natural law are just in the thrall of deep subconscious needs to explain everything teleologically, while most such explanations do not, in fact, exist. So when Catholics and others claim that human beings have a telos, they are just guilty of engaging in a serious cognitive bias bequeathed to us by evolution. To this objection, I respond that the mere existence of such a psychological instinct does not mean that it is, in fact, an unsuitable way for viewing the world. In the case of relating nature and teleology, humans were ­evolutionarily selected for seeking practical teleology – for learning of intentions in other minds, and for sensitivity to the purposes of objects – perhaps with the “­byproduct” of seeking theoretical teleology – wisdom – as well.26 Just because something is a side-effect does not make it wrong or useless; biologically speaking, many new traits have appeared first as byproducts or side-effects, and they have led to new biological capacities and functions.27 While theorists utilizing natural law might be expressing their natural inclinations for teleological explanation when they develop their ideas, just ­because something is natural does not make it factually wrong, and I think the opposite is the stronger case. To attempt to write off natural law in this way is to attempt to explain metaphysics via anthropology, which is as invalid as attempting to explain a whole person from one part of their body. This attempt to discard natural law also cuts into every other philosophical and scientific theory humans can make, because they are all products of the human mind, and thus our psychology may warp our perception of what reality truly is. This is an epistemological issue in general, but it does not lead directly to any conclusions for or against natural law in this case. The deep question is whether 25 26


Kelemen 1999, 464. Green 2012, 291–311. From a purely scientific perspective, wisdom-seeking, as a byproduct with no function, could theoretically survive with no ill effects, since it neither helped nor harmed its possessors. This could be used to argue for atheism, saying that wisdom has no object, but because the object of wisdom is beyond scientific investigation, the argument is metaphysical, not scientific. Even if teleology-seeking evolved for the practical purpose of pedagogy, with wisdom-seeking as the byproduct, that does not mean that the byproduct is useless or necessarily leads to false information. Evolutionary byproducts can in fact gain function, so it is possible that wisdom does have a real object and that natural selection simply stumbled upon it, as it does with any new function. For example via gene duplication and divergence, the hemoglobin family of proteins being just one example.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


our nature is correct to seek theoretical teleology, or whether we, by our very nature, seek falsehoods. If we, by nature, seek falsehoods, how can we trust anything that we think we know?28 An additional aspect of this objection is the idea that humans are teleonomically programmed to seek teleology. If teleology-seeking is merely the manifestation of a genetic program to acquire culture, not an actual orientation towards finding real purposivity in the universe, then this specifically strikes against the idea of there being a human virtue of wisdom.29 This objection claims that, in nature, there is no purpose to be found by our searching; the seeking is instead merely the misdirection of a capacity evolved for the ­acquisition of culture. There are two aspects to this objection: first, the “programming” aspect, and, second, the “misdirection” aspect of it. The programming aspect of it is a broad attack on the human ability to think in a manner consistent with reality. The programming is deterministic in that we cannot choose to think in a manner not skewed by teleology (e.g., as Deborah Kelemen’s and others’ ­studies show, even despite years of training by Western education, the human default thought pattern is teleological).30 This impinges upon human free will in epistemologically damaging ways. The misdirection aspect is that humans are oriented towards teleology for the sake of acquiring culture, which is an “appropriate” application of teleology, but the orientation is not for any other application. To seek teleology elsewhere is an improper use of what is a purely practical capacity for acquiring culture.31 The conclusions of this objection can be self-defeating, that is, if the objection is correct then our minds are structured to think in a way that does not ­accord with reality in a very deep sense. If we are teleonomically programmed as promiscuous teleologists, we must be very careful in our thinking, and ­perhaps we are incapable of ever being careful enough to obtain a true grasp of natural reality. If our minds are in fact very inaccurate due to this programming, our systems of thought may be entirely misguided, perhaps even so far 28

29 30 31

One answer could be through the scientific method, which attempts to gain objective knowledge about reality, but even science relies on metaphysical presuppositions that may ultimately be false, despite science generally working “correctly” at our levels of ­investigation. For more on the metaphysical underpinnings of science, see, for example, Joshua Moritz, 2009, 370–371. See Mayr 1988, 45, where he defines teleonomic as a “process or behavior… which owes its goal-directedness to the operations of a program.” Kelemen 1999, 464; Kelemen and Rosset 2009, 138; Lombrozo, Kelemen, and Zaitchik, 2007, 999–1006; Casler and Kelemen 2008, 340–362. Csibra and Gergely 2009, 148–153; Gergely and Csibra 2006, 237–238.



that the objection itself collapses (i.e. our nature impedes our ability to engage the teleology/teleonomy issue in any meaningful way, or even engage natural reality in a meaningful way). While the extreme version of this objection defeats itself, a milder version simply prohibits the seeking of natural teleology. Historically, several late medieval and early modern philosophers took this milder perspective and “banned” looking for natural teleology, including the Franciscan friar William of Ockham, Sir Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and Benedict Spinoza.32 This objection, however, has major metaphysical assumptions: that there is no mind behind the universe and/or that there is no natural teleology. This is not a scientifically investigable assumption (as Aristotle says, these questions are farthest from the senses and thus the empirical).33 Rather, the claim is purely metaphysical and theological. It is quite possible that there is a mind and teleology behind the universe, and we simply cannot perceive it or ­understand it, just as the mind of another human can be inscrutable to us. Choosing either side, for or against teleology, is a matter of faith. For ­Christians and believers of other prophetic religions, this makes divine revelation all the more important, because revelation crosses this divide between minds through language, thus making the teleology of nature comprehensible and no longer “cognitively opaque.”34

Objection 2: Natural Kinds (Essences) Do Not Exist and Therefore Ethical Guidance Cannot Be Generated from or for Those Kinds

This is the nominalist objection: that types of things are “only names” and that real categories of types – essences – do not exist. The heart of this critique is that there can be no moral guidance for human nature if there is no such thing as human nature. Rather, “human” is just a word referring to numerous 32 33 34

See footnote 13 and William of Ockham 1322–5, IV.1, 229, cited in Johnson 2005, 27. Aristotle 1941, 689–691. Because, according to this objection, teleological sensitivity is for acquiring cultural knowledge, we therefore understand the social inherently better than the natural. It therefore makes sense that God would use revelation (through prophets and Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word Incarnate) to communicate to humans: it is a direct communication to overcome cognitive opacity, unlike natural revelation, which cannot communicate the teleo-functional knowledge. It is the difference between blind imitation (and in the case of nature, with no clarity about what to imitate, or even that there is anything to imitate) and clear pedagogy. See Green 2012, 304; Csibra and Gergely 2009, 148–153; Gergely and Csibra 2006, 237–238.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


a­ tomistic individuals that are not a type at all but just look similar enough to name as such for the sake of speaking. The nominalist objection seeks to atomize reality into particulars that cannot be grouped together. “Everything is what it is, and not another thing,” as G.E. Moore quotes Bishop Joseph Butler.35 The categories that we think are real are just convenient fictions created so that we can talk, otherwise we would need a different word for every object, even ones that look the same and are interchangeable. But, according to this objection, the truth is that no two ­objects are the same, and no two objects are truly interchangeable. Everything is unique, and any attempt to essentialize individuals into uniform types can be inaccurate and oppressive, as feminist theorists and others have noted.36 While this critique does have some merit to it in that essentialism can make errors (the notion of species and species boundaries in biology being a prime example of where essentialism can become confused or fail), and those errors can be oppressive when applied to humans, there is another sense in which it is very wrong. From the functionalist perspective types of things really do exist, as replaceable parts in machinery and the category of “food” make clear.37 For example, if one needs a sixteen penny nail for a project, any sixteen penny nail will do – one does not need a specific one unless it has somehow been modified so as no longer to fit the category. All sixteen penny nails are functionally interchangeable. If one needs a quarter for a vending machine, any quarter will do, they are functionally interchangeable. If a person is hungry – or hungry enough, at least – anything in the category of “food” will do (something nutritious for the human stomach to digest). Eating things in the category of “not food” will not help much and, indeed, may hinder the hungry person’s future well-being. Notable among the previous examples is that all of them are “for” ­something. A nail is for nailing, a quarter is for paying, food is for eating. Function, purpose, teleology – all rely on categories, and insofar as something is f­ unctionally ­interchangeable with something else, it can fulfill the parameters of that category. While individual differences do still, of course, exist, the functional similarities are enough to base ethics upon the natural type, and that is all that natural law/virtue ethics needs to be able to do. Humans are a natural type, 35 36 37

G.E. Moore 1959, epigram. For two excellent investigations into natural law essentialism and feminism see Cahill 1997, 78–91; Traina, 1999. Deacon 2012, 29: “the same function may be realized by different mechanisms… [this] ­appears to require that types of things have real physical consequences independent of any specific embodiment.”



b­ ecause, to a certain extent, we are all similar to each other in that we are rational and loving creatures, though we are also distinct individuals with our own innate dignity and made in the image of God.38 While we are all different, we are also all the same in some essential ways: we are genetically human and share biological and (to a lesser extent) socio-cultural similarities to each other.

Objection 3: The Mere Existence of Human Natural Capacities and/or Even Teleology Does Not Provide Support for Any Kind of Ethics; One Cannot Derive an “Ought” from an “Is”

This is the is-ought objection: merely establishing congruency between an ethics based on habitus and natural science does not thereby validate that normative anthropology, and it certainly does not validate the derivation of “ought” from “is.” Goodness and nature do not coincide; they are independent, or ambiguous, or perhaps “good” does not exist at all. This is a metaphysical issue, as to whether nature is good, neutral, mixed, ambiguous, or evil. Typically, as noted before, natural science has viewed nature as neutral, and therefore amoral;39 however, this is a fairly recent ­philosophical assumption to gain prominence, and this assumption has i­nfluenced those who assert that “ought” cannot be derived from “is.”40 However, this p ­ osition can be critiqued in four ways (recalling Ian Barbour’s four ways to evaluate a metaphysical theory).41 First, is the theory coherent? Taking the position that nature is neutral forces goodness out of nature – but where then does it go? Does this realm exist in the human mind? If it is in the human mind, then is the mind not natural, or does the natural mind not in some sense ground goodness in nature, thus invalidating the argument? Or, if goodness and nature are separate, does goodness then exist in a platonic realm? If so, how does goodness exist there and how can we, as natural objects, know it? Or perhaps goodness does not exist at


39 40 41

Moses and Jesus Christ, revealing divine insights, describe the human function as love. Aristotle describes the human function as reason. These are combined in Catholic tradition. See Aristotle 1999, 7–9 (I.7), and the Biblical commandments to love God (Deut. 6:5) and neighbor (Lev. 19:18), and both commands together in Matt. 22:37–40 and Luke 10:27. Jonas 1984, 44–50. Hume 1888/1949, 469, bk. iii, Part 1, Sec. 1. Barbour 1990, 34–35. See also Murphy, 1990; Murphy and Ellis 1996, 8–15, 115–172.

Habitus in Roman Catholic Tradition: Context & Challenges


all (the conclusion of J.L. Mackie).42 Natural moral neutrality may lead to error theory and nihilism. Second, does the theory correspond with what is known through natural science? One of the underlying assumptions of natural science is that n ­ ature is worth studying, i.e. that nature is in some sense good. While this is not ­something known through science, it is foundational to science, thus the separation of nature and goodness would seem to contradict one of the assumptions ­necessary for science itself. Third, how comprehensive is the explanatory power of the theory? All else being equal, if a theory explains more, it is a better theory. For example, a ­theory which cannot explain or must “explain away” teleology, purpose, ­intention, and the human mind (e.g., eliminative materialism) is a worse theory than one which can include these phenomena in its purview (e.g., panpsychism or emergentism). Fourth, what are the consequences of the theory on human life? All else being equal, if a theory results in morally bad or aesthetically displeasing outcomes, then it can justifiably be disfavored relative to a theory that does not have these effects. Axiology can and does judge metaphysics, as mathematicians and physicists often describe theories as “beautiful” or “ugly,” and as moral effects can and do throw theories into disrepute, as with Marxism (which grotesquely failed in practice and therefore is no longer taken seriously as a metaphysical theory). For the subject at hand, the moral neutralization of nature has had numerous bad effects on ethics, not the least of which is fragmenting ethics into numerous warring schools of thought that constantly disagree with each other. With no theoretical guidance, practical guidance is lost as well. Further, it has led to the instrumentalization of the natural world, including humanity, since nature has no intrinsic value, but only instrumental value. This is leading to environmental disaster and human exploitation. These rejoinders alone do not warrant returning to a conception of nature as good, but they certainly throw the opposing viewpoint into question. Because this is a debate at the level of metaphysical a prioris, the choice cannot ultimately be made with logical certainty, but only by relative superiority, keeping coherence, correspondence, comprehensiveness, and consequences in mind. Overall, in my estimation, when comparing forms of eliminative materialism (e.g., scientism) to a more Thomistic worldview, eliminative materialism fails three of the four criteria, being incoherent (unable to meet its own criteria for truth), less comprehensive (explaining less about reality, e.g., it eliminates that which it cannot explain), and leading to bad consequences (poor t­ hinking 42

Mackie 1977.



and poor ethical outcomes). Only with the criterion of correspondence (to the facts of natural science) can it claim a tie with Thomism, which is equally capable of corresponding to scientific facts. That said, there are at least three ways to bridge the gap from “ought” to “is.” The first is the path of social institutions, where social institutions serve to produce “oughts” for the sake of order within the social institution.43 The second is the biological path, which is the one taken by Aristotle and most virtue and natural law ethicists since him. The third way is a more metaphysical teleological path, focusing directly on the goodness of being.44 In any case, while the is-ought problem has caused much metaethical consternation in the past 250 years, it is no longer the conversation-ending argument that it once was.45 In summary, these challenges are serious but answerable. Conclusion In conclusion, habitus is a deeply significant part of the Catholic intellectual tradition. It is not a dead relic of the past, but very much a living idea with a promising future. My hope is that as science, philosophy, and theology progress together, the notion of habitus will become an integral part of any systemic interpretation of the reality we analyze. Catholic natural law and virtue ethics, providing the context for habitus, will, I hope, further the project of integrating future data and, additionally, will be open to learning and adapting to what that data has to contribute to Catholic philosophy and theology. References Aristotle. 1941. Metaphysics. Translated by W.D. Ross, in The Basic Works of Aristotle, ed. Richard McKeon. New York: Random House. Aristotle. 1999. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Terence Irwin, 2nd ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co. Bacon, Francis. 1605. Advancement of Learning. London: Henry Tomes. Bacon, Francis. 1863. Novum Organon. Translated by James Spedding, Robert Leslie E ­ llis, and Douglas Denon Heath in The Works (Vol. VIII). Boston: Taggard and Thompson. Accessed October 12, 2012. http://www.constitution.org/bacon/nov_org.htm. 43 44 45

Searle 1964, 43–58; Searle 1995; Searle 2005, 10–11; and Searle, 2010. See Jonas 1984 For a more in-depth analysis of the material in this section, see Green 2013.

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Barbour, Ian. 1990. Religion in an Age of Science: The Gifford Lectures, Volume One. New York: Harper Collins. Berger, Peter L., and Thomas Luckmann. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise on the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Anchor Books. Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. 2009. Act and Being: Transcendental Philosophy and Ontology in Systematic Theology. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Bourdieu, Pierre. 1984. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste. ­Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Boyle, Robert. 1688. Disquisition about the Final Causes of Natural Things. London: H.C. John Taylor. Bretzke, James T. S.J. 1998. Consecrated Phrases: A Latin Theological Dictionary: Latin Expressions Commonly Found in Theological Writings. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press. Cahill, Lisa Sowle. 1997. “Natural Law: A Feminist Reassessment.” In Is There a Human Nature?, edited by Leroy S. Rouner. Notre Dame, IN.: University of Notre Dame Press. Casler, Krista, and Deborah Kelemen. 2008. “Developmental Continuity in TeleoFunctional Explanation: Reasoning about Nature among Romanian Romani Adults.” Journal of Cognition and Development 9: 340–362. Csibra, Gergely, and Gyorgy Gergely. 2009. “Natural pedagogy.” Trends in Cognitive S­ cience 13: 148–153. Davies, Brian. 2002. Thomas Aquinas: Contemporary Philosophical Perspectives. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Davies, Brian. 2014. Thomas Aquinas’s Summa Theologiae: A Guide and Commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Deacon, Terrence W. 2012. Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: W.W. Norton. Descartes, Rene. 1644. Principles of Philosophy. Amsterdam: Ludovicum Elzevirium. Gassendi, Pierre. 1649. Syntagma Philosophiae Epicuri. Lyon: Guillaume Barbier. Geertz, Clifford. 1973. The Interpretation of Cultures. New York: Basic Books. Gergely, Gyorgy, and Gergely Csibra. 2006. “Sylvia’s Recipe: The Role of Imitation and Pedagogy in the Transmission of Cultural Knowledge.” In Roots of Human Sociality: Culture, Cognition and Interaction, by N.J. Enfield and Stephen C. Levinson. Oxford: Berg Publishers. Green, Brian Patrick. 2012. “Teleology and Theology: The Cognitive Science of Teleology and the Aristotelian virtues of Techne and Wisdom.” Theology and Science 10: 291–311. Green, Brian Patrick. 2013. The Is-Ought Problem and Catholic Natural Law. Dissertation, Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, CA. Ann Arbor, MI: ProQuest. Green, Brian Patrick. 2015. “Catholic Thomistic Natural Law and Terrence Deacon’s ­Incomplete Nature: A Match Made in Heaven?” Theology and Science 13: 89–95.



Hauerwas, Stanley. 2017. “Habit Matters: The Bodily Character of the Virtues.” In Habits In Mind: Integrating Theology, Philosophy, and the Cognitive Science of Virtue, ­Emotion, and Character Formation. Edited by Gregory R. Peterson et al. Leiden: Brill. Hume, David. 1888, 1949. Treatise on Human Nature. Edited by L.A. Selby-Riggs. Oxford. Johnson, Monte Ransome. 2005. Aristotle on Teleology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jonas, Hans. 1984. The Imperative of Responsibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kelemen, Deborah. 1999. “Function, Goals and Intention: Children’s Teleological ­Reasoning about Objects,” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 3: 464. Kelemen, Deborah, and Evelyn Rosset. 2009. “The Human Function Compunction: ­Teleological Explanation in Adults.” Cognition 111: 138. Kenny, Anthony. 1990. St. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, vol. 22 (1a2ae 49–54): Dispositions for Human Acts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Kenny, Anthony. 2005. A New History of Western Philosophy, vol. 2: Medieval Philosophy. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005. Kent, Bonnie. 2013. “Losable Virtue: Aquinas on Character and Will.” In Aquinas and the Nicomachean Ethics, edited by Tobias Hoffmann, Jörn Müller, Matthias Perkams. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm. 1989. Philosophical Essays. Edited and translated by Roger Ariew and Daniel Garber. Indianapolis, Ind.: Hackett Publishing Co. Lombrozo, Tania, Deborah Kelemen, and Deborah Zaitchik. 2007. “Inferring Design: Evidence of a Preference for Teleological Explanations in Patients with Alzheimer’s Disease.” Psychological Science 18: 999–1006. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1984. After Virtue, 2nd ed. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press. Mackie, J.L. 1977. Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin. Mayr, Ernst. 1988. Toward a New Philosophy of Biology: Observations of an Evolutionist. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Moore, G.E. 1959. Principia Ethica. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Moritz, Joshua. 2009. “Rendering unto Science and God: Is NOMA Enough?” Theology and Science 7: 370–371. Murphy, Nancey. 1990. Theology in the Age of Scientific Reasoning. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press. Murphy, Nancey, and George F.R. Ellis. 1996. On the Moral Nature of the Universe: Theology, Cosmology, and Ethics. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press. Newton, Isaac. 1726. Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica, 3rd ed. London: William and John Innys. Pinckaers, Servais. 2003. Morality: The Catholic View. South Bend, IN: St. Augustine’s Press.

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Pinckaers, Servais. 2005. The Pinckaers Reader: Renewing Thomistic Moral Theology. ­Edited by John Berkman and Craig Steven Titus. Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. Porter, Jean. 2005. Nature as Reason: a Thomistic Theory of the Natural Law. Grand ­Rapids, MI: Eerdmans. Scholz, Franz. 1979. “Problems on Norms Raised by Ethical Borderline Situations: The Beginnings of a Solution in Thomas Aquinas and Bonaventure.” In Readings in ­Moral Theology No. 1: Moral Norms and Catholic Tradition, edited by Charles Curran and Richard McCormick. New York: Paulist Press. Searle, John. 1964. “How to Derive ‘Ought’ from ‘Is.’” The Philosophical Review 73: 43–58. Searle, John. 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press. Searle, John. 2005. “What is an Institution?” Journal of Institutional Economics 1: 10–11. Searle, John. 2010. Making the Social World: The Structure of Human Civilization. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Spinoza, Benedict. 2001. Ethics. Translated by W.H. White and A.H. Stirling, introduction by Don Garrett. Hertfordshire, Great Britain: Wordsworth Classics. Spohn, William. 2006. Go and Do Likewise: Jesus and Ethics. New York: Continuum. Thomas Aquinas. 1947. Summa Theologiae. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 1st Complete American Ed., 3 Vol. New York: Benziger Bros. Thomas Aquinas. 1955–57. Summa Contra Gentiles. Translated by Vernon J. Bourke, ­edited and updated by Joseph Kenny O.P. New York: Hanover House. Accessed ­August 20, 2012. http://dhspriory.org/thomas/ContraGentiles.htm. Titus, Craig Steven. 2006. Resilience and the Virtue of Fortitude: Aquinas in Dialogue with the Psychosocial Sciences. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press. Traina, Cristina L.H. 1999. Feminist Ethics and Natural Law: The End of the Anathemas. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press. William of Ockham. 1322–5. Quodlibetal Questions.

chapter 3

Virtue is Not in the Head: Contributions from the Late Medieval and Reformation Traditions for Understanding Virtue Extrinsically Dennis Bielfeldt

Introduction: Neuroscience and Virtue

The project of connecting social neuroscience, neuroeconomics, experimental moral psychology and virtue ethics to the empirical study of moral examplars displays prima facie promise.1 As proponents of the approach point out, the philosophical tradition has been too much concerned about establishing universal principles to guide moral conduct and too little concerned about the role emotions play in ethical decision-making.2 Maybe advances in the cognitive sciences and neuroscience will help us understand “moral decisionmaking, including theological ethics …”3 Perhaps neuroscience can illuminate why moral exemplars act as they do and thereby influence philosophical and theological approaches to ethics. It is even possible that empirical results from this study will “change the way we think about the interaction of science and theology.”4 The moral exemplar project is attractive because, while all human beings make ethical choices, the abstraction and technicalities of traditional philosophical approaches to ethical decision-making seem to drive the philosophically uninitiated out of the discussion. Only a few have the requisite ­inclination and leisure to read and understand the pertinent philosophical literature ­supposedly informing rational ethical decision-making. Also it seems that philosophical speculation often simply gets in the way of empirical investigation. Given this situation, is it not more fruitful to investigate more concrete questions like how moral beings are different from other kinds of beings and what physically explains this difference? Is there something in the brain that accounts for the existence of moral exemplars or the tokening of those actions 1 For an overview of the project see Peterson et al. 2010; Van Slyke et al. 2013. 2 Peterson et al 2010, 140. 3 Ibid. 4 Ibid., 157.

Virtue is Not in the Head


customarily associated with such exemplars? Will greater insight into the brain science grounding moral exemplars help us to know how to influence causally the waxing of virtue and the waning of vice?5 This brief paper contributes to this discussion of the physical realization of virtue by recalling a time of critique of virtue theory within late medieval nominalism and the Lutheran Reformation. By sketching how goodness came to be understood extrinsically, I hope to illuminate some of the assumptions upon which the present moral exemplar project rests. I believe that the late medieval story of “the exodus from virtue to grace” challenges our presuppositions about the identity conditions of moral exemplars, properties, events and actions, and their putative supervenience upon the natural, e.g., neurobehavioral. As it turns out, investigating the neuro-basis of moral exemplars leaves mostly unexamined the criteria by which such exemplars are selected. Which people do we class as moral exemplars and how are conflicting o­ pinions about their selection to be resolved? What criteria allow us to sort virtuous acts from non-virtuous ones? Examining the neuro-realization of virtue suggests that virtue is an intrinsic property of agents supervening upon the physical.6 This paper challenges this assumption in two ways. Firstly, it points out that a commitment to semantic externalism ought to undermine easy acceptance of moral s­ upervenience. ­Secondly, it argues that the extrinsic nature of grace and virtue in the late ­medieval and Reformation traditions is incompatible with moral supervenience, and that this extrinsicality may have surprising relevance for us today. The paper has four more parts: ii rehearses some of the late medieval ­discussion on grace that eventuated in what Martin Luther termed “an exodus from virtue to grace.” Section iii briefly introduces moral supervenience, iv entertains some externalist motivated objections to it, while v broadens the r­ esults from ii in a rather interesting way. vi is a short summary and conclusion.

5 The reader familiar with virtue ethics and deontological and consequentialist objections to it will sense that my claims in this brief paper are motivated by much deeper concerns about the viability and sustainability of virtue ethical approaches within our current pluralistic context. 6 Throughout this paper I will assume that virtuous people (including people who are moral exemplars) display particular virtues as a necessary condition of their virtuousness. Virtuous people are those with deeply rooted virtues that include the emotions and practical wisdom (phronesis). Moreover, I assume that virtues and vices are specifiable, and that the former are good and the latter not. Accordingly, for John to be honest is for him to token the moral property of honesty with right motivation and emotion in appropriate contexts. Acting honestly is to perform a good action.



Luther and the Extrinsicality of Virtue

Martin Luther begins the scholia to his 1518 Commentary on Romans with this intriguing comment: … The exodus of the people Israel has for a long time been interpreted to signify the transition from vice to virtue. But one should, rather, interpret it as the way from virtue to the grace of Christ, because virtues are often the greater and worse faults the less they are regarded as such and the more powerfully they subject to themselves all human affections beyond all other goods. So also the right side of Jordan was more fearful than the left one.7 Luther is claiming that instead of the term “exodus” signifying, or “causing the mind to think” about, a movement or transition of the believer from vice to ­virtue, as was the case in the medieval tradition, the term should better cause the believer to recall the divine movement whereby God regards the believer as no longer judged by his or her won virtues, but by grace.8 At issue is the meaning of Latin term “iustitia.” Classically, iustitia connotes “justice” as in the Ciceronian definition of returning likes for likes, “righteousness,” and the proper way to live “before God” (coram deo).9 In the Augustinian tradition that grounded the early medieval tradition, justification usually involves a ­movement from a state of improper order or waywardness to a state of proper

7 lw 25:136–137, wa 56, 158:17–22: “Et omnis egressus populi Israel olim istam egressionem ­significauit, quam de viciis ad virtutes exponent. Et magis etiam de virtutibus ad gratiam Christi oportet exponi, Cum iusmodi virtutes eo maiora et peiora sunt vitia, quo minus se ­sinunt putari talia et vehementius affectum humanum sibi deuincunt quam omnia alia bona. Sic dextera pars Jordanis vehementius timuit quam sinistra.” 8 While it is tempting to understand signification as equivalent to meaning, the two are not equivalent, for while signification is a transitive relation, this is not so for meaning or reference (See Spade 1996, 83). Moreover, while meaning is a relation between terms, signification involves reference to minds as in this late-scholastic definition: “To signify is to represent (a) something or (b) some things or (c) somehow to a cognitive power” (“… significare est repraesentare potentiae cognitivae aliquid vel aliqua vel aliqualiter,” Nuchelmans 1980, 14). Signification is a causal relation, while meaning is not. A term signifies that about which it causes the person to think. 9 The Ciceronian sense of iustitia is reddens unicuique quod suum est (“giving to each what is his due”). See McGrath, 1986, 11.

Virtue is Not in the Head


order wherein men and women increasingly conform to the image of God (imago dei) in which they were originally created.10 Lutheran theology radicalizes tendencies within the nominalist tradition of late medieval scholasticism that downplay the intrinsicality of grace, seeking instead to understand it extrinsically.11 Instead of justification conceived as a movement from waywardness to greater conformity with God’s law – that is, a change in the soul – it becomes an imputation by God. Autonomous moral movement – the doing of good deeds with proper intent – does not determine one’s standing coram deo (before God). A person’s goodness is instead determined by the divine standpoint: through a “happy exchange” (commercium ­admirabile), Christ’s benefits are transferred to human beings and human sin is given over to Christ. This does not happen in the “head of the person,” but rather “in the heart of God.” Accordingly, goodness and virtue is no longer ­associated with intrinsic properties of the person but with an extrinsic imputation by God. While Luther sharply rejected the latent Pelagianism within the “pactum theology” of his via moderna teachers, he did accept the extrinsic denomination of grace and goodness presupposed in the late medieval formula: facienti quod in se est Deus non denegat gratiam (“God does not deny grace to the one that does what is within him.”).12 God gifts a grace that changes the way that 10



Ibid., 23–36. For a good general introduction to virtue ethics, see Hursthouse 2013. It is easy to see how iustitia connects to virtue. In the Augustinian tradition, a properly ­ordered person is one who has appropriate responses in appropriate situations, a person who is directed by right reason. While the conceptual connections among gratia (grace), iutitia, and bonum (good) were somewhat fluid throughout the medieval tradition, it was universally thought that a just God must reward likes for likes. Thus, the believer must merit salvation. The nature of this merit was an issue of great controversy. The Augustinians and Thomists mostly agreed that the merit was intrinsic, something the believer had. The Thomists argued that God causally moves the believer towards greater goodness such that now he has gratia creata (virtue of created grace) on the basis of which God justly rewards him. The early medieval Augustinians denied the category of created grace, opting for the gratia increata of Christ’s own person in the believer as the ground upon which God rewards the r­ ighteousness of the believer with salvation. Though this difference between the schools was salient, they did agree that God must reward the believer on the basis of those virtues that the believer manifests. Pelagianism is named after Pelagius, Augustine’s late fourth century opponent, who held that a just God must reward human beings on the basis of some action that they do. Augustine famously countered that God has such profound mercy and love for human beings that he saves a few of them from eternal damnation, although all indeed



God looks at human beings. Consider John the sinner who cannot do what is necessary to merit salvation and will never be able to do so. God in His great mercy, however, establishes a pactum (covenant) with him and all human ­beings such that God rewards John’s paltry, totally inadequate attempts to be good in God’s eyes with a wholly new way of divine seeing. Accordingly, the actions which John does de merito congruo (by the merit of the will), actions that are never de merito condigno (merits worthy of salvation), are nonetheless regarded as actions de merito condigno. God henceforth rewards John’s ­actions that are intrinsically unworthy of reward as nonetheless meriting salvation. Christ plays the salvific role of making possible for a just God to see the improperly motivated and wholly inadequate moral acts of human beings as meriting salvation. The process is sketched below: – Only a good person doing good acts, as defined by what God regards as good, can merit God’s gift of salvation. Although God has the power to do anything God wants, and thus to regard any person or act as acceptable or not acceptable de potential absoluta, God has in fact established a certain order by which God works with men and women. This order includes what God will henceforth regard as acceptable in God’s sight. This order is e­ stablished de potentia ordinata; it is the ordinate or constrained power of God.13 – What human beings can do by the own power of their will (merito de congruo) is not sufficient to obtain salvation; human beings can do nothing worthy of salvation (merito de condigno). However, if men and women “do what is within them,” God will not deny grace (facienti quod in se est Deus non denegat gratiam.) This means that if human beings make the tiny ­movement towards God they are capable of, that is, if they do the good they can do, God will, on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, regard this tiny movement wholly merito non de condigno as nonetheless merito de condigno, and ­impute a righteousness to men and women in their subsequent moral acts that these acts do not intrinsically have.14



deserve damnation. Pactum theology claimed that human beings must fulfill the minimal ­conditions of the covenant God has established with them, and if they do so, God will reward them with the grace that regards their subsequent acts as good. The distinction between the potentia de absoluta and the potentia dei ordinata descends from Duns Scotus. The idea is simply that God could, in principle, do anything that God wants to do. However, God has chosen to create a universe and relate to this universe in a particular way. The distinction is strongly emphasized by William of Ockham and presupposed by Luther. See McGrath 1986, 122–128. The terms merito de congruo and merito de condigno were used throughout the medieval tradition. In Duns Scotus, however, they are given a particular sense that becomes

Virtue is Not in the Head


– This imputation of righteousness (iustitia) to human beings is extrinsic; men and women are righteous not intrinsically, but extrinsically – they are righteous because God establishes a covenant (pactum) with them to ­regard them as such. This extrinsic righteousness nonetheless provides ­human ­beings with the condign merit (merito de condigno) such that God can justly reward them with eternal life. While there is very little or no change in the person’s intrinsic virtue, through a divine act of imputation humans are ­given in the deepest sense (in the eyes of God) the very virtue they intrinsically lack. While Ockham continued to try reconcile the pactum theology he inherited with the notion of virtue inherited from Aristotle,15 Martin Luther rejected strongly Aristotelian accounts of virtue, claiming that such notions obviate the radical nature of divine grace.16 God gives his grace of righteousness whenever and wherever God wishes. This righteousness is God’s righteousness given away freely to believers even though there is “no merit or worthiness”17 in them i­ mportant for the development of late medieval theology. In conformity with Augustine, Scotus argues that human beings can do nothing worthy of salvation through the merit or power of their own will (merito de congruo). Acts of the will are not condign merits (merito de condigno) because they are not in conformity with the conditions necessary for God to reward righteousness with salvation. Since human beings cannot on their own move themselves to condign merit through an act of their will, God moves Himself to regard the act with a certain intrinsic nature (merito de congruo) as having a nature which on account of Christ now is regarded as condign merit. 15 Ockham, like medieval theologians generally, advocated particular interpretations of ­Aristotle, and disagreed with the great philosopher on a number of points. For an ­excellent  account of Ockham’s thinking on the nature and expression of virtue, see Wood 1997. 16 In his 1517 “Disputation against Scholastic Theology,” Luther declares in theses 41–44: “­Virtually the entire Ethics of Aristotle is the worst enemy of grace. This is in opposition to the scholastics. It is an error to maintain that Aristotle’s statement concerning happiness does not contradict Catholic doctrine. This is in opposition to the doctrine on morals. It is an error to say that no man can become a theologian without Aristotle. This is in opposition to common opinion. Indeed, no one can become a theologian unless he becomes one without Aristotle.” See lw 31:12; wa 1, 226:10–16. 17 The allusion is to Luther’s Small Catechism, where in explanation to the First Article, he writes, “And all this he does only out of fatherly divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness within me. For all of this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey him. Of this I am certain!” Luther famously claimed later in life to have had a T ­ urmerlebnis (tower experience) in which he came to understand the righteousness of God not as something God possesses, but rather as something God gives away to sinners.



whatsoever. Because of this, Luther can talk about simul iustus et peccator: ­Human beings are at the same time both sinful and righteous. They are sinful in themselves but are nonetheless regarded as righteous through the “happy exchange” by which, before God (coram deo), human sinfulness is given to Christ, and Christ’s righteousness is given to humans.18 Late medieval and Reformation understandings of grace and virtue pose a question to those attempting to locate a neurophysiological realization for ­virtue. What if virtue really were such a radically relational property, such that how one’s act is regarded determines what one’s act really is? While the ­semantic internalist declares that what one means is intrinsic to the agent, the externalist counters that meaning depends upon the external thing referenced.19 In a parallel way, while the ethical internalist contends that the moral ­properties and actions are internal to the agent, the ethical externalist must hold that virtue is linked indissolvably to the wider context in which it occurs.20 While there has been some exploration of extrinsic virtue, the radical relationality suggested by the late medieval context has not, to my knowledge, been explored. On the assumption of God’s existence, the extrinsicality of virtue is easily understood: One’s virtue is not what one possesses in time and space, but is rather that which the eternal God judges one to have. Since the divine standpoint is higher than the human standpoint, the divine perspective could be said to determine the ontology of virtue.21 Human beings really are righteous.


The literature distinguishes the “total aspect” and “partial aspect” with respect to virtue and its tokening. Luther says that coram deo human beings are both wholly sinful in themselves and wholly justified on account of Christ. However, coram hominibus (before human beings), human moral progress is possible. See Hamm 2014. 19 “Externalism with regard to mental content says that in order to have certain types of intentional mental states (e.g. beliefs), it is necessary to be related to the environment in the right way. Internalism (or individualism) denies this, and it affirms that having those intentional mental states depends solely on our intrinsic properties.” The issue gets very much more complicated than this. For an introduction see Lau and Deutsch 2014. 20 I am using the terms “ethical internalism” and “ethical externalism,” although my usage is perhaps idiosyncratic. What I mean by the terms will become apparent. I do not mean the distinction between moral internalism (motivational internalism) and moral externalism (motivational externalism). The first affirms and the second denies an internal connection between moral convictions and motivations. For a discussion of these issues see Tresan 2009. 21 A moral act and actor is truly virtuous if and only if God regards her to be. Her being ­virtuous is thus determined by God’s act of judgment.

Virtue is Not in the Head


But can this prima facie point be extended? Can sense be made of the radical extrinsicality of virtue and goodness even when God is regarded not to e­ xist? Later in the paper I will suggest it can. Before discussing this, we must first probe more deeply into the notion of moral supervenience, the idea that moral properties are constrained by their underlying physical realizers, i.e., that there cannot be two worlds indiscernible with respect to an agent’s natural properties that are discernible with respect to her moral properties. The attempt to explore the physical realization of virtue presupposes that virtue can be identified and that it has a physical realization.

Supervenience: Weak and Strong

The assertion that the ethical supervenes upon the natural has been so universally supposed that one might regard it as the “received view” in metaethics. Michael Smith’s formulation is characteristic: Take any two persons, actions, characters or states of affairs that are identical in all of their naturalistic features: Every naturalistic feature of one is a naturalistic feature of the other and vice versa. These two persons, actions, characters or states of affairs must be identical in evaluative ­respects as well. There can be no evaluative difference without a naturalistic difference.22 Although one might understand “naturalistic features” in differing ways,  it seems plausible that moral states supervene on neuro-behavioral states. Accordingly, there could not be a difference in the distribution of moral/­ethical properties without a difference in the instantiation of neuro-­behavioral ones.23 By connecting supervenience to neuro-behavioral states, I want to honor the tradition that assumes that virtues are intrinsic to agents and the physical realization of virtue occurs within agents. Let us review the standard supervenience formulations with an eye to understanding the moral supervenience relationship. Below are Jaegwon Kim’s classic formulations of weak and strong supervenience: 22 23

Smith 2000. There is so much controversy about what the proper intrinsic natural subvenient basis is for supervenening moral properties, that I cannot enter the discussion here. For an excellent and thorough treatment of possible subvenient natural bases supporting supervening properties, see McLaughlin & Bennett 2014.



– A weakly supervenenes on B if and only if, necessarily, for any object x and any property F in A, if x has F, then there exists a property G in B such that x has G, and if any y has G, it has F.24 – A strongly supervenenes on B if and only if, necessarily, for any object x and any property F in A, if x has F, then there exists a property G in B such that x has G, and necessarily, if any y has G, it has F.25 Weak supervenience disallows placing in the same world B-duplicates that are not A-duplicates, while yet permitting B-duplicates that are not A-duplicates in other possible worlds. Weak supervenience thus asserts an intra-world, but not cross-world constraint. Strong supervenience, on the other hand, claims a cross-world or inter-world constraint by asserting a rigid covariance of lowerlevel and upper-level properties. Unlike weak supervenience, strong supervenience supports counterfactuals of this form: were y to possess G in B, it would possess F in A. Without this inter-worldly constraint, the higher-level A properties could seemingly vary widely with a slight modification of the lower-level B properties. While weak supervenience disallows two indiscernible individuals occupying the same world to be discernible with respect to their supervening properties, strong supervenience disallows any two possible individuals to be subveniently indiscernible, yet superveniently discernible. Another way of understanding the difference is to conceive of weak supervenience as claiming an accidental regularity between the subvenient and s­ upervenient, while noting that strong supervenience expresses a nomological connection between the two.26 This can be easily seen in these two ­supervenience formulations: – [Weak Supervenience] N(∀ x)(∀ M){Mx → [(∃ P)Px & (∀ y)(Py → My)]} – [Strong Supervenience] N(∀ x)(∀ M){Mx → [(∃ P)Px & (∀ y)N(Py → My)]}

24 Kim 1993, 80. 25 Ibid. 26 See Majors 2009, 41ff. Consider the case of John and John* who are physical replicas; they token the same neuro and behavioral properties. Clearly, if ethical properties weakly supervene on John and John*’s neuro-behavioral states, then John and John* token, as a matter of fact, the same ethical properties. The question arises, however, as to what ­happens if John and John* are not physical replicas. Would John* have been good like John is if he were to token the same neuro-behavioral state that John did? While weak supervenience appears too weak to capture the strong determination necessary for moral and ethical ascriptions, strong supervenience is not. It accounts for the basic moral intuition that John* would be good were he to do what John did.

Virtue is Not in the Head


Weak supervenience states that, as a matter of fact, the tokening of moral properties correlates with the tokening of physical properties, not that they must so correlate. Thus, while it is true that John has a particular virtue when certain physical properties are instantiated, it need not be the case. Strong ­supervenience declares that for any x, and any moral property M, if x has M, then there is some natural property P that x also has, such that any x having P necessarily has M. What this claims is that M and P must be so coninstantiated. From a metaethical perspective, strong supervenience seems to offer the ­necessary constraints on the assignment of moral properties. We cannot conceive that John is being virtuous in respect M when displaying some suitable set of neuro-behavioral properties, and not say he is being virtuous in respect M on each and every possible tokening of those neuro-behavioral properties. Strong supervenience thus seems the better candidate for moral supervenience than its weaker counterpart. It must be noted, however, that both these weak and strong varieties are species of local supervenience; the tokening of moral properties in the agent is somehow determined by the tokening of some set of physical properties in that agent.27

Virtue and Moral Supervenience

Now that we have discussed the difference between weak and strong supervenience, it turns out that neither formulation can likely account for the ­instantiation of supervening moral properties on the physical base of the agent. The problem is that just as Hilary Putnam’s twin earth scenario suggests that meaning is not in the head, so too, it seems, neither is virtue. Simply put, if meaning is extrinsic, so virtue is also likely extrinsic. To see this let us recall Putnam’s argument.


Moral supervenience entails ethical internalism: Each and every tokening of moral properties must be physically realized within the agent. It is natural to think of the physical as thus determining the tokening of these moral properties. Early on it was thought that the supervenience relation entailed an asymmetrical dependency relation of the supervenient on the subvenient. The early literature assumed that the supervenient ­depends upon the subvenient, and that the subvenient thus determines the supervenient. ­However, Kim has shown that supervenience is indifferent to which way metaphysical dependency relationships are drawn or even if they are drawn. Supervenience merely expresses a covariance of property groups, not the dependence of one upon the other. For instance, just because metric weights supervene on English weights does not entail that English weights do not supervene on metric weights. They, in fact, do.



Putnam tells us that two thinkers indiscernible with respect to their physical properties can still differ with respect to their mental properties. The reason for this is that being in mental state M1 regarding object O is to bear certain representational properties toward O – one might say the “look” of O – and to possess nonrepresentational properties towards O – normally considered to be causal. Accordingly, to mean water is not simply to mean something that is wet, colorless, odorless and tasteless, but also to mean that which causes those particular representations in the utterer.28 Say that earth John has a concept of water. He has proper representations of it and stands in the appropriate causal relations to it. Now John* on twin earth, a molecule-by-molecule replica of John on earth, also has representations of a colorless, odorless and tasteless liquid comprising twin earth lakes and rivers. However, when John* utters “water,” he does not succeed in referring to water as John does on earth because there is no H2O on twin earth, only XYZ. Since XYZ is causing John*’s representations on twin earth, then XYZ and not H2O is “meant” by John*. Thus, while John and John* are in the same neurophysiological state, John refers to H2O with “water” while John* refers to XYZ. Moreover, since the individuation of mental states is via the content of those states, John saying “water is wet” is not the same thing as John* saying it. John is asserting “H2O is wet” while John* is claiming “XYZ is wet.” Since, by stipulation, John and John* are in identical neurophysiological states, semantic supervenience fails; there is a supervenient semantic difference without a subvenient physical difference.29 The upshot of this is that semantics cannot be merely internal, but must be understood externally (content externalism).30 Accordingly, weak or strong supervenience seemingly must give way to global supervenience in semantics. While the first two apply indiscernibility conditions locally, global supervenience expresses global indiscernibility. Kim formulates the latter notion as follows: – A globally supervenes on B if and only if, any two worlds indiscernible with respect to B-properties are indiscernibility with respect to A-properties.31 28 29 30


See the chapter, “The Meaning of Meaning,” in Putnam 1975. For a summary of the standard attacks upon, and defenses of, Putnam’s externalism, see Hickey 2009. The situation is not nearly so clear as I suggest. The philosophical literature distinguishes many species of externalism and solid arguments against on both sides of the issue. For an overview see Lau and Deutsch 2014. Kim 1993, 82.

Virtue is Not in the Head


This more holistic sense of supervenience simply asserts that no two possible worlds are physically but not mentally indiscernible. While there are philosophical problems with global supervenience, it does properly take into account both what is going on inside and outside John’s head.32 Clearly, the total physical states do differ for John and John*, for John is causally related to H2O and John* to XYZ. How does this well-known argument connect to the alleged supervenience of the moral upon the physical? Brad Majors has argued that the considerations motivating semantic externalism ought also to motivate externalism of the ethical. Accordingly, just ­because John in W1 has the same neuro-behavioral properties as John* in W2, it does not follow that John and John* instance the same moral properties. I will rely on Majors’s insights in the remainder of this section, saving to the next section my development of an even stronger conception of virtue externalism that takes into consideration insights of the late medieval context. Imagine John and John* occupy nomologically identical worlds W1 and W2 respectively, and that both instantiate the same set of physical properties. ­Because neuro-behavioral states multiply realize actions, however, and b­ ecause it is actions that connect to moral evaluations, supervening moral-­ethical properties can vary while subvenient physical properties remain constant. John could be tokening the same physical properties as John*, but b­ ecause of the context involved, John could be helping someone in need while John* is aiding someone engaged in morally questionable behavior.33 If physical indiscernibilty entails naturalistic indiscernibility, then it seems that ­discernibility with respect to the moral does not entail discernibility with respect to the physical. Moral supervenience fails! 32


It has been pointed out that global supervenience seems to allow that a minor difference in the subvenient base set between W1 and W2 can result in a major difference in the supervenient set between the two. For example, a difference in the ionization of one atom in a ring of Saturn in W1 with respect to W2 is consistent with there being no consciousness (or moral properties) at all in W1. But it seems that the same problem arises for strong or weak supervenience as well. Imagine two brains that are molecule-by-molecule replicas except for the presence of an extra atom in the first. It is consistent with local supervenience that the first brain has consciousness and the second does not. Majors 2009. Majors points out that a tokening of a set of natural properties is neither necessary nor sufficient for the tokening of the moral property. It is not necessary because the moral property is likely multiply-realizable. It is not sufficient because the physical movements may not have been made intentionally. I have not addressed the necessity issue because it might be argued that particular intentional states are wholly determined by neuro-states, that is, that intentionality is representational and internal, not tied to context and thus external.



There is a conspicuous criticism of this argument with which Majors a­ ttempts to deal. Surely, it seems, John and John* are not in physically indiscernible states because John does know, but John* does not know, the truth about the person being helped.34 That John and John* have different states of knowledge seems to entail that their neuro-physical states are discernible, and if this is true, a successful counterexample to the claim of moral supervenience has not been provided. However, as Majors points out, John and John* actually knowing different propositions depends upon the wider context of what there is to know, not simply the internal states of the knower. If epistemic states are not internal to agents, then this putative counterexample does not vitiate moral supervenience. One might respond by saying that it is not a question of knowledge for John and John*, but a question of believing rightly or wrongly. John* believes wrongly about the person he is helping, and surely this believing wrongly in John* is distinguishable physically from the believing rightly in John. But Majors is not persuaded by this putative counterexample, nor am I. For John* to wrongly believe with respect to the agent he is helping is quite likely the fault of John*. John rightly believes and knows that the person he helps is in need while John* does not – though the context is such that he ought to have know this. This is the scenario where, despite the physical indiscernibility of John and John*, different moral properties apply to each. John* should have known that the person was not behaving morally; John did so. The latter is morally praiseworthy, the former not. Majors declares that his argument refutes all versions of ­local supervenience, “just as the twin-earth type case … refutes versions of local ­psychophysical supervenience.”35 Another possible way to save moral supervenience is to allow that each agent possesses relational properties that are so broad as to include that agent’s relevant connections to the external environment.36 On this scenario, moral supervenience could still hold locally because the domain of the local – the subvenient physical base – has been expanded. But as Majors correctly points out, this strategy is ill-conceived because one normally does not regard

34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 38. It is important to point out that moral supervenience seems only to apply to virtue and deontological ethics. Obviously, on act utilitarian criteria, two people performing indiscernible actions could easily instantiate differing degrees of goodness. 36 Questions concerning what exactly a relational property is, and whether or not it itself can be intrinsic are beyond the scope of this brief paper. For a good introduction to the relevant issues and literature, see Weatherson and Marshall 2014.

Virtue is Not in the Head


as natural properties those that are not properties of the natural sciences.37 Neuroscience studies brain structure; the properties it discusses are properties of brains, not properties of brains insofar as they possess causal relational properties to multiple environments. Moveover, it seems that expanding the subvenient property base to include relational properties that connect to the entire wider context is basically to give up the position of the supervenience of moral properties on the physical properties of agents. Trying to save the local supervenience of moral properties on the agent by expanding the set of physical properties of the agent to include the wider context is ultimately to admit that virtue is extrinsic and “not in the head,” the very point I have been suggesting. Perhaps these arguments are enough for the reader to question whether moral actions and properties should be understood intrinsically and locally.38 I have suggested that just as external causal connections determine the ­content of statements like “water is wet,” so do external causal relations d­ etermine the content of statements like “John is good.” Helping a person who tortures ­children may not, after all, be good, and thus the truth of “John is good” with regard to this act is questionable.39 While I have not treated all the issues that emerge in this discussion, I do think I have done enough to set the stage for the argument to follow. In the next section I consider the question, “What becomes of the moral supervenience and neuro-virtue realization if Luther were right?”

Luther and Virtue Externalism

Section ii discussed the “exodus from virtue to grace” by which Luther and the Reformers could confidently state that human beings really are just and righteous even though they remain unjust and unrighteous. Despairing of any power in the self that could result in human goodness, Luther declared that sinners are just and righteous in God’s sight on account of Christ, even while remaining sinful in themselves. 37 38 39

Ibid., 38ff. I do not have the space to enter into a deeper discussion of all of the philosophical issues arising in evaluating Majors’s arguments. One might argue that, in order for there to be a moral action, there must be a behavior with intent, and that intent presupposes meaning. If it can be said that one means XYZ in twin earth instead of H2O, even though the representations of the twin earth person and the earth person are qualitatively indiscernible, then one could be said to intend ­differently in twin earth when one saves the child torturer rather than the qualitatively indiscernible saving of the child helper on earth.



It is helpful to understand Luther’s distinction between goodness coram deo and goodness coram hominibus. The first speaks of a person’s goodness before God, the second her goodness before human beings. Luther admits that one can do good acts coram hominibus, but denies their possibility coram deo. What this suggests is that Luther conceives virtue relationally. One is neither virtuous nor non-virtuous in oneself, but only in regard to an external perspective, how one is judged by God or by human beings. Because one’s salvation depends upon how God evaluates one to be, the coram deo relation is primary. One is ultimately virtuous if one is judged to be so by God.40 Consider if Luther were right, and that the tokening of a virtuous act in an agent simply is the result of God’s judging it so to be tokened. This radical ­thesis of virtue extrinsicality could be captured as such: – For any person x, and any possible virtue M, necessarily x has M if and only if God regards x as having M. Luther routinely substitutes “believer” for “person” to soften the electionistic  overtones. Accordingly, allowing B to be the domain of believers, and ­defining the intensional operator “RxMy” as “x regards y as instancing M,” we have: – (∀ x ∈ B)(∀ M)N(Mx ↔ Rg(Mx)) This clearly says that moral property M is instantitated by a person just in case God regards it to be so. Obviously, God could easily regard John to ­instantiate M  and John* to instantiate  ~M, even if they manifest the same neurobehavioral properties. It is instructive to compare this to imputation in the preceding tradition. Because “God does not deny grace to the one that does within him,” the above formulation can be adjusted as follows: – For any person x, and any possible virtue M, necessarily, if x does morally what is within his power, then x has M if and only if God regards x as having M.


See Gerhard Ebeling for a discussion of the relational nature of Luther’s thinking coram deo and coram hominibus, particularly Ebeling 1987, 2006.

Virtue is Not in the Head


Since the allusion to believers can be safely ignored because believing to some minimal extent lies in the power of the agent, and allowing “Pyx” to be “y is in the power of x” and “Dxy” to mean “x does y,” we have: – (∀ x)(∀ M)N(∀ y)[(Pyx & Dxy) → (Mx ↔ Rg(Mx))] Obviously, if the individuation of virtue is determined by God’s judgment, then the project of locating neuro-realizers for ethics is entirely vitiated. If the results of the last section were not dismal enough for locating a neuro-behavioral base for moral properties, these considerations seem to drive the nail in the coffin. But why believe that God exists and why think that the late medieval and reformation traditions should be taken seriously with regard to their extrinsic denomination of grace and virtue? Cannot we safely ignore 15th and 16th century considerations today? I do not think we can. After all, we live in an age of ethical pluralism, where the very same things are regarded as good in culture1 that are regarded as bad in culture2, or a fortiori, are regarded as good by John and not by John*.41 Aside from the many penetrating philosophical and theological analyses otherwise, is it not the case today that most people simply believe that a virtuous action is a function of the way the culture or individual understands and values that act? If so, are we not then finally in a position analogous to that of Luther? He claimed that act x is virtuous for P because God, on the basis of God’s own considerations, regards x as virtuous for P. But in our time, characterized by a lack of objectivity of ethical agreement, has not the external judgment that sorts virtuous from non-virtuous acts become disassociated from God’s ­perspective, understood instead to be merely the result of what a culture or individual ­regards it to be? While Luther could have understood this as virtue coram hominibus, he could not have conceived it pluralistically as we do today. While virtue was in the eye of the beholder for the 16th century God, it is in the eye of every beholder today. 41

I do not want to enter the discussion here of the identity condition of cultures. As far as I can tell there exist no clear identity conditions to separate C1 and C2. If there were such conditions and a virtuous act was defined in terms of what was judged to be so by a culture, one would have to establish the identity conditions of “what was judged to be so.” Is this a judgment by 90% of the people, 80% of them or maybe less? When percentage must be reached before it is not judgment of the culture? Could we say that there are subcultures of cultures holding different judgments about what is virtuous? If so how big must they be in order still to be a sub-culture? This whole line of questioning has always struck me as a reductio on common forms of ethical relativism.



But one could at this point declare that the supervenience of moral properties on an appropriate subvenient base already presupposes the cultural standpoint to which I allude. Is it not still true that moral property M supervenes on behavioral-psychological property B on each and every tokening of B within a set cultural context, or from the standpoint of a certain person? Perhaps we could start our definition of strong supervenience with the appropriate antecedent, “Within cultural context C, for any x and any P, …,” or “from the standards of moral evaluation for any individual I, for any x and any P … ”? It seems that we could still talk about virtue as an intrinsic property of agents suitably qualified. No act is intrinsically good or bad until regarded so by a culture or individual. But after that regard is in place, is it not true that virtues are nonetheless intrinsic? I do not think this defense is successful because of the way that intrinsic properties are defined. In her excellent book, The Metaphysics of Extrinsic Properties, Vera Hoffmann-Kloss argues that a relational account, rather than a modal or combinatorial one, best supports making the clear distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic. Accordingly, she introduces her discussion of intrinsic properties this way: A property P is intrinsic iff the instantiation of P by an individual x is independent of the features of the environment of x; otherwise, P is extrinsic.42 Notice, however, that on this formulation the judger and her act of judgment must itself be a feature of the environment. One cannot leave the judger somehow out of the external environment. Because of this fact, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that virtue must be conceived extrinsically. In effect, the radical pluralism of ethical standpoints puts every person today basically in the position of the sixteenth century God: the moral properties of an act are finally determined by what the individual judges it to be.43 42 43

Hoffmann-Kloss 2010, 11. I acknowledge that there is an apparent deep disanalogy. While the standpoint of the sixteenth century God was considered normative for ethical evaluation, this is not true for us today. However, I would argue that the volitional qualities of that God are not dissimilar to the qualities that individuals in early twenty-first century democratic societies believe they possess. Just as the late medieval tradition assumed that God had sovereignty to do and judge however God willed to do and judge, so do many people today grant those same qualities to themselves. I fully realize that much more argument would be needed even to begin to establish my suggestion in these last few paragraphs of the radical extrinsicality of virtue on the supposition of the nonexistence of God.

Virtue is Not in the Head


Conclusion Hilary Putnam famously argued that meaning is not in the head: the meaning of a term is not determined wholly intrinsically by our psychology, but, in part, extrinsically by the actual reference of a term. This entails inter alia that two people with molecule-by-molecule replica brains can mean different things and that the supervenience of meaning upon brain states fails. Meaning is not a non-relational, intrinsic property of agents, but is extrinsically related to the world beyond the agent. Much of the philosophical tradition has tacitly assumed that virtue is a non-relational property of agents and that it thus supervenes upon appropriate ­behavioral and neurophysical realizers. Accordingly, two people with molecule-by-molecule replica brains and indiscernible behaviors must possess common virtues. But we have seen how reflection upon the results of ­semantic externalism calls into question the intrinsicality of virtue. Furthermore, we have witnessed how, within the context of late medieval scholasticism, virtue came to be increasingly understood as relational and extrinsic to the agent. Later Lutheran theology spoke of an “exodus from virtue to grace,” a paradigmatic upheaval in understanding the nature of virtue. This paper has discussed the late medieval notion of virtue as it developed in the pactum theology of the via moderna and attained classic form within ­Lutheran theology where the following holds: S is virtuous in doing P if and only if God regards S as being virtuous in doing P. The paper concluded by pointing out that this possibility of virtue externalism has deep implications for any attempt to locate physical realizers for ethics. As it turns out, it is ­possible for two people to be behaviorally and neuro-physically indiscernible and yet display discernibly different ethical properties. Finally, I suggested that this is true not only if we posit the notion of external divine evaluative agency, but any external evaluative agency whatsoever. References Ebeling, Gerhard. 1987. Dogmatik Des Christlichen Glaubens: Prolegomena. Teil 1: Der Glaube an Gott Den Schöpfer Der Welt. 3 Auflage. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Ebeling, Gerhard. 2006. Luther. Einführung in Sein Denken. 5 Auflage. Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Hamm, Berndt. 2014. The Early Luther: Stages in a Reformation Reorientation. ­Translated by Martin Lohrmann. Grand Rapids mi: William B. Eerdman’s. Hickey, Lance. 2009. Hilary Putnam. London: Continuum Publishing.



Hoffman-Kloss, Vera. 2010. The Metaphysics of Intrinsic Properties. Heusenstamm: ­Ontos Verlag. Hursthouse, Rosalind. 2013. “Virtue Ethics.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/ archives/fall2013/entries/ethics-virtue/. Kim, Jaegwon. 1993. Supervenience and Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lau, Joe, and Max Deutsch. 2014. “Externalism About Mental Content.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2014/entries/content-externalism/. Luther, Martin. 1883. D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 73 vols. vols. Weimar: Weimarer Ausgabe. Luther, Martin. 1955. Luther’s Works. Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehman. American Edition. Philadelphia: Muehlenberg and Fortress, and St. Louis: Concordia. Majors, Brad. 2009. “The Natural and the Normative.” In Oxford Studies in Metaethics, edited by Russ Shafer-Landu, 4:29–52. New York: Oxford University Press. McGrath, Alister. 1986. Iustitia Dei: A History of the Christian Doctrine of Justification: The Beginnings to the Reformation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. McLaughlin, Brian, and Karen Bennett. 2014. “Supervenience.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. http://plato.standford.edu/archives/ spr2014/entries/superveneince/. Nuchelmans, Gabriel. 1980. Late Scholastic and Humanist Theories of the Proposition. Amsterdam: North Holland Publishing Co. Peterson, Gregory R., Michael Spezio, James Van Slyke, Kevin Reimer, and Warren Brown. 2010. “The Rationality of Ultimate Concern: Moral Exemplars, Theological Ethics, and the Science of Moral Cognition.” Theology and Science 8 (2): 139–161. Putnam, Hilary. 1975. Philosophical Papers, Vol II: Mind, Language, and Reality. ­Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Smith, Michael. 2000. “Does the Evaluative Supervene on the Natural.” In Well-Being and Morality, edited by R Crisp and B Hooker, 91–115. Spade, Paul Vincent. 1996. Thoughts, Words and Things: An Introduction to Late Mediaeval Logic and Semantic Theory. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://pvspade.com/ Logic/docs/thoughts.pdf. Tresan, Jon. 2009. “Metaethical Internalism: Another Neglected Distinction.” Journal of Ethics 13 (1): 51–72. Van Slyke, James, Gregory R. Peterson, Kevin S. Reimer, Michael L. Spezio, and Warren S. Brown. 2013. Theology and the Science of Moral Action. New York: Routledge. Weatherson, Brian, and Dan Marshall. 2014. “Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Properties.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, edited by Edward N. Zalta. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2014/entries/intrinsic-extrinsic/. Wood, Rega. 1997. Ockham on the Virtues. West Lafayette in: Purdue University Press.

chapter 4

Habit as a Spiritual Discipline in Early Christianity George Tsakiridis In Antiquity, spiritual discipline played an important role in many traditions, and, in the development of Christianity, spiritual discipline was a ­foundational part of the tradition going back to the time of the New Testament.1 In this ­essay, I present key aspects of this tradition, showing the depth and importance of spiritual habits as they relate to Early Christianity. This will be done by looking at the monastic developments of Christianity in the period of Late ­Antiquity. First, ­using the work of Pierre Hadot, we see that spiritual disciplines were foundational to the Greek philosophical tradition. Second, through the work of Evagrius Ponticus and the Desert Fathers, we see the importance of forming behavioral habit through spiritual disciplines. Notably, these developments ­occurred in the fourth century c.e. during the period of key developments in Christian doctrine. This discussion will be followed by a conclusion that connects the Greek philosophical tradition to the work of these early Christian theologians and shows the importance of habit throughout the Early Church, which of course carries through to the present day in both monastic and ­ecclesial traditions.

Spiritual Discipline as a Way of Life in Greek Antiquity

The foundations of Christian spirituality combined both the writings of the New Testament and the ancient Greek philosophical tradition. In this tradition, habit and spiritual disciplines were of the utmost importance. ­Philosophy in Greek antiquity was not thought of in the same way that many approach philosophy today. Philosophy was, to quote Pierre Hadot, “a way of life.”2 He states that, at least going back to the time of Socrates, the approach to ­philosophy as a way of living was a part of the process of doing philosophy, located at its very beginning. Furthermore, it was also done in community – in 1 It is also evident that, prior to this in the Jewish Scriptures, ritual and habit were a key part of Judaism/pre-Christianity. In this paper I will not be addressing the New Testament tradition, but an emphasis on prayer and virtue formation is evident in a variety of texts. 2 Hadot 1995.



a philosophical school.3 Spiritual disciplines were a large part of this process, a means to transform a person and mold the individual who performed them.4 This speaks directly to the concept of habit, the topic of this volume. Ancient philosophy was laden with discussion of spiritual habit, influencing the early Christian Church accordingly.5 We see specific examples in the Stoics and also in the work of Epicurus. The Stoics explicitly stated that philosophy was an “exercise,” not a theoretical or textual endeavor, “but rather in the art of living.”6 We also have two lists of spiritual exercises that survive from the ancient world in the work of Philo of Alexandria. These lists contain such items as reading, meditations, ­listening, and self-mastery, among others.7 The aim of spiritual disciplines was to ­overcome the passions, which were seen as the root of suffering. Philosophy, in part, worked as a therapy for the individual in overcoming this suffering.8 This ­approach to combating passion and healing the individual can be later seen in the work of Evagrius Ponticus and other Early Christian theologians. The ­foundation of habit was an essential part of this ancient way of thinking. In the work of Epicurus, we also see habit in the form of spiritual exercises. As we see in the Stoics, philosophy works as therapy and healing. Worry is overcome by this process.9 In Epicurean thought, meditation is a part of these exercises, as well as gratitude towards nature. There is a deliberate choice of relaxation in this philosophical school. There are clear differences in the Stoic and Epicurean approaches, but they both use spiritual exercises as a way to heal the human person.10 Hadot also notes that “[c]ontemplation of the physical world and imagination of the infinite” are important elements of these philosophical schools.11 Again, this is seen later on in Christian thought in the work of Evagrius.12 In Porphyry’s writings, a key source of later Platonic thought, there is a twotiered approach to self-purification: first, there is a movement away from the 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12

Hadot 2002, 3. Ibid., 6. Tsakiridis 2010, 51. Hadot 1995, 82–83, 110, referencing Epictetus, Discourses, i, 15, 2. Ibid., 84. Ibid., 83. Ibid., 87. Ibid., 88. Ibid., 87–88. This is explicitly seen in the work of Evagrius Ponticus, but I believe other theologians might follow a similar line of thought.

Habit As A Spiritual Discipline In Early Christianity


material, and second, there is a focus on “the Intellect.” This first level ­included a vegetarian diet and other ascetic practices.13 Hadot states, “…Porphyry insists strongly on the importance of spiritual exercises. The contemplation (theoria) which brings happiness, he tells us, does not consist in the accumulation of discourse and abstract teachings, even if their subject is true Being. Rather, we must make sure our studies are accompanied by an effort to make these teachings become ‘nature and life’ within us.”14 In Plotinus we see knowledge treated as a spiritual exercise. One must purify oneself morally in order to ­attain ­understanding.15 There is an emphasis throughout ancient Greek philosophy on overcoming the passions and returning to the “true self.” This is done through spiritual exercises and a training of the self that mirrors the physical training of the gymnasium of the day. Freedom is achieved through spiritual exercises that free the self of the passions.16 This idea is picked up by later Christian thinkers, of which I will present examples in the next section. The modern way of thinking about philosophy started in the Middle Ages, where philosophy became a wholly theoretical endeavor. There was a major shift in how philosophy was viewed during this period, with the “way of life” approach being abandoned. In fact, during the medieval era, “Ancient spiritual exercises were no longer a part of philosophy, but found themselves integrated into Christian spirituality.”17 Perhaps this is why, when someone mentions ­philosophy in the twenty-first century, the average person does not think of something that might involve a habitual routine. In addition to the above philosophical ideas, this essay would be remiss not to mention the work of Aristotle, at least briefly. Aristotle clearly exemplifies the concept of habit in the ancient world in his Nicomachean Ethics. The concept of virtue is tied closely to that of habit, and in this regard a ­person’s ­character is determined by personal disciplines. In Nicomachean Ethics 2.1, he states, “Virtue being, as we have seen, of two kinds, intellectual and moral, i­ ntellectual virtue is for the most part both produced and increased by i­nstruction, and therefore requires experience and time; whereas moral or ethical virtue is the product of habit (ethos), and has indeed derived its name, with a slight variation of form, from that word.”18 Without spending time 13 Hadot 1995, 100. 14 Ibid. 15 Ibid., 100–101. 16 Ibid., 102–103. 17 Ibid., 270, including quotations. 18 Aristotle 1934.



d­ eveloping this theme, we see a close connection between the idea of moral virtue and habit in Aristotle. In this particular passage in Book 2, he goes on to discuss how habit can form virtues out of a capacity that is given to us by nature.19 If we develop this idea further, we see that the goal of virtue found in various forms of ancient philosophy is brought about through a persistence of habit. In Aristotle we see the concept of ethos linked to that of askȇsis, which is the basis for the word “ascetic,” which is used in terms of developing virtue through habit. The term can be linked to both military and gymnastic associations, which furthers the concept of habit as training towards virtue.20 To develop this idea, Aristotle combines both the emotional and the cognitive aspects of habit.21 Intellectual virtue is tied to Aristotle’s concept of ethics,22 which in turn is tied to his concept of habit. This view of habit seems to be ­carried through in the Christian tradition, specifically in Evagrius.

Spiritual Habit in the Early Church

Building on the Christian scriptures and the Greek philosophical tradition, many early Christian fathers emphasized the idea of habit in the form of spiritual disciplines. In fact, Christian spirituality was in part a re-appropriation of the exercises of ancient philosophy. This is especially visible in the monastic tradition, specifically the more ascetic practices.23 Prayer becomes the prominent issue in a discussion on habit in the ancient Christian tradition because it encompasses the larger spiritual disciplines. Meditation, fasting, and the memorization of Scripture are all important, but prayer is an overarching issue in all these disciplines. Because of the brief nature of this essay, I will focus on the work of the Desert Fathers of the fourth century, specifically the work of Evagrius Ponticus. The Desert Fathers were a foundational group that later Christian monastics drew from in both approach to disciplines such as prayer and attitudes towards a life of service. Let us begin by looking at the work of Evagrius.

19 Ibid. 20 Lockwood 2013, 21–22. 21 Ibid., 23. 22 Ibid., 30. 23 Hadot 2002, 248.

Habit As A Spiritual Discipline In Early Christianity


Evagrius Ponticus

Evagrius Ponticus strongly integrated the Greek philosophical tradition with a monastic system that brought forth a unique and lasting influence on spiritual discipline starting in the late fourth century. He is somewhat unique in this regard among Desert Fathers, and, in fact, he was not always well-respected for his Byzantine Greek connections.24 He was born in Ibora, Pontus in 345 c.e. to a clergyman. He trained under two stalwarts of the Christian tradition, Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian, and he was in Constantinople during the time leading up to the Council of Constantinople in 381, which solidified the Nicene formula of the Trinity. He was at the center of Christian theological development in the fourth century when a personal indiscretion caused him to move to Jerusalem. From there he moved on to the Egyptian desert in 383, joining those who had forsaken the world to fight “­demons” in the desert.25 Evagrius presents us with a system of approaching the divine that is rooted in Greek philosophy, building on the idea of spiritual disciplines as we have seen outlined by Hadot. There are two major areas essential to discussion when approaching Evagrius’s system. First, one must look at his approach to pure prayer, and second, one must look at his work on spiritual warfare and how the “demons” or “thoughts” are combated. These issues are intertwined, and they have affected the Christian monastic tradition in important ways in both Eastern and Western Christianity. It is notable that Evagrius has had an influence on the Christian ­tradition, although in ways that are not always apparent. The reason for this is that his work was condemned in 553 c.e. at the Second Council of C ­ onstantinople. Because of this condemnation, much of his work on prayer seems to have been treated as suspect. Despite this fact, his ideas have ­permeated the tradition through the voices of others. Only in recent years has he begun to receive broader recognition. In Evagrius’s system of pure prayer, he presents four stages for one to a­ pproach the divine: (1) Spiritual Disciplines (The Practical Life), (2) C ­ ontemplation of Material Things, (3) Contemplation of Nonmaterial Things, and (4) The Place of Pure Prayer (or the Trinity).26 In the first stage, the emphasis is on ­spiritual disciplines, which connects most closely with the overall idea of habit. The monk builds a particular way of behavior through habitual exercise of spiritual 24 25 26

cf. Bamburger’s introduction in Evagrius 1981, xlv. Ibid., xxxv–xlii. Stewart 2001, 173–204, 178. This is also found in Evagrius 2003, 69.



disciplines. This might be seen in prayer, fasting, or meditation. After this initial time of building spiritual habit, the monk can move on to contemplation of both the material and immaterial. Ultimately, the goal is to move away from material things towards the spiritual. By creating the system the way he did, Evagrius seemingly realizes that a person cannot move to the final intellectual/ spiritual goal without first having control of the rest of one’s person. This mirrors what we have seen in the Greek philosophical tradition. In the end when all worldly and spiritual things are left behind, only the Trinity remains, leaving the monk in the presence of God. Evagrius also presents this as a metaphor of a journey in four stages, mirroring the biblical journey of the Israelites out of Egypt, with Egypt representing evil. First this journey moves through the desert, which is praktikē or spiritual practices, second through Judea and Jerusalem, which represent natural contemplation, both material and nonmaterial (theōria physikē). Lastly the journey ends at Zion, the place of God, representative of theologia.27 This journey is fraught with dangers, and the conception of these dangers are where Evagrius’s work has had its strongest influence, especially in Western Christianity. The dangers are presented in the form of “eight thoughts” or “demons.” These eight thoughts are probably better known to Western ­philosophers and theologians in their adapted form, the seven deadly sins. The thoughts were taken west by John Cassian and there were transformed into the seven deadly sins by Gregory the Great.28 The Eight Thoughts are: gluttony, fornication, anger, acedia, sadness, avarice, vainglory, and pride. In the seven deadly sins, acedia becomes sloth, sadness becomes envy, and vainglory and pride are combined into just pride. These Eight Thoughts must be overcome along the journey to the divine, and this is done through a foundation of habit and a system of combat using prayer and scripture. It should be evident that the work being done in Evagrius mirrors the idea in ancient Greek philosophy of overcoming the passions with intellect. It is also worth noting that the concept of “thoughts” has underpinnings that can be divided into two ideas: “thought” (or logismos) and “concept” (noēma). A logismos is something external, like a demonic or angelic suggestion, while a noēma is something internal, “the means by which the mind processes information.”29 Noēmata leave an imprint on a person’s mind and can be introduced through logismoi (thoughts) that the demons impress upon a person.30 The impressions evoked “the ­impressing of 27 28 29 30

Evagrius 2003, 69, as well as Stewart 2001, 199. Tsakiridis 2010, 3–4, 17. Stewart 2001, 187. Stewart 2001, 187–189.

Habit As A Spiritual Discipline In Early Christianity


a seal into hot wax or moist clay, or inscription by stylus onto a wax tablet.”31 This description may sound familiar to those reared in the Christian tradition. If we think about this in terms of habit and our study, it makes sense that continued focus on certain concepts, whether they are produced by a “demon” or not, would be repeatedly imprinted on a person’s mind, making it more or less easy to continue to focus on these ideas. As can be seen, the Evagrian system is quite complex, and it gives us a look at one early Christian conception of how spiritual disciplines are connected to a broader psychological system of belief. Habit plays a role in this system, as it does in the broader monastic setting in which Evagrius practiced. To get a notion of what Evagrius is saying in regard to the eight thoughts, I have chosen gluttony and fornication as examples. These would be vices that would be well understood in the ancient Greek world, and they would hence easily connect to Greek philosophical approaches. Gluttony is fairly selfexplanatory, although it can refer not only to an excess of food intake, but other misuses related to food. Monks might be anxious over their health or bored at an unvaried diet. They also might be more likely to over-fast, and misuse food in that manner. As one might expect, issues other than overeating might be a serious problem for a monastic practitioner.32 Ultimately, it seems that gluttony is the misuse of food in the body. Evagrius pairs gluttony with abstinence in a treatise entitled “On the Vices Opposed to the Virtues.”33 He even calls gluttony, “the mother of fornication.”34 Fornication, on the other hand, is sexual temptation in either action or thought.35 It is typically described as “lust” in the seven deadly sins and is a powerful temptation that a monk may face, as might be expected. Fornication, or lust, can sometimes be viewed as the second ­attack after a demon might try to soften the monk up with gluttony.36 Evagrius states this explicitly: “gluttony is the mother of licentiousness.”37 He also states that “Fornication is a conception of gluttony….”38 Other depictions of lust are what might be expected from this type of discussion in an ancient context. Clearly the Greek philosophical world, as well as the Christian s­ criptures, has deep influences in Evagrius’s work. 31 Stewart 2001, 188. 32 Evagrius 2003, xxvi. 33 On the Vices Opposed to the Virtues, 1.2 (Ibid., 62). 34 Ibid. 35 Ibid., 69. 36 Ibid., 21. 37 On the Eight Thoughts, 2.1 (Ibid., 76). 38 On the Vices Opposed to the Virtues, 1.2 (Ibid., 62).



In this vein, in Eulogios, Evagrius states, “Sometimes the thought attracts the passions and sometimes the passions the thoughts, and then the thoughts through the passions make war on the soul.”39 He goes on a bit later to say: Therefore, let your ruling faculty assemble the ranks of the senses under the edict of the law, lest by sight and by hearing you bring the scourges of the vices down upon your soul. Since you consist of two substances, be careful to allot to each its rank, in order that the one may prevail and the other not rebel. And do not give tribute to the tyrant, because when this one has been given over to the fire you will pay the last penny.40 This exemplifies the Greek influence on Evagrius’s system by emphasizing the intellect and emotions as two distinct entities, along with the influence the passions will play. Overall we see in Evagrius a clear example of Greek philosophical influence upon a theological system with habit and virtue playing a central role.

The Desert Fathers

Evagrius is a prominent example of Greek influence in early Christian monasticism, but we see some similar ideas in other writings of the Desert Fathers. The Desert Fathers were a group of Christians who left the center of civilization to go to the desert. They felt that Christianity was becoming too tied to Roman culture, and they sought a more authentic spirituality. This movement began prior to the Council of Nicaea in 325 c.e., but proceeded in large numbers after it. There were thousands living in the desert, typically in Egypt, by the time the fourth century was ending. These desert Christians lived both in isolation and in community, creating a diversity of monastic experiences.41 This is the world that Evagrius Ponticus moved into in the late fourth century, but there were many before and after him. Examining a few of the sayings of these monks will help us to see how habit may have been appropriated in this context. One theme that can be found in the Desert Fathers is that of continuous praying, a theme also present in the New Testament. In addition we find the virtue of hard work, which can take many forms. As in ancient Greece, the ­philosophy of Christian spirituality was a way of life, and it could combine 39 40 41

Eulogios, 13.12 (Ibid., 39). Eulogios, 13.13 (Ibid., 40), my emphasis in bold. Nassif 2011, 25–27.

Habit As A Spiritual Discipline In Early Christianity


both physical and mental exercises to discipline the monk, creating virtue through habit. Work is a foundation for the monk: “One of the fathers asked Abba John the Dwarf, ‘What is a monk?’ He said, ‘He is toil. The monk toils at all he does. That is what a monk is.’”42 Father Poemen puts this in a larger context by combining humility, obedience, and work.43 Work is treated as a virtue, and it is a ­continuous part of spiritual discipline. Repetitive prayer is also a key part of the monastic life. “As he was dying, Abba Benjamin said to his sons, ‘If you observe the following, you can be saved, “Be joyful at all times, pray without ceasing and give thanks for all things.”’”44 Theodora says, “…It is good to live in peace, for the wise man practises perpetual prayer.”45 Epiphanius also states, “…The true monk should have prayer and psalmody continually in his heart.”46 In addition to prayer, scripture is cited by Epiphanius as a preventative measure against sin, or what might be termed vices in Evagrius or Greek philosophy: “…Reading the Scriptures is a great safeguard against sin.”47 These concepts are brought together in a story about Father Lucius: Some of the monks who are called Euchites went to Enaton to see Abba Lucius. The old man asked them, “What is your manual work?” They said, “We do not touch manual work but as the Apostle says, we pray without ceasing.” The old man asked them if they did not eat and they replied that they did. So he said to them, “When you are eating, who prays for you then?” Again he asked them if they did not sleep and they replied they did. And he said to them, “When you are asleep, who prays for you then?” They could not find any answer to give him. He said to them, “Forgive me, but you do not act as you speak. I will show you how, while doing my manual work, I pray without interruption. I sit down with God, soaking my reeds and plaiting my ropes, and I say, ‘God, have mercy on me; ­according to your great goodness and according to the multitude of your mercies, save me from my sins.’” So he asked them if this were not prayer and they replied it was. Then he said to them, “So when I have spent the whole day working and praying, making thirteen pieces of money more or less, I put two pieces of money outside the door and I pay for my food 42 43 44 45 46 47

Ward 1975, 93. Ibid., 181. Ibid., 44. Ibid., 83. Ibid., 57. Ibid., 58.



with the rest of the money. He who takes the two pieces of money prays for me when I am eating and when I am sleeping; so, by the grace of God, I fulfill the precept to pray without ceasing.”48 In this passage, we see the two concepts of work and prayer bound together in a way that exemplifies the monastic life of habit and virtue. It also possibly raises questions over the monk’s interpretation, but that may be said of many of the sayings of the Desert Fathers. Clearly, however, this passage shows us how the Desert Fathers thought that one’s life must be dedicated to a behavior both physically and mentally that leads to a virtuous self. This concept would have been well understood by the ancient Greeks. In this brief overview of the sayings of Evagrius and the Desert Fathers, we see that habit in the monastic world grew out of a foundation of both Greek philosophy and Christian tradition. Physical and mental discipline led to a ­virtuous life, and this began with spiritual disciplines that ultimately, at least according to Evagrius, freed the intellect.

Conclusions on Habit in Early Christianity

Throughout this essay, I have attempted to show some examples of how Early Christianity, building on the Greek philosophical tradition, has implicitly used  the concept of habit. In both of the foundational tools of early Christians, their scriptures and Greek philosophy, the concept of habit is used and ­appropriated to build a system of thought and discipline that creates a ­virtuous life. This is especially evident in the monastic tradition, of which we have viewed a small slice. With that, let me present the major takeaways from this discussion. First, we see a parallel goal between the ancient Greek philosophers and the Desert Fathers, that of a virtuous soul (or intellect). Throughout the ancient Greek world we see a way of living that leads to virtue, with this pure intellect/ soul being the goal in view. Second, we see a prescribed pattern of behavior and a path to a virtuous goal that requires both the physical and the spiritual. Repeatedly, in both the Greek philosophical tradition and the fourth century monastic tradition, we see an emphasis on discipline and a holistic approach to the human person. In this tradition, humans are constituted by emotion and intellect as well as by body 48

Ibid., 120–121.

Habit As A Spiritual Discipline In Early Christianity


and soul. This division creates the need for a system of discipline that works to free the intellect from the passions and other “lesser” parts of the human person. Third, we see the Christian tradition using prayer as the major vehicle for the higher levels of this journey. This is evident in both the Christian scriptures and the monastic teachings. It can be argued that prayer is the means by which body and soul as well as emotion and intellect are focused into their proper place. The foundation in Christianity is found in the New Testament, but it is expanded upon and systematized in the monastic tradition through Greek philosophical influences. Lastly, these ideas move forward in Christian tradition and can be visible in the modern age, as monasticism has endured, of course with some evolution. The concepts laid down in late ancient Christianity are built upon in both the Eastern and Western tradition, leading to a monasticism that has strong roots in the ancient world. Overall, it is clear that the foundations of monasticism in Christianity are tied closely to a conception of habit flowing out of Greek philosophy. There are other studies that might be done to establish this, but, through the use of Evagrius Ponticus and the Desert Fathers, we see the influence of an ancient conception of habit. References Aristotle. 1934. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Harris Rackham. Accessed January 21, 2015. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01 .0054%3Abook%3D2. Evagrius Ponticus. 2003. Evagrius of Pontus: The Greek Ascetic Corpus. Translation, ­Introduction, and Commentary by Robert E. Sinkewicz. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Evagrius Ponticus. 1981. The Praktikos & Chapters on Prayer. Cistercian Studies: 4. Translation and introduction by John Eudes Bamberger. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications. Hadot, Pierre. 1995. Philosophy as a Way of Life: Spiritual Exercises from Socrates to F­ oucault. Edited and Introduction by Arnold I. Davidson. Translated by Michael Chase. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. Hadot, Pierre. 2002. What is Ancient Philosophy? Translated by Michael Chase. ­Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Lockwood, Thornton C. 2013. “Habituation, Habit, and Character in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics.” In A History of Habit: From Aristotle to Bourdieu. Edited by Tom ­Sparrow and Adam Hutchinson, 19–36. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books.



Nassif, Bradley. 2011. Bringing Jesus to the Desert. Ancient Context. Ancient Faith. ­General Editor Gary M. Burge. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan. Stewart, Columba. 2001. “Imageless Prayer and the Theological Vision of Evagrius ­Ponticus.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 9 (2): 173–204. Tsakiridis, George. 2010. Evagrius Ponticus and Cognitive Science: A Look at Moral Evil and the Thoughts. Eugene, OR: Pickwick Publications. Ward, Benedicta, translator. The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. 1975. Cistercian Studies 59. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

part 2 Psychology, Habit, and the Development of Character

chapter 5

Disposition Formation and Early Moral Development Todd Junkins and Darcia Narvaez Is the moral life constituted by adherence to moral principles? Are we to look at situations as moral dilemmas, where we do our best to apply particular principles, be they personal, social or professional? Or is there more to the moral life? With recent developments in neuroscience and psychology, it seems a new vision is required. Humans are not born with a “clean slate” that subsequently requires a top-down logical construction of personal morality. Although experience is critical for moral development, much more than logic and explicit rationality are required for a moral life. For example, it is also now agreed that we do not act or make most judgments primarily through conscious rational thought. In fact, this would be an overwhelming task. Instead, the brain develops integrated networks of associations and patterned responses that ­influence most decisions without awareness. These networks are what we will call dispositions in this chapter. Further, in so far as these judgments regard well-being, they are moral dispositions. We begin with a discussion of how moral dispositions are an organizing frame for experiencing the world, and therefore for being in the world, specifically for understanding and establishing well-being for both oneself and others. Second, we discuss how early-care practices are primary in ­establishing this frame and set the trajectory for social life. Third, we review three important mechanisms of conscious disposition change: the social environment, education, and personal and social practices.

The Moral Disposition Frame

What is a disposition? For the purposes of this chapter, we are not defining dispositions as only a conditioned, habituated, or sensitized response.1 Nor are we looking at habits in the more colloquial understanding of simply repeating the same behaviors in a compulsive way, such as chewing a pencil when 1 Kandel 2006.


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nervous. Instead, dispositions here refer to a broader form of an individual’s organization that integrates the biological, psychological, and social. Dispositions are a stance toward experience and represent response tendencies to that experience. Dispositions are composed of such things as embodied memory, genetic expression, unique experience, and personal agency. A disposition is primarily an unconscious frame that is deeply tied to learning, both conscious and unconscious, and associative and non-associative. Virtue theory seems best suited to frame our view.

Philosophical Foundation

In this discussion we use virtue theory, grounded in Aristotle’s conception, but enriched by psychological insight. Virtue theory has a long history and provides a deep understanding of human moral action, especially with regard to dispositions. Rather than applying and following a set of principles, a v­ irtue approach emphasizes virtue (in contrast to vice) as a state or disposition (­hexis) to act in characteristic ways.2 Virtue is a moral disposition with the t­ endency toward desires, choice, and action appropriate to well-being in a particular situation, whereas vices move us toward inappropriate desires, choice, and action.3 Moreover, a virtuous disposition is not a passive, mechanical conditioning but a condition in which we actively hold ourselves (which for our purposes does not need to be a conscious holding). A hexis is a trained ability, formed through repeated action in the mode of expertise. Once it is obtained, it is sustained as a potential.4 However, dispositions manifest themselves in action.5 For Aristotle, virtue is also a mean. It is a state of clarity in the midst of pleasure and pain that allows us to judge what seems most truly pleasant or painful. [B]y “characteristic” [hexis] I mean the condition, either good or bad, in which we are, in relation to the emotions: for example, our condition in relation to anger is bad, if our anger is too violent or not violent enough, but if it is moderate, our condition is good…6

2 3 4 5 6

Aristotle 1999. Kraut 2012; Allard-Nelson 2001. Aristotle 1999. Sachs 2005. Aristotle 1999, II.5.

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Humans have powers or capacities (dynamis), such as perception, desire, movement, and thought, yet a capacity is only a potentiality until manifested. It takes actively exercising (energeia) the capacity for it to be expressed. The properly active person is one in which all the person’s powers are working together without obstacle and full efficacy. Someone with good character or disposition (hexis) then, seeks to achieve the mean and remove obstacles to achieve a fully integrated state of powers. When powers and good dispositions are fully integrated, the person experiences “right desire” and “right reason,” seeing truly, and thus being able to “judge rightly.” But it is only with prudence (phronesis) that this is possible, allowing us to live life well.7 Although Aristotle’s theory of virtue is complex, with many problems, elitism being just one, his basic understanding of dispositions as described above provides an initial frame that corresponds to what is known of human development. A disposition is also a dialectic between biological and cultural forces. With the growing body of neuroscience research, it seems essential to point out the biological basis for dispositions. The mind is not simply conceptual, but embodied.

Embodiment and Morality

The human brain is a network primarily composed of connections among cells (neurons and glial cells, but we focus here on neurons). These networks serve various functions and can range vastly in numbers, into the trillions.8 They also extend to all parts of the body. These networks encode all of our memories, emotions, and behaviors, interacting and integrating information.9 Top down integration forms loops within the brain, and they include the ability of the cortex to process, inhibit, and organize subcortical reflexes, impulses, and emotions generated by the brain stem and limbic system, including the dorsal-ventral integration which connects limbic and cortical processing.10 The right and left brain integration includes the right and left cerebral cortex and ­lateralized limbic regions. For instance, language requires an integration of grammatical function of the left and the emotional function of the right, thereby putting our feelings into words. This integration also is involved in the balance of a­ ffect. Much of the integration of top-down and left/right aspects 7 8 9 10

Sachs 2005; Aristotle 1999. Cozolino 2010; Kandel 2006. Cozolino 2010. Cozolino 2010.


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of the brain is mediated through the frontal cortex, our primary executive system.11 Genes play an important role in the development of these networks, having both a template and a transcription function.12 The template aspect guides the formation of uniform structures of the brain and generally are unaffected by the environment. This includes our basic nervous system and reflexes. As the majority of our brain structure is formed after birth, much of this is guided by experience, influencing how genes are expressed (epigenetics). Therefore, our environments play a significant role in shaping our brains. Concepts of a “­selfish gene” emphasize the template role and fail to account for the significant process of transcription. On a biological level, there are three mechanisms of learning: new connections between formally unconnected neurons, an increase or decrease in already present connections, and neurogenesis (the growth of new neurons). These ongoing capacities are known as plasticity. The third mechanism was only recently discovered, and has been shown to occur in the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the frontal and temporal lobes.13 This indicates that it may never be too late for self-redevelopment as new orientations and capacities can be grown from new experience. Matthieu Ricard summarizes this concept: “the brain is continually evolving in response to our experience through the establishment of new neuronal connections, the strengthening of existing ones, or the creation of new neurons.”14 This transcription function allows for the type of plasticity described above, providing the opportunity for long-term memory.15 In fact, transcription in many ways is what allows for learning (change), where we could view our “neural architecture as a tangible expression of our learning history.”16 Learning includes learning from patterns of experience as well as intensive emotional experiences, such as trauma, where short-term memory within neurons is converted to long-term memory, involving gene transcription and structural change of the neuron cell itself.17 Our brains therefore have both an initial template structure and a transforming plastic structure. Paul MacLean has postulated an interesting conception of our brain 11 12 13 14 15 16 17

Cozolino 2010. Cozolino 2010; Kandel 2006. Cozolino 2010. Boyce et al., 2011, 127. Kandel 2006. Cozolino 2010, 19. Kandel 2006.

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structures that is useful here. He identified three brain strata that emerged from three basic periods of human evolution and form the foundations of the ­template structure. Aspects of our behavior can be seen as stemming from these brain structures. For example, when survival systems take charge (the “reptilian” brain) self-protective emotions dominate. When relational systems are active (the “paleomammalian” brain), social capacities are enhanced. When abstracting capabilities are dominant (the “neomammalian” brain), the individual can imagine alternative possibilities. Although MacLean’s anatomical and evolutionary descriptions are now too simplistic for what is known about the complexities of human brain anatomy, his theory does provide a helpful understanding of global mindsets that can drive human behavior.18 Dispositions, in the most basic biological form, emerge from the patterns of neural networks built from experience, and they are continually refined. These are not mechanical responses, but complex and dynamic processes of contextualized understanding, responding, and learning. Neural integration, in terms of strong, dense, and high quantities of neuron connections, represent a history of understanding the world around us, and allow for efficient use of our powers. Neuroscience also allows us to expand our definition of disposition. Just as our mind is embodied, so is our morality. We live and experience within our bodies and within a particular environment to which this body responds. Dispositions that are engaged in maintaining a person’s well-being or s­ ocial ­well-being have a moral value. Narvaez’s Multi-Ethics Theory postulates that shifting moral mindsets emerge from shifts in brain function.19 These dispositions include the safety ethic, the engagement ethic, and the imagination ethic.20 Each ethic has normative associations derived initially from our template brain networks and are primed by the context (internal and/or external), in ­interaction with practiced dispositions. As a type of motivated cognitive stance, each disposition interprets ongoing experience with its own moral values, suggesting, so to speak, what is in our best interest in the moment through activating ­motivations (“right desires”), influencing our powers and thereby, our access to what options are available for choice (“right reason” and “right judgment”) and ­action in response to active motivations.21 The safety ethic emerges under the stress response and is dominated by the extrapyramidal action nervous system and lower limbic areas concerned with 18 19 20 21

Cory and Gardner 2002. Narvaez 2008; Narvaez 2014. Panksepp 1998; MacLean 1990. Moll, et al., 2002.


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survival in mammals. The safety ethic is triggered by perceived threat to the self or ego, activating systems related to fight-or-flight.22 When these instincts direct a person’s moral (well-being) decisions or moral action, their disposition becomes a safety ethic. When we are in this mindset, social information is processed for threat. The safety ethic can become a primary disposition when early life was chronically stressful leading to misdevelopment of attachment and emotion systems, or after trauma (e.g., ptsd), aggression or emotional withdrawal may become normal modes of social interaction. Laboratory studies show that a self-protective orientation is easily primed with evocations of death and other threats, leading to less compassion for others.23 The second mindset, the engagement ethic, is rooted primarily in the higher limbic system of the mammalian brain where the social emotions lie. It ­requires co-construction with caregivers in early life through intersubjective mutual attunement and “limbic resonance,” mind-to-mind coordination vital for mammalian brain functioning.24 Mutual co-regulation forms emotional bonding, teaching the infant to see the world and respond to it in a trusting and social way. This learning experience creates prosocial emotional circuitry, fostering an endocrinology rich with bonding hormones like oxytocin.25 The engagement ethic is oriented to face-to-face emotional affiliation with others, particularly through caring relationships and social bonds. With supportive upbringing and lack of trauma, the systems underlying the engagement ethic develop fully and facilitate values of compassion, openness and tolerance.26 In studies with college students, the engagement ethic is related to secure attachment and predicts moral action.27 The imagination ethic emerges from the most recently evolved parts of the brain, the frontal and prefrontal cortex (pfc). It allows us to abstract from the present moment and consider alternatives. Highly influenced by early care and affected during other sensitive periods, the pfc is not completely d­ eveloped until the mid-20s or so.28 When early care is suboptimal, the orbital frontal cortex, a part of the pfc, may not develop properly and the individual may harbor an underdeveloped prosocial emotionality (leading to the dominance of the safety ethic). 22 23 24 25 26 27 28

Panksepp 1998. Narvaez 2014; Mikulincer, et al. 2005. Schore 2012; Lewis, Amini, and Lannon 2000. Young, et al., 2001. Eisler and Levine 2002. Narvaez, Brooks and Mattan 2011; Narvaez & Hardy 2016. Luna, et al. 2001.

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The imagination ethic uses prefrontal capacities to adapt skillfully to ongoing social relationships and to address concerns beyond the immediate. When coupled with a prosocial orientation and using humanity’s fullest reasoning capacities, it reflects a communal imagination. When it is coupled with the threat-oriented emotions of the security ethic, a vicious imagination results.29 How then do these dispositions develop in time? At birth, the survival systems are fully functioning. Part of our dispositional structure, is in place even before birth, in the content of the survival systems, which we share with most animals. The brain is structurally prepared for social life, but is necessarily shaped by early experience, calming the survival systems and influencing the development of the engagement ethic. The frontal lobe (pfc), however, takes decades to fully form. The imagination ethic, therefore, will also develop over decades. The slow development of the cortex means that early experience, ­especially intense social and cognitive engagement, has the primary influence in building the social brain, as opposed to the executive functions, both in terms of genetic and epigenetic features.30 Early experience is filtered through both survival systems and the primed framework of the maturing mammalian brain. If the environment is safe, social, and supportive, then the brain will develop a rich pro-social integration, emphasizing social connection and communication through activities such as play and environmental exploration rather than an integration emphasizing self-preservation and stress response sensitivity. This is why many of the thresholds and functioning of the brain and body systems are co-constructed by the caregiving received.31 Our memory, emotion and perception are affected by caregiving and underpin social and intellectual skills.32 For example, the prefrontal cortex communicates with subcortical emotion systems. When properly constructed by early caregiving, it can inhibit and ­control subcortical emotion systems. Early attachment relationships provide the experiences that shape these crucial neural connections and networks that allow for emotion regulation.33 When caregiving is poor, the cortical ­controls are misdeveloped leading to less emotional control. Infants and young children need adults to help their systems develop self-regulatory controls by quickly helping them return to homeostasis. When the infant becomes dysregulated, it will express this discomfort through expressions such as bodily positions, 29 30 31 32 33

Narvaez 2012. Kandel 2006; Cozolino 2010. Narvaez 2014. Cozolino 2010. Schore 1994.


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vocalizations and, eventually, crying. When good care is provided, distress is understood quickly and at an early stage, assisting the infant to return to a regulated state. Infants go through thousands of these cycles of regulation, dysregulation, and (hopefully) re-regulation, learning over time set points for system functions. Cycles of caregiver-facilitated re-regulation foster a strong attachment, establishing positive expectation of outcomes, trust in the world’s consistency and reliability. Winnicott speaks of this as establishing a sense of objective reality, where reality can be known and there is a consistency of ­experience.34 The patterns of experience are stored throughout the nervous system, becoming the sensory-motion-emotional frame through which individuals experience the world. In the absence of this nurturing and support, the brain develops implicit defenses for the goal of relieving anxiety. These ­defenses distort reality to reduce this anxiety, a process stored in implicit memory. Patterns of connections form our attractions and repulsions, drawing our attention, and influencing how we organize experience.35 Most of this occurs unconsciously and automatically. Early relationships therefore play a large role in co-constructing the brain’s neural networks. The quality and nature of relationships is encoded into the neural structure of our brains. It is in this sense, we have a social brain and a moral brain. That is, we literally internalize the social practices of our caretakers into our brain circuitry. This is especially evident in the neocortex where the imagination itself can propel us into different mindsets. Humans can experience anxiety about things that will never happen, depressed feelings over imagined insults, and sadness over potential loss. “Our imaginations can simultaneously create exciting new worlds, as well as the fears that prevent us from living them.”36 Stress reactivity from poor early care may lead to imagined insults, resulting in calculated revenge, a revenge forged in the safety ethic but reasoned through with the higher functions of the imagination ethic into ­vicious imagination. In this example, our powers, such as imagination and will, are being efficiently used, but obstacles within the brain’s safety circuitry from poor early care, trauma, or our own choices regarding our moral development, have resulted in a poor evaluation of the situation (imagined insult) and a limited pro-social efficacy, resulting in a self-focused or anti-social response. Early care deprivation is a form of toxic stress that increases the chances of damage to the brain, with corresponding deficits in memory and reality testing, and the prolonged utilization of primitive defenses. With responsive care 34 35 36

Tuber 2008. Cozolino 2010. Cozolino 2010.

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and support, stress hormone levels are less likely to escalate out of control. Physical contact and soothing talk with caretakers helps the brain to ­maintain calm and develop social procedural knowledge from the first days of life. For example, infants who do not receive assistance with self-regulation are more likely to develop impaired stress responses in several systems, (e.g., vagus nerve, hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal [hpa]), leading to a personality necessarily focused on self protection.37 Vicious dispositions represent suboptimal integration and coordination of neural, neuroendocrine and other body systems. Poor early care, genetic and biological vulnerabilities, and trauma at any time in our life, can result in disruption of these systems. An active stress response draws energy towards “fight or flight” and away from other more sophisticated systems. The shift of attention is useful under acute threat but becomes maladaptive as a chronic ­strategy for social life. Although mild, developmentally-appropriate stress is conducive to learning, high stress, overstimulation, or trauma can actually damage or kill off connections and be manifestes in dissociation of thoughts, behaviors, sensations, and emotions.38 We can apply these insights to moral functioning. The most adaptive moral response may emerge when safety concerns are under control, and engagement and imagination are fully active. Slight arousal that does not engage the stress response provides energy for action that supports social relatedness within a context of optimal agency. All of our powers are given the maximal information and freedom to respond, including imagination, reason and will. This give us the greatest possibility of “seeing truly,” “judging rightly,” and “­acting rightly.” In summary, Multi-Ethics Theory (met) underscores the importance of early life in establishing brain structures and neural integration that allows for deep and compassionate commitments to others and the intellectual c­ apacities for complex reasoning and perspective taking. met postulates that the e­ motional circuitry established early in life relates to the brain’s architecture for m ­ orality and later ethical expression.39 In the beginning, we are d­ ependent on our ­environment, particular our caretakers, to build our moral brains within the boundaries set by our genes, biological processes, and our template brain structure at birth. It is these care practices that we now explore briefly.

37 38 39

Narvaez 2012; Henry and Wang 1998. Cozolino 2010; Kandel 2006. Narvaez 2014; Narvaez 2012.


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Evolved Care Practices

The context for development is a primary factor in forming the moral disposition frame, setting the stage for social life. In this section we provide a little more detail about the early caregiving environment that supports optimal moral development. Each animal has evolved a “nest” or niche for its young that correspond to the maturational schedule of the offspring. Humans are particularly needy at birth and for years afterward, so their nest an “evolved developmental niche” (edn) reflects intensive parenting.40 Humanity’s edn varies slightly from the one that emerged for social mammals more that 30 million years ago.41 The parenting practices in early life that reflect the edn include natural birth (no inducement of timing or pain, no separation of mother and baby), breastfeeding 2–5 years (till the immune system is set up), nearly constant touch, ­responsiveness to the cues of the infant to minimize distress, companionship play, multiple adult caregivers and positive social support.42 Each of the edn characteristics has known effects on the bio-psychosocial wellbeing of the child for the long term.43 For example, a mother with less social support and greater stress during pregnancy yields a more irritable baby.44A baby who receives less positive touch has less self control in early childhood.45 In fact, in several studies young children who have experienced less EDN-consistent care displayed lower moral capacities in early life.46 Again, young children have little capacity for self-development and are very dependent on their caretakers and the environment for the development of these needed capacities. Narvaez and colleagues developed a measure of maternal early care and tested it with mothers.47 In several studies examining outcomes for three-year-old children, each of the caregiving practices were shown to influence child moral outcomes, including empathy, self-regulation and ­conscience. These studies again show how morality is an embodied aspect of humanity that grows from interaction with the world from the beginnings of life. 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

Narvaez, Wang and Gleason, et al. 2013; Narvaez, Gleason, et al. 2013. Konner 2010. Hewlett and Lamb 2005. Narvaez, Panksepp, et al. 2013. Davis and Sandman 2010. Kurth, et al. 2015; Narvaez, Wang and Cheng, et al. 2015. Narvaez, Gleason, et al. 2013; Narvaez, Wang, and Gleason, et al. 2013. Narvaez, Gleason, et al. 2013.

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After early life where evolved caregiving practices have the greatest impact, there is more to the moral development story. We are active players in our own development, and this ability increases over time. What can we do as moral agents in developing and reorganizing our moral dispositions?

Three Sources of Conscious Moral Disposition Change

Virtue ethics call us to actively hold ourselves in the disposition of virtue. Part of the active holding is also the removing of obstacles in our way of fully integrating our powers. Another aspect of this holding is making our judgments and choices for action more conscious and in line with our desired dispositional frame. What then can we do to develop a virtuous disposition? Before we begin to answer this question, is dispositional change even possible? The debates about evolution, genes and development continue throughout many areas of research. Several popularized gene-centric views describe humans as “survival machines,” where the “selfish gene” ultimately guides all of our decisions and actions. This is a version of evolutionary determinism.48 Gould contends: Dawkin’s colorful metaphors of selfish genes and manipulated organisms could not be more misleading, because he has reversed nature’s causality: organisms are active units of selection; genes, although lending a helpful hand as architects, remain stuck within.49 In contrast to gene-centrism, evolutionary developmental biology (evo-devo) takes into account this self-organization within selection.50 Organisms aim not only for survival, reproduction and dispersal as Williams pointed out, but also for growth, adaptation and flourishing.51 Organisms are active in their own development (autopoietic) and the ­development of their environment.52 Organisms live in time with changing developmental needs, changing access to resources, and changing social embeddedness, requiring flexible responses. Organisms are always adapting

48 49 50 51 52

Dawkins 1976, 20. Gould 2000, 2013–14. Samson and Brandon 2007. Williams 1966. Lickliter and Harshaw 2010; Maturana and Varela 1980.


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through a passive epigenesis, through the plasticity outlined above.53 However, humans in particular, albeit not exclusively, can intentionally participate in ongoing adaptation. Active epigenesis, or active plasticity, refers to the ability of the thoughtful individual to choose activities that transform his or her ­dispositional structure.54 Because of the high plasticity of the brain and other systems, ­individual choices have a great influence on whom the person becomes. Individuals can modify brain functioning, for good or ill, through a change in activities which modify neuronal functioning and generation and network integration.55 We look at three areas we can participate in our own disposition development: enriching environments, education, and personal and social practices.

Enriched Environments

As we grow in independence, we have greater powers to select our environments, choosing ones that enrich our intuitions. We can also be careful to avoid environments that foster mistaken intuitions about the social life (e.g., media that emphasize the success of violent conflict resolution) with cues that activate maladaptive aspects of our disposition structure (e.g., bars for an ­alcoholic), aspects we have not yet been able to form into more adaptive structures. Beyond selection, there is also the power to shape our environments in ways that embody the values important to us (e.g., by the purchases we make or don’t make). Thus, morality must be understood as a social practice. Our choices play an active role in the politics of our community, the beliefs held in common that structure our social practices, and the moral opportunities our communities provide.56 Enriched environments, ones that provide diverse, colorful, complex stimuli, increase the number of neurons, neuronal connectivity, blood capillaries, and mitochondria activity. In humans, these types of environments include challenging educational and experiential opportunities.57 For instance, the hippocampus, which plays a role in explicit and long-term memory, grew 15% when mice were moved from a bland environment to a highly enriching one in just 45 days.58 53 54 55 56 57 58

Narvaez 2012; Narvaez 2014. Narvaez 2012. Schwartz and Begley 2002; Ansermet and Magistretti 2007. Schultz, in process. Cozolino 2010. Boyce et al. 2011, 128; Kempermann 2011; Kandel 2006.

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With extensive, active immersed experience, understanding moves from implicit, procedural knowledge to explicit, short-term memory to implicit, long-term memory. We learn intuitions from the environments in which we are immersed.59 These intuitions respond to cues in our environment and signal or “ping” our neural networks of associations, our disposition structure, priming us for experiencing and action. Individuals can be primed to think and feel, in particular, without even being aware. Environments that signal feelings of fear, anxiety and threat can nurture the safety ethic, as the “reptilian” parts of the brain are kept activated, forming memory and stronger integration.60 Activities that foster positive social bonds nurture feelings of social and personal wellbeing, strengthening and more deeply integrating these aspects of the brain. Virtue, then, is fostered through extensive immersion in enriched environments, as they foster enriched intuitions. One aspect of our environment essential to development is stress or arousal. After early childhood, repeated exposure to stress in a supportive interpersonal environment results in the ability to tolerate increased arousal. With mild to moderate stress, the human brain integrates cortical circuits and increases its ability to regulate subcortical activity. For instance, with increased capacity to regulate our affect, especially fear and anxiety, our brains can continue cortical processing in the face of strong emotions, which allows for greater cognitive flexibility, learning, and neural integration.61 The therapeutic environment can be one of these interpersonal supportive contexts. Cozolino attempts to use the mild to moderate stress of therapy to help clients to learn to shift their experience of anxiety from an unconscious trigger for avoidance, to a conscious cue for curiosity and exploration: Becoming aware of anxiety is then followed with an exploration and eventual understanding of what we are afraid of and why. The next step is to move toward the anxiety with an understanding of its meaning and significance.62 Cozolino then works with his clients to create new narratives with new outcomes in the story. In this way, he is integrating the cortical linguistic processes with conditioned subcortical arousal, developing a disposition of e­ xploration and understanding toward anxiety. The successful mastery of challenges throughout life, such as our anxieties, crises, and major life events, leads to 59 60 61 62

Hogarth 2001. Mathews et al. 2005. Cozolino 2010. Cozolino 2010, 21–22.


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taking on even more complex challenges that will promote increasingly higher levels of neural network development and integration.63 In this way, as Aristotle suggested in his ethics, a mentor is needed until we can guide our own virtue development. With mentorship we are able to consider what kind of skills and attitudes a particular activity will encourage not only in the immediate, but in the long term. If we are not active in this process, our dispositions will still develop, they will simply be outside our awareness and influence. Good parenting and mentorship throughout life are important elements of an enriching and virtue-supporting environments. We look more deeply at this mentorship as part of education, the second way we can influence our own moral development.

Continued Education

Higher education, practicing skills, and continued engagement in mental activities all have been shown to increase neurons and neuronal connections.64 Moreover, virtue is nurtured through extensive immersion in good mentoring, as mentors cultivate high deliberation skills and assist in the selection of enriching environments.65 The Integrative Ethical Education (iee) model is an empirically-derived model for moral development that includes attention to the environment and mentor relationship.66 This model can be used for ­personal growth or educational intervention, but here it is described as ­applied in a formal setting. When an educator establishes a secure, caring relationship with their students, then a socially supportive context for learning and working together is created. Because our brains are wired for emotional signaling and social ­motivation, a caring, supportive teacher more easily promotes students’ empathy, prosocial behavior, and motivation to learn.67 Students with poor early care will have a more difficult time forming this attachment with the teacher as their brains are less flexible, integrated, and attentive. However, with patience and supportiveness, due to the plasticity of our brains, students can change and ­eventually allow for this bond.68 63 64 65 66 67 68

Cozolino 2010, Duhigg 2012. Cozolino 2010. Hogarth 2001. Narvaez 2006; Narvaez 2007; Narvaez 2008. Panksepp 1998; Wentzel 1997. Watson and Eckert 2003.

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Student and teachers typically work in a social context with others who prime and promote particular behaviors in each other.69 Teachers then can create a sustaining climate, which is supportive of ethical behavior and excellence.70 A sustaining climate takes seriously the social and work dispositions of students and teacher and meets basic needs (e.g., for autonomy, belonging, competence).71 Teachers share leadership with students, co-creating classroom activities in ways that forms the type of enrichment the students require and desire. Using rich, prosocial imagination and discussion, students move ­beyond thinking about themselves. Just as in evolved care practices, teachers  can try to form an emotionally warm and engaging classroom setting. When things go wrong, teachers encourage conflict resolution, forgiveness and ­restitution. A sustaining climate promotes human flourishing through positive social influences and cultivates social, emotional and moral skills, which are then ­internalized into the students’ neural networks. Developing these ­networks ­results in individual and social empowerment.72 Individuals learn most naturally through guided apprenticeship that follows expertise development practices. Apprenticeship for moral dispositions involves instruction for the purpose of developing expertise.73 As mentioned above, good training nurtures good intuitions through immersion and appropriate feedback. Perceptions and sensibilities are fine-tuned into long-term memory and the larger dispositional structure.74 Expertise training also stimulates deliberative understanding (theoretical grounding and meta-cognitive guidance). These frameworks are learned and, with practice, applied a­ utomatically in stimulus processing, judging and responding. We can see the interaction of early experience and social practice in moral exemplars. They tend to be more agreeable, conscientious, and open to new experience than the average person. They successfully manage stressful experience and their own emotions. Moreover, as a social practice, moral exemplars exhibit a higher-than-average orientation to social engagement and c­ ompassion toward others, but also a higher-than-average sense of self-efficacy or agency. These dispositions develop over many years. Self-regulation, for example, is a complicated and long-term developmental task that includes physiological, emotional, and social components. Successful automatic s­ elf-regulation frees 69 70 71 72 73 74

Battistich 2008; Solomon, Watson and Battistich 2002. Narvaez 2006. Deci and Ryan 1985. Elias et al. 2008. Lapsley and Narvaez 2005. Lapsley and Narvaez 2005.


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the individual to be able to focus on external concerns, such as the needs of others. The ability to act on concern for others emerges from experiences of mutuality, leading to the adoption of parental dispositions and the emergence of conscience. Moral experts are more morally sensitive—noticing when moral action is needed and empathizing with those in need. They use reasoning skills to determine what course of action might be best and reflect on their choices. They are morally motivated to help others. And, they know the steps toward a moral action, persevering through the action. To move ourselves or students or clients toward expertise, Narvaez and colleagues suggested four levels of instruction.75 Each level offers guided immersion for implicit knowledge and deliberate understanding for a topic. The first level comprises immersion in examples, such as experts and role models demonstrating the skill, providing an overall sense of what is aimed for. The second level breaks skills into smaller skills and focuses attention on particular subskills and their practice. The third level involves putting skills together and practicing procedures. The fourth level involves practicing problem solving in multiple contexts. Experts not only have more and better organized knowledge, they are able to self-monitor their performance. So skills for self-monitoring and selfauthorship are also required. For example, social and emotional learning ­programs assist students in managing emotion regulation and expression, facilitating social and learning capacities.76 Such education for reflective skills allows the individual to monitor, reexamine and modify intuitions. Finally, the community in which the individual lives must authoritatively nurture moral character. Therefore, the individual must experience the restoration of the ecological network of relationships and communities that support the child’s development. For development of our social brains, students need multiple supportive relationships from adults within and outside the classroom and the family. When goals and practices for student development and education are communally adopted by families, neighborhoods and schools, optimal results are more likely.77 Beyond more formal types of education, there are a variety of personal and social practices that we can use to develop our embodied moral selves. Here we review three practices that can lead to strong virtuous dispositions.

75 76 77

Narvaez 2006. Elias et al., 2008. Lerner, Dowling and Anderson 2003.

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Personal and Social Practices

The first practice, which can be done alone or socially, we will call meditation. There are many definitions of this concept, and we will review several of them here. Jeff Brantley offers two types of meditation. Concentration ­practices ­focus attention on a narrow field such as a single object, a short phrase. As attention moves away from the field, the practitioner gently moves attention back. Mindfulness practices, on the other hand, develop present moment awareness. Brantley observes that our reactions to the stress in our lives can become so habituated that we do not even realize they are operating until their toll on us psychologically or biologically can no longer be ignored. We become “[p]risoners of dispositions of thinking and self talk.”78 Similarly, Susan Smalley and Diana Winston define mindfulness as observing our mental and physical states through intentional and curious attention.79 Smalley and Winston emphasize openness, curiosity and nonreactivity in our awareness to our normal activities. We also try to stay aware of our impulsive and automatic responses. ­Joseph Goldstein describes this awareness as lacking inner mental commentary and interferences.80 It is a compassionate attention that keeps us connected to our daily activities and the people interacting with us. In this sense, mindfulness allows us to see clearly what is happening in the moment. Thoughtfulness can then direct our actions rather than habituated reactions.81 With mindfulness meditation, a practitioner begins to observe how their mind works, allowing thoughts and emotions to pass through the mind with a more accepting attitude. Goldstein suggests that, as we become more familiar and less judgmental of our own minds, we are less likely to judge others.82 Matthieu Ricard emphasizes more of an empty mind state when practicing mindfulness. When mindful, the practitioner has a relaxed, clear and alert state of mind. The mind does not focus on any one thought or feeling, but maintains a concentration on the present moment. When concerns or worries arise, the practitioner does not attempt to engage those thoughts, but allows them to pass out of the mind on their own.83

78 79 80 81 82 83

Boyce et al. 2011, 42. Boyce et al. 2011, 12. Boyce et al. 2011, 21. Boyce et al. 2011, 22. Boyce et al. 2011, 25–26. Boyce et al. 2011, 130.


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Research has shown that expert meditators have a dramatic increase in high-frequency brain activity, in the so-called gamma frequency spectrum.84 The gamma activity detected by electrode sensors in a dense arrangement all over the head were far more synchronized than in non-practitioners. People can thus train their brains and deliberately regulate their cerebral activity. Even prior to engaging in an active meditation session, experienced m ­ editators showed higher gamma activity than those who do not meditate.85 This ­suggests greater neural integration and self-control over immediate responses. This integration is exemplified in the startle response. This reflex is found in the most primitive parts of the brain stem and is not subject to explicit control. The intensity of the response reflects the intensity of the negative emotion (fear, rage, sadness, and disgust) associated with the stimulus. A meditation expert’s startle response was tested in an experiment where the practitioner was told a very loud gun blast would occur sometime within a five minute timeframe. The meditation expert utilized two types mediation: single-pointed concentration and open presence mindfulness. He found the best method for this exercise was open presence. In the first type, he focused on a single thought or image. This was a distracted state, and he explained the gunshot brought him back into the present suddenly, but with a barely noticeable jump of surprise. But in open presence, the bang is simply experienced as one phenomenon in a larger experience. Although his body seemingly did not move, including a very close observance of his facial muscles, his physiological ­parameters (pulse, perspiration, blood pressure) responded as one would expect with the startle reflex. His body reacted, registering all the effects of the noise, but the experience had little to no emotional impact on the mind.86 A trained mind, and associated brain function, is different from an untrained mind. Daniel Siegel reports of other studies that have shown that mindfulness meditation practices induce specific brain activation during practice. He reports that repetition allows intentionally created inner states to become long term states, and these are reflected in brain structure and function.87 In essence, these self created states move from short term memory to long term memory as described above. Studies have also shown that left prefrontal a­ ctivity of the brain is enhanced following Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (mbsr) training. The electrical change is thought to reflect a change of approach

84 85 86 87

Lutz et al. 2004. Boyce et al. 2011. Boyce et al. 2011, 23. Boyce et al. 2011, 137.

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where there is move towards, rather than away from, challenging s­ ituations or internal mental functions. This resilience also includes an increase in immune system strength, including in hiv patients. Trainees also feel a sense of stability and clarity. As a result, this training is useful for those having problems with attention, sometimes even more effectively than medications.88 Candace Pert speaks of an intelligence that runs throughout our bodies, stimulating certain kinds of behavior. She even speaks of an addiction to certain emotional states due to the chemical processes (peptides) these emotions create, specifically fear and anxiety. Our bodies then crave these peptides, eliciting specific thoughts and emotions over and over again for the purpose of releasing these peptides.89 The fear body can be activated by thoughts, perceptions, or memories. When it is, you’re likely to identify with it completely and, in effect, become the dispositions of mind and behavior that comprise it. At these times, you will feel the compelling tug of the fight, flight, or freeze response.90 However, just as the fear body can be habituated, so can a calm body through mindfulness meditation. We become more accustomed to calm states rather than alarm states. A second practice that fosters self-growth is play. Play nurtures a prosocial disposition in the engagement ethic, activating the right hemisphere.91 ­Playful activity enlivens the positive emotions and promotes emotional presence, decreasing our chances for depression and isolation.92 Stuart Brown suggests that as children have new experiences, they are often bringing together their imagination with the environment they see. They are creating a narrative to help them feel comfortable and cope with their surroundings. In this sense, their imagination becomes a problem solving tool. Brown sees play as a fundamental organizer of “complex emergent systems in the brain (Kadlec, 2009).” This continues throughout the lifetime, where “[r]esiliency, the ability to handle unexpected things, emotional competence, empathy, the ability to solve problems,” are all formed “in the slow process of integrating play with

88 89 90 91 92

Boyce et al. 2011. Boyce et al. 2011. Boyce et al. 2011, 173. Siegel 1999. Brown and Vaughan 2009.


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reality.”93 Therefore, play has a significant role in well-being and the development of dispositions. The opposite is also true. When a social mammal such as a rat or monkey is deprived of rough-and-tumble play, as adults they are less able to tell friend from enemy, are poor at handling stress, and lack skills necessary to mate effectively.94 Adults that are play deprived will tend to be narrower in their thinking and less flexible in their stress response, with more dispositional rage. Brown agrees with Brian Sutton-Smith’s assessment that the opposite of play is ­depression, not work.95 Without the benefits of play, especially the flexibility of responses, people are less able to handle common stresses. Some researchers suggest play develops the ability to hold multiple competing ideas in the mind without needing them to perfectly align. Holding ­paradoxes playfully allows people to respond flexibly to changing situations, using their imagination for problem solving instead of slipping into a fear or safety response.96 Evolution would suggest play is a training exercise in the ability to adapt to changing environments. The complexity of human play has developed over many thousands of years, with research showing play as having a critically important role in our longterm survival. Play is also a very old social practice. Play requires trust, and builds trust, through social rules. Preverbal play signs are in fact universally recognized among social mammals. It is generally clear when a mammal is playing, and when it is threatening. In this sense, play develops dispositions of trust and a sense of social rules or boundaries and fairness. This is true b­ etween humans and between humans and other mammals. Play is also associated with pack dynamics, teaching pack members their roles, responsibilities, and skills in cooperation and social activities such as hunting. It “allows social mammals to, as I would say, explore the possible.”97 Early play experiences build a sense of belonging to a community and personal safety within that community. “When kids—or even adults—are being entertained instead of actively engaging in forms of play, our capacity to develop a sense of belonging, or being a part of community, is diminished.”98 Exploring this sense of the possible then, as a group requires this sense of belonging and trust, so that the community can develop agreed upon outcomes. Therefore, in so far as c­ ommunal ­morality 93 94 95 96 97 98

Kadlec, 2009. Brown 2009. Brown and Vaughan 2009. Kadlec, 2009. Kadlec, 2009. Kadlec, 2009.

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is a social practice, it will require a playful attitude of imaginative flexibility, collaboration, and social trust. It members require a social brain having an understanding of fairness and the emotional strength to win and lose, traits developed through play over time. Unfortunately, Brown sees a decline in “elective, self-organized play” among American children today. He sees many children living “over-organized, cellphone-computer-TV-and-video-game-saturated lives.” A recent study showed American children spending fifty percent less time outside compared to twenty years ago. Children today are also spending on average 6.5 hours a day with electronic media. Brown sees play research showing a strong correlation between this decline in play and increases in childhood obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorders, depression, and classroom violence.99 A third area we can actively hold and develop our moral development is through political activity. As Aristotle pointed out, our virtues are developed and expressed within a community. Once we reach adulthood, we have the power to shape our community practices so that they ease the path to virtue. We can shape our communal environment to embody the values we determine as beneficial to the well-being of all. Morality as a social practice ­suggests we play an active role in the politics of our community, working to establish the common beliefs that structure our social practice of morality. We can also participate in the process of setting criteria regarding how the group will evaluate  their own and each other’s behavior, and hold each other responsible. Finally, we can work to help set the purpose of well-being for these social practices.100 All three areas of disposition change clearly relate to one another. Enriched environments will have an educational component, as well as the personal and social practices of mindfulness, political activity, and play. Education is not e­ ffective when it is based on simply memorizing facts or preparation for testing. Moreover, children and adults who engage their education with mindfulness, political concern, and play will undoubtedly internalize more, ­developing into experts of their field. Finally, our personal practices prepare us for engaging our environments, allowing us to learn and to engage politically, having a social brain, integrated for cooperation, clear judgment, imagination, and flexibility. It is possible then to change our moral dispositions, and develop a disposition adaptable to our environments and social contexts.

99 Brown 2009. 100 Schultz, in process.


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Conclusion In this brief treatment of moral dispositions we have discussed the philosophical and biological meaning of dispositions, speaking of dispositions as a frame, guiding experience and action. This philosophical meaning was then assessed in the light of emerging neuroscience, providing another layer of nuance and insight into moral dispositions. We are born of nature, with genes formed over years of evolutionary development, providing an evolved memory and ­knowledge even at birth. However, nature also nurtures us in the evolved developmental niche, through the process of epigenetics, neuron formation, and brain integration. We require deep and personal nurturing all throughout life, but especially as infants in the form of early care practices. Finally, we ­reviewed our amazing power to nurture ourselves, both individually and socially, in a wide variety of ways, offering several practices we can use to guide this self-authorship in moral development. Clearly our experience and our brains are more complicated than simply applying moral principles as situations arise. Our moral life matches this complexity through the formation of a complex set of associations and responses which we have called dispositions. Where those dispositions judge well-being, they have a moral quality. These dispositions are already present, and will continue to form, even if we do not recognize their presence. Certainty the content of these dispositions, our virtues, will remain controversial, but the presence of dispositions need not. Our conversations in education, legislation, economics, and health can move beyond asking about the realities of dispositions and continue the difficult, communal, and continual conversation of understanding, defining, and developing the virtues and vices that guide our well-being and the well-being of others. References Allard-Nelson, Susan K. 2001. “Virtue in Aristotle’s Rhetoric: A Metaphysical and ­Ethical Capacity.” Philosophy and Rhetoric 34 (3): 245–259. Ansermet, F., and P. Magistretti. 2007. Biology of Freedom: Neural Plasticity, Experience, and the Unconscious. Translated by S. Fairfield. New York: Other Press. Aristotle. Nicomachean Ethics. 1999. Translated by Martin Ostwald. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Prentice Hall. Battistich, V.A. 2008. “The Child Development Project: Creating Caring School Communities.” In Handbook of Moral and Character Education, edited by L Nucci and D Narvaez, 328–351. New York: Routledge.

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Boyce, Barry, and Editors of the Shambhala Sun. 2011. The Mindfulness Revolution. ­Boston: Shambhala. Brown, Stuart. 2009. “Let the Children Play (Some More).” New York Times, September 2. Accessed June 27, 2016. http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/02/ let-the-children-play-some-more/?_r=0. Brown, Stuart, and Chirstopher Vaughan. 2009. Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. New York: Penguin Books. Cory, G.A. Jr, and R., Jr Gardner. 2002. The Evolutionary Neuroethology of Paul MacLean: Convergences and Frontiers. Westport, ct: Praeger. Cozolino, Louis. 2010. The Neuroscience of Psychotherapy: Healing the Social Brain. 2nd. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Damasio, A. The Feeling of What Happens. 1999. London: Heineman. Davis, E.P., and C.A. Sandman. 2010. “The Timing of Prenatal Exposure to Maternal Cortisol and Psychosocial Stress is Associated With Human Infant Cognitive Development.” Child Development 81 (1): 131–148. Dawkins, R. 1976. The Selfish Gene. New York: Oxford University Press. Deci, E, and R Ryan. 1985. Intrinsic Motivation and Self-Determination in Human Behavior. New York: Academic Press. Duhigg, Charles. 2012. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do In Life And Business. New York: Random House. Eisler, R., and D.S. Levine. 2002. “Nurture, Nature, and Caring: We are not Prisoners of Our Genes.” Brain and Mind 3: 9–52. Elias, M.J., S.J. Parker, V.M. Kash, R.P. Weissberg, and M.U. O’Brien. 2008. “Social and Emotional Learning, Moral Education, and Character Education: A Comparative  Analysis and a View Toward Convergence.” In Handbook of Moral and Character Education, edited by L.P. Nucci and D Narvaez, 248–266. New York: Routledge. Gould, S.J. 2000. “The Evolutionary Definition of Selective Agency, Calidation of the Theory of Heirarchical Selection, and Fallacy of the Selfish Gene.” In Thinking About Evolution, by R.S. Singh, C.B. Krimbas, D.B. Paul and J. Beatty, 208–234. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Henry, J.P., and S. Wang. 1998. “Effects of Early Stress on Adult Affiliative Behavior.” Psychoneruoendocrinology 23 (8): 863–875. Hewlett, B.S., and M.E. Lamb. 2005. Hunter-Gatherer Childhoods: Evolutionary, Developmental and Cultural Perspectives. New Brunswick, nj: Aldine. Hogarth, R.M. Educating Intution. 2001. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Kadlec, Alison. 2009. “Play and Public Life.” National Civic Review Winter: 3–11. Kandel, Eric R. 2006. In Search of Memory. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Kempermann, Gerd. 2011. Adult Neurogenesis 2. New York: Oxford University Press. Konner, M. 2010. The Evolution of Childhood. Cambridge, ma: Belknap Press.


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Kraut, Richard. 2012. “Aristotle’s Ethics.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed February 10, 2013. http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/win2012/entries/ ­ aristotle-ethics/. Kurth, A., D. Narvaez, L. Wang, Y. Cheng, T. Gleason, and J.B.i Lefever. 2015. “Maternal Positive and Negative Touch Behaviors Longitudinally Predict Temperament and Social-Emotional Delays.” Presentation at the annual meeting of the Society for ­Research in Child Development. Philadelphia. Lapsley, D., and D Narvaez. 2005. “Moral psychology at the Crossroads.” In Character Psychology and Character Education, edited by D. Lapsley and C Power, 18–35. ­University of Notre Dame Press. Lerner, R.M., E.M. Dowling, and P.M. Anderson. 2003. “Positive Youth Development: Thriving As A Basis of Personhood And Civil Society.” Applied Developmental S­ cience 7: 172–180. Lewis, T., F. Amini, and R. Lannon. 2000. A General Theory of Love. New York: Vintage. Lickliter, R, and C. Harshaw. 2010. “Canalization and Malleability Reconsidered: The Develpomental Basis of Phenotypic Stability and Variability.” In Handbook of Developmental Science, Behavior, and Genetics, by D.E. Hood, C.T. Halpern, G. Greenberg and R.M. Lerner. New York: Blackwell. Luna, B., et al. 2001. “Maturation of Widely Distributed Brain Function Subserves ­Cognitive Development.” NeuroImage 13 (5): 786–793. Lutz, A, L.L. Greischar, N.B. Rawlings, M. Richard, and R.J. Davidson. 2004. “Long-Term Meditators Self-Induce High Amplitude Gamma Synchrony During Mental Parctice.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 101 (46): 16369–73. MacLean, P.D. 1990. The Triune Brain in Evolution: Role in Paleocerebral Functions. New York: Plenum. Mathews, V.P., W.G. Kronenberger, Y Wang, J.T. Lurito, M.J. Lowe, and D.W. Dunn. 2005. “Media Violence Exposure and Frontal Lobe Activation Measured by Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging in Aggressive and Nonaggressive Adolescents.” ­Journal of Computer Assisted Tomography 29 (3): 287–292. Maturana, H.R., and F.J. Varela. 1980. Autopoiesis and Cognition. Dordecht: Reidel. Mikulincer, M., P.R. Shaver, O. Gillath, and R.A. Nitzberg. 2005. “Attachment, Caregiving, and Altruism: Boosting Attachment Security Increases Compassion and ­Helping.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 89 (5): 817–839. Moll, J., R. de Oliveira-Souza, P.J. Eslinger, I.E., Mourao-Miranda, J. Bramati, and P.A., Andreiulo. et al. 2002. “The Neural Correlates of Moral Sensitivity: A Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging Investigation of Basic and Moral Emotions.” Journal of Neuroscience 22 (7): 2730–2736. Narvaez, D., and S. Hardy. 2016. “Measuring Triune Ethics Orientations.” In Embodied Morality: Protectionism, Engagement and Imagination, ed. by D. Narvaez, 47–72. New York: Palgrave-Macmillan.

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Narvaez, Darcia. 2006. “Integrative Ethical Education.” In Handbook of Moral Development, edited by M. Killen and J. Smetana, 703–733. Mahwah, nj: Erlbaum. Narvaez, Darcia. 2007. “How Cognitive and Neurobiological Sciences Inform Values Education for Creatures Like Us.” In Values Education and Lifelong Learning: ­Philosophy, Policy, Practices, edited by Aspin D. and J. Chapman, 127–159. Springer Press International. Narvaez, Darcia. 2008. “Human Flourishing and Moral Development: Cognitive Science and Neurobiological Perspectives on Virtue Development.” In Handbook of Moral and Character Education, edited by L. Nucci and D. Narvaez, 310–327. ­Mahwah, nj: Erlbaum. Narvaez, Darcia. 2011. “Neurobiology, Moral Education and Moral Self-Authorship.” In Moral Education and Development: a Lifetime Commitment. edited by D. de Ruyter and S. Miedema, 31–44. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. Narvaez, Darcia. 2012. “Moral Neuroeducation from Early Life Through the Lifespan.” Neuroethics 5 (2): 145–157. Narvaez, Darcia. 2014. Neurobiology and the Development of Human Morality: Evolution, Culture, and Wisdom. New York: W.W. Norton. Narvaez, D., et al. 2013. “The Evolved Development Niche: Longitudinal Effects of ­Caregiving Practices on Early Childhood Psychosocial Development.” Early Childhood Research Quarterly 28 (4): 759–773. Narvaez, D., J. Brooks, and B. Mattan. 2011. Attachment-Related Variables Predict ­Moral  Mindset and Moral Action. Montreal: Society for Research in Child Development. Narvaez, D., and T. Gleason. 2013. “Developmental Optimization.” In Human Nature, Early Experience and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, edited by D. Narvaez, J. Panksepp, A. Schore and T. Gleason. New York: Oxford University Press. Narvaez, D., J. Panksepp, A. Schore, and T. Gleason. 2013. Evolution, Early Experience and Human Development: From Research to Practice and Policy. New York: Oxford ­University Press. Narvaez, D., L. Wang, A. Cheng, T. Gleason, and J.B. Lefever. 2015. “The Importance of Touch for Early Moral Development.” Manuscript Under Review. Narvaez, D., L. Wang, T. Gleason, A. Cheng, J. Lefever, and L. Deng. 2013. “The Evolved Developmental Niche and Sociomoral Outcomes in Chinese Three-Year-Olds.” ­European Journal of Developmental Psychology 10 (2): 106–127. Panksepp, J. 1998. Affective Neuroscience: The Foundations of Human and Animal E­ motions. New York: Oxford University Press. Sachs, Joe. 2005. “Aristotle: Ethics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed ­February 10, 2013. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-eth/. Samson, R., and R.N. Brandon. 2007. Integrating Evolution and Development: From ­Theory to Practice. Cambridge, ma: mit Press.


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Schore, A. 1994. Affect Regulation. Hillsdale, nj: Erlbaum. Schore, A. 2012. “Bowlby’s “Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness”: Recent Studies on the Interpersonal Neurobiology of Attachment and Emotional Development.” In Human Nature, Early Experience and the Environment of Evolutionary Adaptedness, by D. Narvaez, J. Panksepp, A. Schore and T. Gleason. New York: Oxford University Press. Schultz, Walter J. In Process. Responsible Altruism: A Democratic Morality. University Press of America. Schwartz, J.M., and S. Begley. 2002. The Mind and The Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force. New York: Regan Books. Siegel, D. 1999. The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shapte Who We Are. New York: Guilford Press. Solomon, D., M.S. Watson, and V.A. Battistich. 2002. “Teaching and School Effects on Moral/Prosocial Development.” In Handbook for Research on Teaching, edited by V Richardson. Washington, D.C.: American Educational Research Association. Tuber, Stephen B. 2008. Attachment, Play, and Authenticity: A Winnicott Primer. Jason Aronson, Inc. Watson, M, and L Echert. 2003. Learning to Trust. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Wentzel, K.R. 1997. “Student Motivation in Middle School: The Role of Perceived Pedagogical Caring.” Journal of Educational Psychology 89: 411–419. Williams, G.C. 1966. Adaptation and Natural Selection. Princeton, nj: University Press. Young, L.J., M.M. Lim, B. Gingrich, and T.R. Insel. 2001. “Cellular Mechanisms of Social Attachment.” Hormones and Behavior 40: 133–138.

chapter 6

Faith and Imitatio for the Understanding of Habitus Michael L. Spezio Certainly, a place like Homeboy Industries is all folly and bad business unless the core of the endeavor seeks to imitate the kind of God one ought to believe in. In the end, I am helpless to explain why anyone would accompany those on the margins were it not for some anchored belief that the Ground of all Being thought this was a good idea. fr. greg boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion, 20

Homies seem to live in the zip code of the eternally disappointing, and need a change of address. To this end, one hopes (against all human ­inclination) to model not the “one false move” God but the “no matter whatness” of God. You seek to imitate the kind of God you believe in, where disappointment is, well, Greek to Him. You strive to live the black spiritual that says, “God looks beyond our fault and sees our need.” … If we long to be in the world who God is, then, somehow, our compassion has to find its way to vastness. Tattoos on the Heart, 52, 66.

I remember a conversation I had thirteen years ago in America with a young French pastor. We had simply asked ourselves what we really wanted to do with our lives. And he said, I want to become a saint (— and I think it’s possible that he did become one.) This impressed me very much at the time. Nevertheless, I disagreed with him, saying something like: I want to learn to have faith. For a long time I did not understand the depth of this antithesis. dietrich bonhoeffer, letter to his friend Eberhard Bethge the day after the failure of the conspiracy against the Nazi regime, 21 July, 1944, Letters and Papers from Prison, 486.



To begin a theologically and scientifically engaged encounter of virtue ­theories – including the concepts of habit, habituation, habitus, imitation, and imitatio – it helps to keep always in mind the phenomena one seeks to understand. As Linda Zagzebski has noted, one does not need virtue theory to ­understand virtue, but to make sense of the persons one points to as ­exemplars of virtue.1 Many theories of habit/habituation have been and could be developed in a theologically, philosophically, and scientifically robust manner, all taking some support from the evidence provided by sound, albeit contextually impoverished, scientific approaches. At the end of the day, however, and without straying into hagiography, it is a requirement of sound theory development to keep at the fore the perspectives of those who in some way can be taken to bear witness to the kind of virtuous commitment that concepts like habitus and imitatio are designed to clarify. The work and writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Fr. Greg Boyle provide such witnesses and highlight severe and likely insoluble difficulties for approaches to habituation in virtue that stress virtue “for the sake of virtue.”

Faith and Imitatio: Saint-Consciousness v. Christ-Consciousness

Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s antithesis between wanting to be a saint and wanting to learn to have faith is reflected in the way that Fr. Greg Boyle invokes the practice of imitatio at the core of the Homegirl/Homeboy community in Los Angeles. Homeboy Industries is a community based in downtown Los Angeles, with a core spirituality emerging from the Society of Jesus and formed for the sake of rival gang members, women and men, many of whom have only seen one another as enemies. The mission of the community is to allow space for the exploration and experience of kinship. Kinship is the goal of the ­compassionate community. As Fr. Boyle writes, “With kinship as the goal, other ­essential things fall into place; without it, no justice, no peace. I suspect that were kinship our goal, we would no longer be promoting justice – we would be celebrating it.” What is notably absent in Fr. Boyle’s language of imitatio on the way to realizing such kinship is any trace of saint-consciousness, any focus on the self or on “moral striving,”2 any emphasis of the I who can competently explain to the rest of the world the “folly” that is his life’s work.3 This I is not present, leaving only the I who cannot counter folly, that is helpless to

1 Zagzebski 2004, 2013. 2 Herdt 2005. 3 Boyle 2010, 20.

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explain.4 Fr. Boyle’s emphasis shifts from I to an invitation into a fellowship of shared consideration via second person address: “You seek to imitate….You strive to live.”5 Living means to model acceptance of others – against all h­ uman i­ nclination – to put on the “no matter whatness” of divine perspective and affect, whose living community (imitatio is not the work of a solitary saint or seeker) sings of acceptance in the most dire circumstances of need. Fr. Boyle’s placement of the against in his passage – “against all human inclination” – is similar to the depth of the antithesis to which Bonhoeffer calls his dear friend Bethge’s attention. If even hope of being a model of boundless compassion is against all human inclination, as Fr. Boyle says, then the modeling itself must itself be counter to any inclination grounded in the human. So much is this modeling separate from human inclination that the I does not direct a compassion that is under its own control, its ownership. Compassion is ours, not mine, and “our compassion has to find its way” to becoming boundless.6 Compassion is not a trait or a quality – recall that it inheres in the community, not the individual. We encounter in Fr. Boyle’s affirmation of imitatio at the same time a denial of familiar concepts generally associated with habit/habitus: inclination, disposition, trait, driving, and striving, since there is no I at the center of it all. In the rest of Bonhoeffer’s letter to Bethge, the themes are remarkably similar to those raised by Fr. Boyle. Bonhoeffer is clearly uneasy with the way he portrayed imitatio in his book Discipleship: “I thought I myself could learn to have faith by trying to live something like a saintly life. I suppose I wrote ­Discipleship at the end of this path. Today I clearly see the dangers of that book, though I still stand by it.”7 Instead of living a saintly life, of “putting on virtue,”8 Bonhoeffer’s reflection the day after the conspiracy failed is one of discovery, an ongoing realization about how thorough is faith’s formation by the acceptance and the suffering of God. No longer should the faithful disciple be understood as “making something of oneself – whether it be a saint or a converted sinner…a just or unjust person, a sick or a healthy person.” Faith means that one “throws oneself completely into the arms of God.” For Bonhoeffer, faith is not assent or belief or even attitude or orientation or a mode of intention or a comparative modeling or forced imitation of Christ. Faith is when “one stays 4 This forthright openness regarding the limits of language to capture the realities of faith and imitatio has some overlap with broader practice in Christianity. Take, for example, Martin Luther’s 29th thesis in his Heidelberg Disputation (1518): “Whoever wishes to philosophize in Aristotle without danger must first become completely foolish in Christ.” Luther, 1883–1929, Vol. 1, 355, as cited in Preus, trans., 2014, Chapter 2 n.5. 5 Boyle, 52. 6 Ibid., 66. 7 Bonhoeffer 2009, 486. The quotations that follow come from this letter. 8 Herdt 2008.



awake with Christ in Gethsemane,” when “one takes seriously no longer one’s own sufferings but rather the suffering of God in the world.” Faith is a leap, to be sure, but a leap in which the striving I does not survive, to a place that saintconsciousness cannot go. But doesn’t Bonhoeffer contradict himself, since he clearly says that he looks to stay awake with Christ? Doesn’t this mean that he places himself above the disciples who, after all, fell asleep? He does not do this if by his “staying awake with Christ” means being taken up into the mind of Christ in the Garden, and being taken up into the suffering of Christ and God in the world, into a vast compassion. Then is the one waiting beside Christ making of herself the one who keeps awake, the disciple who would not sleep while the Master prayed? Bonhoeffer can be claiming no such role for himself, since he has already denied that striving and making “something of oneself” has anything to do with faith. Rather than saint-consciousness, what he calls for is keeping awake with Christ by being taken into an awareness – a being awake – that is the awareness and perspective of Christ praying in the Garden. When Christ finds the nearby disciples asleep, he pleads with them to stay awake, lest they fall into “temptation” (Mt 26.41; Mk 14.38; Lk 22.46). The Greek word generally translated temptation, πειρασμόν, is rooted in the verb πειράω, which means try, attempt, endeavor.9 Staying awake, then, is not a matter of striving, but just its opposite. Three days before the letter of 21 July, Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge on the same theme: Being a Christian does not mean being religious in a certain way, making oneself into something or other (a sinner, penitent, or saint) according to some method or other. Instead it means being human, not a certain type of human being, but the human being Christ creates in us. It is not a religious act that makes someone a Christian, but rather sharing in God’s suffering in the worldly life.10 In Bonhoeffer’s understanding, the metanoia of faith, in which the community is “already shaped into the image of Christ…made like him” precedes any call to “again and again be ‘like Christ’ (καθὼς Χριστός).”11 Once again Bonhoeffer places stress on being formed by the work of divine love, fashioned after the mind of divine love, prior to awakening to a call. The call is not a self-generated reminder or set of practices for isolated practitioners but an encounter that is only possible because of a participation that is already ongoing and with which the I had little to do. 9 10 11

Bauer 1957/1979, 640–1. Bonhoeffer 2009, 8, 480. Bonhoeffer 2001 (1937), 287.

Faith And Imitatio For The Understanding Of Habitus


Initial impressions might lead one to believe that the perspectives shared by Fr. Boyle and Bonhoeffer in no way allow for Aristotelian habituation via mimetic acquisition of virtue. That would be surprising given the Jesuit community from which Fr. Boyle emerges and the prolonged interest Bonhoeffer had in Roman Catholic moral theology, specifically in relation to the virtue of caritas.12 Caritas is understood as friendship-love in both Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas, a habitus in which there is a choice to “wish good to friends for their sake,”13 views that Bonhoeffer studied closely for his Ethics, from at least 1940 onward. Contemporary accounts of virtue and its formation, including the one by Stanley Hauerwas in this volume, recognize a number of tensions from the denial of strivings in the writings of witnesses who are considered reliable reporters regarding the virtuous life. Jennifer Herdt’s Putting On Virtue is ­perhaps one of the most sustained, historically grounded, and careful arguments against a set of anxieties that she traces to hyper-Augustinian interpretations of mimetic habituation in virtue. She points to this interpretation in Luther, and says that it is best overcome via current understandings of the social formation of human character: “social formation of character is now acknowledged and embraced, obsessions about the hiddenness of intentions and deceptiveness of actions have been laid to rest, human agency as such is no longer ­suspect, and grace is no longer denaturalized and deracinated.”14 Herdt is absolutely correct that contemporary scholarship in decision science, motivation science, and moral psychology cannot be characterized as “obsessed about the hiddenness of intentions and deceptiveness of actions.” However, it is too much to claim that “human agency as such is no longer suspect.” Indeed, these fields admit a critically important distinction between, for example, benevolence (referring to the affections that esteem highly the wellbeing of others) and beneficence (referring to the actions that promote the well-being of others, whether or not they stem from benevolence), and much of these research programs center on models of valuational representation in the mind and brain, along with the structures and influences of these dynamical networks. These concerns overlap several core elements in contemplative and theological emphases on the affections of the heart (often named as ­human


13 14

As is clear from Bonhoeffer’s copious underlining and key marginalia in his copy of Schilling 1928, Part 75, Par. 287. Bonhoeffer did not mark either of the chapters on Faith or Hope. In the chapter on Caritas, he underlined the three characteristics of friendship that Schilling cited from Aristotle: Wohlwollen (benevolence), Wohltun (beneficence), and E­ inmuetigkeit (unity of sentiment). Aquinas 1964, 491; Nicomachean Ethics 1157b31. Herdt 2008.



will), over against emphases on the intellect, and this overlap may prove ­fertile ground for future interdisciplinary research into habitus and its formation, ­especially in conjunction with the concepts of grace in the f­ ormation of virtue. Herdt’s argument also rests largely on an account of mimetically grounded habituation that is in the end unable to provide a convincing descriptive or normative account of what mimetic habituation means. Hauerwas’s identification of habituation in virtue with William James’s model of habit is similarly unable to provide helpful direction. In both of these accounts, the problem is the lack of attention to contemporary scientific models of learning, including habit learning, and an insistence on the use of 19th Century psychological theories and understandings that do more to obscure than clarify language and shared understanding in the service of 21st Century research programs. ­Hauerwas and Herdt are by no means unique in this respect among moral ­philosophers and moral theologians writing in the virtue theoretic tradition. Renewed efforts in partnership with theologically and philosophically inclined cognitive scientists are vital, since understanding the science of habituation and mimesis can only help delineate areas of putative successful theory development, so that accounts like those from Bonhoeffer and Fr. Boyle make sense within the scope of virtue theory.

Limits of Habituation

What is surprising about the absence of detail to the how of habituation in Jennifer Herdt’s Putting On Virtue is that she is so keenly and carefully aware of how much confusion and ignorance are hidden by use of this term. In a note early on in her chapter on Aristotle and habituation, she states: Since, as one recent commentator notes, Aristotle insists on habituation but “has almost nothing to say about how or why by acting in a certain way we acquire the corresponding moral disposition,” filling out the ­account, particularly of the earliest stages, requires some constructive work; Sarah Broadie, Ethics with Aristotle (New York: Oxford University Press, 1991) 104.15 While Herdt relies strongly on the work of Nancy Sherman, Rosalind Hursthouse, and Karl Morrison, she alludes to their accounts without ever giving a univocal understanding of habituation that fits her argument exactly. There 15

Ibid., Ch. 1, n.4.

Faith And Imitatio For The Understanding Of Habitus


is also almost no attention given to the contemporary psychological science of habituation. Herdt’s empirical sensitivities are keen, to be sure, as she identifies a group of “descriptive” moral philosophers – Balthasar Gracián, Blaise Pascal, Pierre Nicole, and Bernard Mandeville. She calls this group the “­Anatomists” for their efforts to “to unearth the processes of character formation that give rise to socially desirable character and behavior, is characteristic of seventeenth-century European moral thought.”16 Moreover, these philosophers represent one of the most important seeds of modern descriptive moral philosophy, of the attempt to understand and describe how human character is formed through natural and social processes, as distinct from ­proclaiming an ideal for human behavior or seeking to articulate God’s role in bringing about that ideal.17 Integrative work requires such theological and philosophical sensitivity to the how of the processes that form the very core of the theories being advanced. Yet even a cursory review of the current science of learning and decision ­making reveals that reigning accounts of habituation are not at all what Aristotle or Aquinas meant by habitus formation (see Chapter 14 of this volume for a differing view). Why does this matter? If one’s goal is to present a virtue theory grounded in habituation and mimesis, while not having a clear view of either of these two processes central to the understanding of human psychology, cognitive science, and brain function, it is much more ­desirable to take clarity where one can find it than to remain in scholarly realms of clouded and mysterious meaning. There are enough situations where scientific approaches are of little help in clarifying terminology relevant to moral philosophy and theology, but this is not one of them. Just what are habits according to contemporary cognitive science? They are, fundamentally, and unlike habitus, not goal-directed behaviors. For an action to be goal-directed, there must be a learned association between an o­ rganism’s response and the outcome of that response (i.e., “R-O control”) and the expected outcome must align with motivation at the time of response. Habituated behaviors have nothing to do with either of these basic conditions. Habits are behaviors that are completely independent of an outcome’s current value, and only depend on past, overlearned associations. Thus, habits are not sensitive to contextual changes, they are inflexible and are difficult to unlearn, and 16 Ibid. 17 Ibid.



they are purely stimulus–response behaviors,18 where the “stimulus” can be a complex context. Another way to frame habits is provided by the social psychologists Wendy Wood and David T. Neal, who state the two key principles that characterize habits this way: 1) “an outsourcing of behavioral control to context cues that were, in the past, contiguous with performance”; and 2) “performed without mediation of a goal to achieve a particular outcome or a goal to respond (i.e., a behavioral intention)”.19 They are, as the authors point out, “the residue of past goal pursuit,” where the residue is free of any intention or sensitivity to context or sensitivity to outcome. These definitions are by no means outliers in the scientific field, but are almost universally understood when cognitive scientists theorize about habit learning, otherwise known as habituation. What is clear right away is that habits and habituation are not related to habitus or to the processes of virtue formation. Quite the opposite is likely the case. Instead, there are three main approaches to learning theory in psychological science that will be of use in future integrative inquiry into virtue formation, both for what features they share with traditional concepts of habitus and for what features they do not share. The first two may be more important for instrumental valuation during early formation of social norms and expectations, while the last may be important for making a transition to habitus required for the formation of virtue. The first approach is that of reinforcement learning (rl; see also Chapter 7 in this volume), which models a person’s learning on the basis of relationships between different contexts, context-permitted responses, the response-dependent movement between contexts (i.e., response-dependent transition probabilities between contexts), on the one hand, and the outcome (i.e., reward/punishment) associated with each context, on the other. One can imagine a person perceiving a complex morally relevant situation involving many potential contexts, where each context has associated actions (i.e., responses), each action favors a move to another context that needs to be addressed, and each choice has a morally relevant outcome that is either beneficial or harmful. In so-called “modelfree” rl, agents have no ability to model the complex set of transitions between contexts or to choose between them, but can only change their response after a given action based on the difference between their expected outcome and the actual outcome of that action. In “model-based” rl, rather than responding on a trial-by-trial basis, agents have the ability to form highly detailed plans (i.e., a policy) involving numerous contexts, thereby enabling them to be sensitive enough to represent and choose actions that favor even small probabilities

18 19

Dolan and Dayan 2013. Wood and Neal 2007.

Faith And Imitatio For The Understanding Of Habitus


of positive outcome. In practice, model-based rl does much better at solving experimental learning tasks than does model-free rl. However, even modelbased rl depends on a value signal of reward and punishment for the agent, without any role for belief formation relevant to observations by the agent, either of the context or of other agents. In order to model how agents learn to form beliefs about the complex contexts they engage, it is necessary to explicitly model those beliefs using a second approach of partially observable Markov decision processes (pomdps). These processes also model a set of contexts, a reward/punishment for each context, a set of possible actions by the agent, and the association between those actions and moves between contexts. But now there is a role for observation (i.e., perception) of what other agents may be doing, and belief formation as a result of this perception.20 Still, while pomdps explicitly model expectations (i.e., beliefs) about actions of other agents, there is as yet no way to represent beliefs about the beliefs of the other agent, making them perhaps useful for modeling learning in early childhood but not of much use after age 4. In order to represent and explicitly model beliefs that an agent has about another agent with whom she is interacting, it is necessary to move to a third approach, called interactive-pomdps (ipomdps), which for the first time allow explicit representation of beliefs about what other agents believe. Right away, two significant advantages appear. First, as Herdt makes clear in her example of the little child and the kitten with whom the child needs to learn to play nicely, or in her example of a child learning to be virtuously generous rather than only acting as if she were generous to earn the approval of her elders, virtuous formation requires a way of choosing “for the sake of the other.” Without a representation of that other – not just in terms of actions but in terms of valuing their standing and their own intentionality, autonomy, etc. – there will be no real formation of virtue, only the formation of social norms. ipomdps allow this representation of the other independent of what the other is expected to do. This gets us closer to the possibility of accounting for a “so whatness” that is not tied to expectations shaped by past (bad) behavior. ipomdps help in another way, as well. Although these directions are still very new and under intense development, one could imagine how a set of beliefs in agent A about agent G’s beliefs about agent B could be represented, where agent G’s beliefs are now the primary set of influences shaping future action choices on the part of agent A. Some of these complexities could even make use of simulation theories to suggest how an agent might be infused with the mind of G on B. Developments such as these may allow formal learning models both for how “striving” and of “staying awake with” the 20

Wood and Woodward 2012.



exemplar agent G affects subsequent learning and the kinds of actions and values that take effect and lead to further responses. There may be bistable transitions, in which agents abruptly shift from striving to awakening, or there may be more gradual shifts or multiply realizable stable agent configurations. In any case, having such formal models at hand is much more likely to yield models of virtuous formation than the current fashion of reaching back to, at best, outdated, and at worst, completely obscure terms that block progress via deep integrative engagement. Acknowledgements I am grateful for helpful conversations with Warren Brown, Jan Gläscher, Stanley Hauerwas, Andrea Hollingsworth, Robert Roberts, Fr. Thomas Keating and the monastic community at St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass, co, ­Christian Keysers, Kristen Renwick Monroe, Nancey Murphy, Gregory Peterson, Steven Quartz, Kevin Reimer, and Linda Zagzebski; and for funding from the Science and Transcendence Advanced Research Series of the Center of Theology and the Natural Sciences, from the Center of Theological Inquiry in Princeton, nj, from the John Templeton Foundation (Grant 21338), and from the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project (funded by the Templeton Religion Trust). Portions of this essay have appeared as part of the edited volume, Crossing Boundaries: ­Interdisciplinary Approaches to Theological Inquiry, Eerdmans. References Aquinas, T. 1964. Commentary on Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Notre Dame, in: Dumb Ox Books. Bauer, W. 1957, 1979. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago, il: University of Chicago. Bonhoeffer, D. 2001 (1937). Discipleship. Minneapolis, mn: Fortress Press. Bonhoeffer, D. 2009. Letters and Papers from Prison. Minneapolis: Fortress. Boyle, G. 2010. Tattoos on the Heart: The Power of Boundless Compassion. New York, ny: Free Press. Dolan, R.J. and P. Dayan. 2013. “Goals and Habits in the Brain.” Neuron 80(2): 312–325. Herdt, J.A. 2005. “Virtue’s Semblance: Erasmus and Luther on Pagan Virtue and the Christian Life.” Journal of the Society of Christian Ethics 25(2): 137–162. Herdt, J.A. 2008. Putting On Virtue: The Legacy of the Splendid Vices. Chicago, il: ­University of Chicago Press.

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Luther, Martin. 1883–2009. D. Martin Luthers Werke. Kritische Gesamtausgabe. 73 vols. Weimar: Herman Böhlaus Nochfolger. Preus, Christian. Transl. 2014. Commonplaces: Loci Communes 1521, by Philip Melanchthon. Saint Louis, mo: Concordia Publishing House. Schilling, O. 1928. Lehrbuch der Moraltheologie, II. Band: Spezielle Moraltheologie. ­Munich: Max Heuber. Wood, R.J. and M.P. Woodward. 2012. “Framing Human-Robot Task Communication as a Partially Observable Markov Decision Process.” arXiv.v. Wood, W. and D.T. Neal. 2007. “A New Look at Habits and the Habit-Goal Interface.” Psychological Review 114(4): 843–863. Zagzebski, L.T. 2004. Divine Motivation Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University. Zagzebski, L.T. 2013. The Moral Authority of Exemplars. Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience. J. Van Slyke, G. Peterson, W.S. Brown, K.S. Reimer and M.L. Spezio. New York, ny: Routledge, 117–129.

chapter 7

stamina: Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships Kevin S. Reimer and Lynn C. Reimer Persistence leads to the end of an action…allowing one over time to ­develop virtuous habit. R.E. Houser1

∵ The Beaux-Arts hotel is today a crumbling apartment block. Graffiti colors the ornate lobby, a place without electricity or intact windows. Drug pushers lurk in the shadows. Adriana is a high school junior, living in a single room on the third floor with her mother and younger sister. Originally from Michoacán, the family subsists on $14,500 per year. The teenager is beloved by her teachers and administrators. Adriana is a top achiever in the nearby Title I high school where virtually the entire student body receives free or subsidized lunch.2 Less than 45% of entering freshmen will graduate. In this context she is a leader and humanitarian. Adriana started an adopt-a-grandparent program in a neighborhood assisted living facility. She freely associates virtuous accomplishments with persistence—a commitment to complete tasks, conquer problems, and achieve goals. She leans forward in her chair with sober fervency: I don’t want to be like other girls who say, “I just want to work.” No, I don’t want to just work. I don’t want to live like this. I want to have a home. A stable to place to live, a stable work. I want to live, like my friends say, where all the Americans live. I would like to have a really good, stable work, where I could say that’s my work and nobody could take it away from me. I would like to see myself as the person who doesn’t give up on 1 Houser 2002, 316. 2 Title I of the u.s. Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a program for public schools in low-income areas. Funds scaffold academic opportunities across the curriculum.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


things. I don’t want to be a quitter. I want to not give up. I do not want to be in 11th grade. You don’t want to be in 11th grade? No! [fiercely] I want to be in 12th grade!3 Persistence is prominent in Adriana’s narrative. Her most cherished goals are linked to episodes where she managed to overcome challenges and difficulties. She points to a worn copy of Richard Wright’s Black Boy on the bookshelf. Required for last year’s English class, she read it three times before deciding she was ready to write a review essay—not four years after arriving as a monolingual Mexican immigrant. Adriana considers this a turning point, where she learned to persist by imitating her mother Jimena, an articulate convalescent stricken with multiple sclerosis. Character flourishes in relationships affording Adriana inspiration to persist through challenges and problems. This is particularly true in urban America, where many youth live with the chronic stress of poverty.4 Persistence, also known in the scientific literature as grit, is linked with improved adolescent academic outcomes, graduation rates, and achievement in pressured performance venues (e.g., National Spelling Bee).5 Adriana’s example suggests the positive implications of persistence extend beyond the academic domain. Persistence is necessary for the cultivation and maturation of prosocial virtues.6 Her compassionate engagement with the local nursing home is exceeded only by tenacity to design and implement a novel program involving students from her school with infirm seniors. Persistence modeled by her mother becomes 3 To protect anonymity, all narratives are changed to remove identifying names, places, and situations. Adriana was interviewed as part of a research study funded by the Thrive Foundation for Youth and John Templeton Foundation. 4 Hart and Matsuba (2009) provide a conceptual sketch of prosocial commitments (i.e., virtue) in neighborhoods marked by poverty. The authors note that youth in these contexts experience situational stressors that can manifest as clinical symptoms (i.e., depression, anxiety). Individuals like Adriana have less opportunity to engage in organized volunteer activities given the paucity of clubs, action groups, and non-profits. Impoverished neighborhoods are child-saturated environments; meaning that peers rather than adults principally influence character priorities, virtues, and commitments. 5 Duckworth and Quinn 2009. 6 In a disagreement with some interpreters of Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas considered perseverance to be a secondary kind of virtue, annexed to the principal virtue of fortitude. We do not conceptualize persistence as virtue, but must leave the controversy with philosophers. For our purposes persistence is a biological and behavioral catalyst to maturation of recognizably virtuous action.


Reimer and Reimer

impetus to actualization of academic and prosocial outcomes. We contend that persistence is acquired through reinforcement learning associated with imitation and mentoring. For youth such as Adriana, persistence is rewarded through self-conscious emotion—namely, pride. Persistence catalyzes achievement, helping to cement academic and prosocial (i.e., virtuous) commitments as a matter of positive self-attribution. This chapter considers persistence relevant to the needs of adolescents living in urban neighborhoods. Our presentation involves three sections. First, we review psychological literature on persistence and achievement, sifting research findings to ascertain whether the domain should be understood as a noncognitive trait or learned expertise. Second, we review literature on reinforcement learning. Specifically, we are interested in how reinforcement learning might explicate persistence in mentoring relationships as a function of abstract rewards linked to self (i.e., pride). Finally, we extend this discussion to include real world application through a youth mentor partnership emphasizing hands-on problem solving in science and math. Findings are presented from a Title I pilot intervention known as stamina or Science, Technology, And Math In Nurturing Associations. stamina provides opportunities for impoverished, rural adolescent mentors and younger student partners to cultivate persistence in problem solving, fostering pride in achievement with implications for prosocial and virtuous action.

Persistence: Trait or Learned Expertise?

The psychological literature on persistence endures across a century of scholarship. Victorian thinkers such as William James (1907) took issue with efforts of contemporaries to link achievement with intelligence.7 Most ­people, even highly intelligent individuals, tend to underutilize personal giftedness. It is persistent maximization of talent that distinguishes overachievers who regularly exceed standards for achievement. Support for this argument slowly ­accumulated with indications that intelligence failed to account for the remarkable accomplishments of overachievers. Following the Second World War, the famous Terman studies of genius found that children who matured into highly accomplished adults were only slightly more intelligent (i.e., five iq points) than comparable underachievers.8 This outcome was subsequently replicated in studies involving achievement in sports, art, and academics. 7 James 1907. 8 Terman and Oden 1947.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


Terman’s findings were extended through retrospective analysis of famed ­intellectuals (i.e., Darwin, Einstein). More than creativity or innovation, their achievements were characterized by staunch commitment to concepts lacking popular support. A century of inquiry suggests that persistent commitment surpasses the contributions of raw talent or genius. Contemporary personality researchers have extended the discussion, attempting to understand persistence relative to individual differences. These researchers frame persistence as a noncognitive trait or personality disposition. Traits constitute stable, heritable patterns of behavior across situations requiring social or episodic adaptation.9 The best-known traits are universally and culturally recognizable dispositions known as the Big 5. These include (a) openness, (b) conscientiousness, (c) extraversion, (d) agreeableness, and (e) neuroticism. Conceptual and functional overlap is expected between persistence and conscientiousness; a trait characterized by reliability, self-control, and meticulousness. Conscientiousness may involve punctuality, capacity for anger management, or attention to detail. While these characteristics might qualify as persistent in some applications, they are not necessarily goal focused. Persistence invokes stamina applied to the achievement of goals. For the less persistent, goals are moveable guideposts. For the persistent, they are aspirations worthy of unqualified dedication. Despite a breadth of literature on the topic, persistence remained unknown to the science of psychological assessment (i.e., psychometrics) until recently. Duckworth and colleagues operationalized persistence as a self-report survey known as the grit.10 The survey was administered to more than 500,000 people and subsequently evaluated for latent structure. Results yielded twelve robust items tapping elements of persistence across two factors. The first factor, consistency of interest, included counterfactual items such as I often set a goal but later choose to pursue a different one, or I have difficulty maintaining my focus on projects that take more than a few months to complete. The second factor, perseverance of effort, included items such as I finish whatever I begin, or I have overcome setbacks to conquer an important challenge. The study authors took the grit to different populations and contingencies, a technique known



An excellent synthesis of contemporary personality theory is found in McAdams and Pals’s (2006) study. The authors situate personality in human evolution, with traits serving as the most elemental and readily accessible basis for understanding individual differences. Along with traits, characteristic adaptations or goals comprise a second layer of personality, operationalized as personal strivings (Emmons 1999). Duckworth and Quinn 2009.


Reimer and Reimer

as scale validation. Significantly, results from a randomized sample of adults indicated that persistence increased with level of education and age.11 The grit was administered to a diverse group of university undergraduates. Persistence was associated with higher gpa, with gritty students studying harder and longer. A third study incorporated the grit with West Point officer cadets. No surprise, incoming officers with a high level of persistence were less likely to drop out of a rigorous initial summer training regimen than individuals with lower persistence, even when controlling for trait conscientiousness and a proprietary character index used by the Army. In a fourth study, the grit was administered to 2nd–10th graders competing at the Scripps National Spelling Bee. Children and youth scoring higher on persistence were more likely to advance in the competition independent of raw intelligence. Consistency of interest and perseverance of effort together comprised a winning formula. As with undergraduate gpa, persistent children and youth were more prepared than less persistent peers. Persistence is broadly and significantly associated with achievement, including some elements of behavior that might be traditionally subsumed beneath the notion of virtuous character. The review includes a caveat. The psychological literature frames persistence as a noncognitive trait, emphasizing the genetic and heritable nature of dispositions across the life span. Several benchmark studies indicate genes contribute 60% or more of the variance on trait behaviors.12 Yet Duckworth and colleagues found a significant relationship between persistence, education level, and age.13 People with more education and experience are more persistent, contrasting with a strong heritability explanation. The authors acknowledge tension between static and dynamic interpretations, underlining a role for learning in persistence maturation. This is welcome and timely. The stakes are exigent for Adriana along with her almost entirely Hispanic public school. Hispanic youth experience a sizeable academic achievement gap relative to other ethnicities across a range of subjects, lagging behind in ­science, engineering, technology, and mathematics (stem) fields crucial to vocational achievement in the information economy.14 Given the importance of problem solving in stem fields, an emphasis on persistence learning may help ­remediate the achievement gap with attendant benefit in terms of galvanizing ­prosocial and virtuous commitment.

11 12 13 14

Duckworth et al. 2007. Plomin, Owen, and McGuffin 1994; Loehlin et al. 1998; Schmitt et al. 2008. Duckworth et al. 2007. Hemphill and Vanneman 2011; Barnes and Slate 2014.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


The notion of primary heritability is problematic at other levels. Conflation of persistence with noncognitive traits may entangle the Hispanic achievement gap with assumption that social categories are defined by genetic ­factors.15 To be sure, persistence will inevitably carry a subset of genetic, heritable elements associated with overlapping constructs such as trait conscientiousness. Nevertheless, preliminary empirical findings suggest the greater explanatory quantum belongs with learned expertise. While more research is needed to resolve questions of heritability and learning, we are compelled to emphasize learned persistence as germane for policy makers and educators committed to the flourishing of urban youth. Indeed, Adriana repeatedly emphasizes her mother’s persistence. She learns from Jimena that persistence is worthy of imitation for its capacity to actualize patterns of behavior that lead to achievement. We contend these patterns involve self-referencing rewards that promote resiliency and reinforce Adriana’s resolve to overcome challenges associated with poverty.16 Learned persistence is a kind of acquired expertise, following a maturational sequence from novice-to-expert. A key component in the development of expertise is observation, relevant to persistence related to problem solving in Adriana’s math class or formulation and execution of a humanitarian intervention at the local nursing home.17 Math teacher and Jimena each models persistence to Adriana, who keenly observes. Both learning contexts are imitative and embodied. Observation facilitates motor learning, providing a basis for understanding spatial and temporal elements in a task—critical for successful error detection. Observation and learning activates those portions of the brain associated with physical action.18 Even if her math teacher or Jimena models persistence as a matter of abstract convention, Adriana’s observations 15 16



Prentice and Miller 2007. Why frame persistence in terms of learning rather than as a link between traits and strivings in personality theory? Psychology wrestled with similar concerns in the 1970s through an acrimonious person-situation debate. The debate positioned researchers arguing for character stability through traits against those who argued for the influence of context and contingency on behavior, emphasizing localized rewards and punishments (i.e., situationists). Forty years of trait personality studies suggest a stable character core across developmental strata and cultures. Persistence is notably absent from this literature. It is not a primary goal in studies of personal strivings. This ambiguity invites c­ onceptual and empirical reconsideration with emphasis given to learned expertise. It should be noted that learned expertise doesn’t require mentors to be experts. See ­Rohbanfard and Proteau (2011) for findings that optimal learning involves modeling from both experts and novices. In Adriana’s world, peers matter too. Rohbanfard and Proteau 2011, 197; Decety et al. 1997, 1763.


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will effectively “simulate” the physical actions associated with a contingency requiring grit. Learned expertise suggests maturation initially shaped by rules and then progressing toward increasingly accurate, individual action formulations matched to a palette of social contingencies. The research literature furnishes three noteworthy considerations in learned expertise. First, Adriana’s growing capacity for persistence involves a shift in understanding of causal relationships in the real world. A recent study of causal understanding in science undergraduates found that novices classified content by similarity rather than underlying causality.19 By contrast, e­ xperts focused on causal relationships to the exclusion of similarity/­dissimilarity comparisons. This finding traces developmental changes associated with transition from childhood into adolescence. As a fifth grader, Adriana knows that her math teacher and mother regularly extol the importance of “not g­ iving up.” While Adriana associates this admonishment with math homework and saving money to purchase a new article of clothing, she doesn’t make immediate causal inferences to suit. It isn’t until high school, with the benefit of many observations, that she learns the value of gritty commitment to a difficult word problem, elevating the likelihood of finding the right answer, and consequently, a top grade on the test. She discovers that following through on ideas to compassionately engage peers with elders in the local nursing home is transformative—garnering the attention of administration and the local newspaper. Second, development of persistence as expertise involves inhibition or control when confronted by a tempting strategy.20 Consider the massive jigsaw puzzle littering the floor near Adriana’s bed. With more than 1,000 pieces, the puzzle remains incomplete more than six months after its debut on Christmas morning. A tempting strategy for Adriana might involve throwing up her hands and loudly giving up. Yet she does not, redoubling her efforts and winning the battle against common sense and reason, acquiring a new capacity to manage complexity by working with the outermost edge pieces to frame the image. Her behavior traces a key study, which found that scientific experts were better able to self-regulate, inhibiting against a temptingly incorrect strategy in favor of optimal alternatives.21 When compared to scientific novices, experts evidenced significantly more activity in the prefrontal cortex and anterior cortex, regions known to be engaged when inhibitory control is required. It should be 19 20 21

Rottman, Gentner, and Goldwater 2012. Masson et al. 2014. Ibid, 52.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


noted that the capacity for inhibitory control relevant to Adriana’s ­persistent commitment isn’t a developmental potentiality before early adolescence. Most six year-old children are unable to regulate self, emotions, and goals at the persistence level required for successful completion of a 1,000-piece puzzle masterwork.22 Third, maturation of learned persistence to the level of expert involves metacognition or conscious regulation of strategies to solve problems or navigate challenges. Metacognition indicates thought about thought processes.23 Persistence is a metacognitive disposition toward strategic selection. To illustrate, Adriana may discover that algebra problems can be solved in different ways, engaging different strategies. Intuiting a ballpark solution for a given problem, she starts an internal conversation—advising tenacity and persistence when two familiar strategies yield divergent solutions that together deviate from her anticipated outcome. Metacognitive persistence helps Adriana prevail over a complicated problem or endure as competing needs erode her piggy bank savings before she is able to purchase a coveted usc hoodie. The inner voice that counsels persistence becomes clearer with repeated ­observations of successful peers in math class. The voice becomes louder as she discovers the satisfaction of sweat equity after weeks of babysitting and housecleaning aimed at procuring the hoodie. To summarize, learned persistence is associated with maturing expertise in causal inference, inhibition, and metacognition. All three components involve modeling and imitation, where Adriana keenly observes with spatial and temporal implication. All three components indicate Adriana’s growing capacity for error detection, correctly deploying persistence based on contingencies requiring causal knowledge, inhibitory control, or metacognitive selection. Her knowledge of causal relationships indicates work as a necessary prerequisite for money, and subsequently, a new hoodie. Her ability to persist toward this objective requires inhibitory control, declining an expensive invitation from friends to spend a day at the beach. Her metacognitive capacities assure eventual realization of the hoodie when another friend unexpectedly becomes temporarily homeless and hungry. Adriana’s remarkable expertise enables her to correctly identify contingencies served by persistence such that her behaviors become self-important. It is persistence that enables the consistent manifestation of academic and prosocial excellence in virtuous action.

22 23

Balswick, King, and Reimer 2005. Jacobse and Harskamp 2012.


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Reinforcement Learning

How does Adriana learn to be persistently committed to academic and prosocial concerns? Reinforcement learning (rl) arose in the 1970s with the advent of expanded computing power capable of modeling decision-making processes from the wild. Early applications arose with foraging and predator-prey models in evolutionary biology. rl is a case of instrumental conditioning, the notion that outcomes related to reward procurement are preceded by actions of an agent.24 As with classical (i.e., Pavlovian) conditioning, the agent seeks to maximize reward in ways optimally adaptive to the environment. Unlike classical conditioning, instrumentally conditioned agents learn from experience such that predictions can be made in relation to reward procurement. rl can be operationalized through equations with facile applications in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and robotics. More relevant to this discussion, rl provides detail regarding two underlying learning processes that are significant to Adriana and her growing capacity to persist in the achievement of academic and prosocial objectives. These are model-based (i.e., goal-directed) and model-free (i.e., habit) learning approaches. Model-based and model-free learning approaches are constrained by states (S) reflective of situations involving environmental stimuli, actions (A) undertaken by the agent (i.e., Adriana), and outcomes (O) related to reward procurement.25 Model-based rl can be both conscious and subconscious, wherein learning is associated with knowledge providing capacity to make predictions. Model-based learning requires that agents understand how the world works in relation to state-action-outcome (S—A—O) episodes. Knowledge and prediction associated with these episodes are goal oriented insofar as agents can flexibly adapt to environmental changes associated with reward. By contrast, model-free rl is inflexible to these alterations, adhering to the agent’s perception of reinforcement elicited by specific state-action (S—A) episodes. rl habits are learned independent from outcome consideration. Thus, modelfree learning is principally unconscious, offering animals a quick and reflexive “decision” in response to changes in the environment. Model-free habit is not synonymous with Aristotelian notions of habit, where the latter implies broad disposition toward affect and action. Rather, model-based and model-free learning together contribute to recognizably virtuous action. Model-based and model-free learning constitute different pathways to adaptation given a changing environment. Both involve a reward. A key d­ ifference 24 25

Maia (2009) informs our introduction of reinforcement learning in Section two. Maia 2009; Dayan and Niv 2008.

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pertains to whether the approach involves learning from the environment such that agents (e.g., Adriana) construct a cognitive model or schema ­associating states, actions, and outcomes. Model-based learning apprehends the environment through a Markov decision process (mdp). This is simply e­ xpressed. With T denoting environmental change as transition probabilities, s indicating state, and a representing action, T(s, a, ś) expresses the probability of the agent transitioning to ś when undertaking action a. The mdp includes the reciprocal impact of environment on reward procurement as R(s, a, ś), where R denotes reward. In contrast, model-free learning does not involve a mdp. Both modelbased and model-free learning approaches support a nondeterministic policy or representational map detailing an optimally adaptive, rewarding strategy.26 The two learning approaches influence the agent’s decisions, based on environmental contingency. Adriana’s situation offers an illustration. Her narrative is filled with reference to charitable values and commitments. When asked why these are important, Adriana points across the room to her mother. A year ago Jimena made a momentous decision regarding the drug pushers in the ­hotel lobby. Despite their undesirable influence, she decided these were people deserving the same respect and dignity as others living in the apartment block. Jimena attributed many of their behaviors to poor mothering. Against the advice of neighbors and relatives, she struck up friendships with the pushers. She learned their stories, knit them sweaters, and brought home cooked Mexican food. Jimena persisted with her charitable strategy against a stream of protest from tenants concerned with enablement and safety. None of this is lost on Adriana: I would like to be a person like my mom. She doesn’t let herself go by what people think of her. She lets herself go by what she thinks of herself and she doesn’t do like most people and judge people by what she sees, she judges them by what they think and the way they are. I like to judge on people without even knowing them [wan smile]. I would like to be more like by mom. She doesn’t judge by just looking at them. She treats them and talks to them and interacts with them.27



For reasons of space and parsimony, we emphasize reward in this discussion, fully recognizing that rl additionally involves punishment. Scaled rl paradigms are operational in recurrent neural networks. An overview can be found in Duell, Udluft, and Sterzing 2012. Portions of this narrative are previously published. See Balswick, King, and Reimer 2005, 254.


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Adriana imitates her mother, prioritizing charitable objectives in challenging and potentially difficult contingencies such as drug trade in the hotel lobby.28 Central to the reinforcement of charitable policy is her mother’s persistence. Virtuous commitment may be misunderstood. Underlying motives may be questioned. Norms may be violated. But the importance of charitable commitment is worthy of determined pursuit. Model-based reinforcement learning happens for Adriana when she asks her mother whether charity extended to drug pushers will make a tangible difference. Model-free reinforcement learning happens when Adriana perceives the pushers differently when walking through the lobby, automatically extending the courtesy of a personal greeting and short conversation. Adriana has learned from her mother that charity is important. She has also learned to be persistent. In the illustration, persistence is required in order to facilitate a charitable goal or outcome. Persistent deployment of a charitable policy is contingent on reward. We have noted the lack of primary or secondary reward in this particular state. There is no immediate gratification for Jimena or Adriana in terms of food, clothing, or artifacts. There is no remuneration. Reward in this instance is more abstract. Humans make complex representations of states and actions. It is likely that reward is similarly endowed with representational complexity. For youth contending with poverty, we contend the abstract reward for persistence is a special kind of pride.29 Along with the prominence of charity in her mother’s model, Adriana carries a long history of experiences wherein contingencies inviting charitable responses were subsequently rewarded by her mother’s praise— “I am proud of you.” Pride rewards Adriana’s learned persistence. Pride becomes reinforced such that Jimena’s presence becomes incidental. Adriana experiences the same flood of positive self-attribution based on similar states, actions, and (in the case of modelbased rl) outcomes even when her mother isn’t physically present. The salience of pride to academic and prosocial outcomes is recognized through empirical study of urban youth. In a parallel project, we found that a certain kind of pride explains significant variance in the motivation of academic and prosocial behaviors. Pride is familiar to researchers in developmental psychology, belonging to a category known as self-conscious emotions that additionally include shame and guilt.30 These emotions influence 28

29 30

We are committed to imitation for character development, generally through evidence of virtuous example and specifically through learned persistence applied to virtuous objectives. See Brown, Garrels, and Reimer 2011. Reimer and Matsuba 2012. Tracy and Robins 2007.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


self-attributions relevant to changing states and contingencies. Shame involves negative perception and attribution regarding the self. Shame becomes consolidated around age 2, aligned with the adolescent’s capacity to concretely and symbolically differentiate from others. Shame tends to inhibit academic or prosocial achievement. In severe manifestations, shame promotes a paralyzing sense of self as globally inadequate or defective. By contrast, moderate levels of guilt are associated with academic and prosocial achievement. Unlike shame, guilt directs negative attributions away from self and toward agency. Guilt is the punitive qualia associated with unguarded lies or an underreported tax return. Moderate levels of guilt tend to promote perspective-taking and personal responsibility. Tangney’s research on self-conscious emotions frames pride on the basis of shame and guilt.31 Alpha pride is the opposite of shame. Instead of global self-condemnation, alpha pride supports uncritical self-affirmation typical of narcissism. Alpha pride is hubris. A number of studies have recognized the prominence of alpha pride with various forms of bullying, aggression, and ­sociopathy. Beta pride is the opposite of guilt. Beta pride is focused on the positive implications of actions and outcomes. Beta pride references the self with academic or prosocial potentialities, reinforcing efficacy. Indeed, we found that beta pride contributed a significant, albeit moderate, prediction of volunteer commitment for urban high school youth sampled in Title I contexts. Adriana persists with her charitable commitments through self-attributed r­ eward. She is proud of her charitable objectives—prouder still of her resolve to achieve them. That Adriana’s reward involves self-attributed (beta) pride may help explain the apparent stability of character evident in her patterned efforts to be charitable. By imitating her mother, Adriana has learned persistence useful to academic and prosocial commitments. Pride affords Adriana essential worth in a neighborhood capable of chronic invalidation. We began this section with the aim to understand how model-based (i.e., goal-directed) and model-free (i.e., habit) reinforcement learning is relevant to learned persistence. Adriana’s ability to grow in persistence through imitation of her mother involves self-attributed reward (i.e., beta pride). We have yet, however, to address the matter of how rl approaches influence real world decisions involving a rapidly changing environment. It makes intuitive sense that learned persistence is selectively deployed as a policy depending on the value associated with a given state, in this instance contingency evoking charity. rl frames value in terms of a state-value function, represented as Vπ(s) where Adriana encounters a state s and follows a policy π. Estimation of state value 31

Tangney et al. 2013.


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requires consideration of total reward (i.e., beta pride) when she encounters state s, responds with action a, and transitions to a new state ś. This is represented as the average of rewards [R(s, a, ś)] discounted by the sum of future reinforcements (i.e., Adriana receiving praise from others) γ[Vπ(ś)]. State value involves considering total reward relative to all possible actions a, successor states ś, policies π, and state transitions T, or: Vπ(s) = ​​  ∑  π(s, a) ​​∑ ​ ​​​​  T(s, a, ś) • [R(s, a, ś) + γVπ(ś)]32 a∈A​(s)​​​​​​​ ś Adriana again provides illustration. Recalling authentic (beta) pride reward affiliated with successful implementation of the adopt-a-grandparent concept with peers, Adriana builds upon her mother’s charitable policy π with drug pushers. The teen decides to expand the adopt-a-grandparent project to e­ ngage peers with the problem of homelessness in the neighborhood. The homeless and hungry in this illustration comprise state s. Adriana envisions a new state ś. She drafts a proposal for her mentor teacher. The proposal makes its way to the upper administration which subsequently issues a rejection based on concerns related to liability over projects involving minors with homeless persons who are potentially unstable, mentally ill, or addicted. This is a complete surprise given a historically supportive administration that celebrates Adriana’s accomplishments. Seated in her mentor’s office, Adriana receives the news with shock and dismay, her frustration eventuating into tears. Adriana’s initial policy π is to expand the adopt-a-grandparent program to include charitable activities with the homeless. This policy isn’t feasible. Yet the current state remains in terms of needs associated with neighborhood poverty in general and homelessness in particular. Imitating her mother, Adriana is charitably committed to transitioning the state toward improved outcomes for the homeless, or ś. Adriana already anticipates the reward of positive selfattribution through beta pride for successful state transition [R(s, a, ś)]. The question is whether the transitioned state is sufficiently valuable to offset the hurdles posed by administrative rejection—a contingency requiring new actions a, along with revised policies involving persistence. The key involves anticipated (beta) pride reward. Recovering from her initial shock, Adriana is able to engage in problem solving with her mentor to achieve state transition ś. Through the creative process of problem solving, Adriana experiences beta pride. The state value is sufficiently reinforced that she will persist, modifying 32

This is known as the Bellman equation in reinforcement learning. The Bellman equation determines optimality (i.e., value) for changing states, actions, and outcomes.

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her proposal to include a partnership with a local soup kitchen willing to accept liability associated with adolescent volunteers from the neighborhood. In the preceding section, we suggested that persistence is primarily conceptualized as learned expertise rather than an endemic, biological trait. Three aspects of expertise maturation were described, including (a) understanding of causal relationships, (b) inhibitory control, and (c) metacognition. All three presume growing expertise associated with error detection. As it turns out, error detection figures prominently in reinforcement learning.33 Intuitively this makes good sense—reinforcing reward is more likely to occur to the extent actions, states, and policies turn out better than anticipated. While this is commonly denoted as δ in rl, it should be noted that several studies have shown patterns of activation in dopamine neurons (i.e., neurological reward system) that closely mirror error detection anticipating reinforcement.34 Further, functional magnetic imaging studies have found error detection associated with innervated portions of the brain that are densely endowed with dopaminergic activity, including the orbitofrontal cortex and striatum.35 Adriana is exemplary, manifesting academic and prosocial achievement at levels far exceeding her peers. Fundamental to these achievements is her mother. Jimena provides Adriana with examples of charitable commitment worthy of imitation through unwavering persistence. It is unlikely that Adriana’s peers are privileged with such a mentor. Their realities may be markedly different. Biological parents may be imprisoned, literally or figuratively. Family configurations may, for economic and social reasons, require youth to function as surrogate parents for younger siblings. Gangs may offer a context for affiliate mentoring, albeit with unwanted obligations and temptations. Policy makers and educators concerned with youth flourishing in these neighborhoods must identify contexts where persistence can be modeled toward academic and prosocial achievement. Given the child-saturated nature of impoverished neighborhoods, peer-to-peer mentoring is the best way of creating contexts for imitation aligned with Adriana and her mother. In order to be successful, mentoring relationships will require scaffolding and engagement from concerned adults. Public schools provide a context and opportunity to structure youth mentoring relationships that provide opportunities to develop expertise in causal inference, inhibition, and metacognition, as well as beta pride, to facilitate an agent’s transition to a new desired state or goal, such as academic and prosocial achievement, attained through persistence. 33 34 35

Maia 2009. Schultz 2012; Cooper et al. 2012. Bray and O’Doherty 2007.


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stamina: Mentoring Academic and Prosocial Achievement

Mentors like Adriana’s mother along with other youth (i.e., peer-to-peer mentors) constitute an essential aspect of human evolutionary success.36 Research documenting the effectiveness of mentoring within formalized schooling covers peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, peer teaching, peer education, partner learning, peer learning, child-teach-child, learning through teaching, collaborative learning, and mutual instruction.37 Generally agreed upon benefits include enhanced academic skills, the development of prosocial behaviors, strengthened peer relationships, improvement in self-esteem, and consolidation regarding locus of control.38 Damon and Phelps furnish an elegant abstract of peer-to-peer mentoring: Unlike adult-child instruction, [in] peer tutoring the expert party is not very far removed from the novice party in authority or knowledge; nor has the expert party any special claims to instructional competence. Such differences affect the nature of discourse between tutor and tutee, because they place the tutee in a less passive role than does the adult/ child instructional relation. Being closer in knowledge and status, the ­tutee in a peer relation feels freer to express opinions, ask questions, and risk untested solutions. The interaction between instructor and pupil is more balanced and more lively. This is why conversations between peer tutors and their tutees are high in mutuality even though the relationship is not exactly equal in status.39 This kind of mentor relationship contrasts sharply with traditional instruction, where knowledge is transmitted hierarchically from adult to child. The collaborative context of peer-to-peer mentoring in public schools may promote persistence that increases beta pride, engendering academic and prosocial growth. The benefits of peer and cross-age tutoring are well documented over the past thirty years.40 A meta-analysis of 65 studies on math and reading tutoring found multiple benefits for tutors and tutees.41 Along with improved academic 36 37 38 39 40 41

Wagner 1982. Wagner 1982; Damon and Phelps 1989; Swengel 1991. Damon and Phelps 1989; Miller et al. 1993. Damon and Phelps 1989, 138. Cohen, Kulik, and Kulik 1982; Bowman-Perrott et al. 2013. Cohen et al. 1982.

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outcomes, the meta-analysis revealed that attitudes toward subject matter improved markedly, especially for tutors. A good attitude directed toward a challenging subject (i.e., math or science) can help scaffold persistence, providing opportunity for improved academic and prosocial development. The same meta-analysis found improved self-concept for both tutors and tutees. Although not specifically identified as a variable of interest, this may implicitly suggest enhancements in beta pride. Just as Adriana manifested persistence to create programs like adopt-a-grandparent, tutors develop persistence as they work with younger students. Better, tutors model persistence in the context of the mentoring relationship throughout the school day. Cross-age tutoring programs in low-income, urban public schools may furnish opportunity for positive mentoring relationships that provide deeper, long-lasting benefits beyond immediate academic growth. Indeed, a semester long field study of 24 pairs of eighth grade tutors and first grade tutees showed improvements regarding how the tutors related to their tutees, and more ­importantly, how cooperation with and concern for others replaced conflict internal and external to the classroom.42 Results from this study are broadly replicated in the widely recognized Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program, whereupon middle school students are paid to tutor elementary students.43 Fundamental is the premise that all youth are valuable—no one is expendable. “Coca-Cola Valued Youth are an inspiration to the children they tutor, positive leaders among their peers, motivated learners to their teachers, a source of pride to their parents, and contributors to their communities.”44 The program has undergone rigorous evaluation. These assessments suggest that students “consistently feel better about themselves and about their schools and that students improve their grades, attendance, and discipline.”45 We might anticipate Adriana to be an excellent choice as a Coca-Cola ­Valued Youth tutor. Unfortunately, only a fraction of American public schools have the financial resources to implement the program. An alternative approach addresses this reality, creating a context whereby middle and high school students earn course credit for tutoring younger students. The Willamette High School Peer Tutoring Program46 gives stronger students academic credit for participating in training classes and peer tutoring. The trained tutors would attend tutee classes, providing support for course activities. Tutees in the program included 42 43 44 45 46

Gorrell and Keel 1986. Montecel, Cortez, and Cortez 2004. Ibid, 181. Ibid, 181. Gaustad 1993.


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at-risk 9th graders. It should be noted that tutors do not necessarily have to be academically strong.47 One of the hidden benefits of cross-age tutoring is that it provides opportunities for weaker students to serve as experts. This partly explains why meta-analytic findings showed that while tutees were beneficiaries of these programs, the positive effects were even stronger for tutors across three domains, including (a) academic performance, (b)  positive attitude ­towards the subject matter, and (c) improved self-concept.48 With the goal of promoting academic and prosocial persistence for students in a rural, impoverished K-8 school, we created stamina: Science, Technology, and Math in Nurturing Associations. The project leveraged research on crossage tutoring in a way that required minimal resources, with the goal of sustainability for at least one academic year. 7th and 8th graders served as mentors49 to younger students (kindergarten through 6th grade), earning course credit through stamina as an elective course. stamina offered a bi-weekly handson science hour to every class (kindergarten-sixth grade) at the school. The project exceeded the original one-year pilot mandate, successfully r­unning over two academic years (2010–2011 and 2011–2012). 500 students ­participated. stamina was conducted in the middle school science room and adjacent computer lab. The 7th or 8th grade mentor was matched to a collaborative learning group of 4–6 students for the entire year, allowing the mentor to build relationships with his/her group. Equipment and materials for the program were donated by families and paid for with small grants from community service organizations.50 The authors created curriculum and trained the mentors, modeling how to be a mentor tutor. The mentor and students moved through the scientific method together using curriculum created by the second author. The mentor had been trained to share metacognitive processes (i.e., internal conversation) throughout the lesson. By sharing their selections of strategies, mentors modeled causal expertise problem solving for mentees. The author/ teacher’s role was merely to offer assistance to mentors as needed. At the end of each session, mentors encouraged students to write down what they had 47 48 49


For example, Cardenas et al. 1992. Cohen et al. 1982. The first year approximately 20% of the 8th graders (12 students) served as mentors. The second year, approximately 20% of the 7th graders (14 students) and 20% of the 8th ­graders (14 students) served as mentors. Academic ability of the mentors ranged from “far below basic” to “advanced,” and their school grade point averages ranged from 2.0 to 4.0. Oakhurst Sierra Sunrise Rotary and Oakhurst Kiwanis. Supplies included basic items such as mirrors, magnets, rubber bands, glue, vinegar, baking soda, etc.

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learned that day. In this manner students provided real-time feedback regarding program goals to catalyze academic and prosocial growth. The two-year stamina pilot is appropriately categorized as action research. Observed results are principally anecdotal. The school administrator noted during the second year of implementation that stamina was having a positive impact on student attendance. He tells the story of a third grade student, Ricky, who had planned to skip school on his birthday but told his mother he could not miss stamina because his group was relying on him to be there. It is worth noting Ricky previously struggled in school and was frequently absent prior to stamina. His third grade teacher commented how Ricky, a reluctant writer, began enthusiastically writing about what he was learning in stamina. The school administrator additionally noted the positive mentor relationships built during stamina spilled over into recess and lunch. Mentors were often seen with mentees, talking or playing. One example stands out. Bobby had been disciplined repeatedly in 7th grade for bullying and being disruptive in class. In 8th grade he surprised everyone by signing up to be a stamina mentor. As the year progressed, he was often observed advocating for younger students on the playground. He no longer engaged in bullying activities, but rather took reputational risks to intervene and stop such activities. Bobby’s ­capacity for persistent, prosocial appraisals appeared to coincide with an affective transition from alpha to beta pride. He began to work harder in classes and openly shared his desire to pursue a career in science. The 8th grade boys who had always gravitated to Bobby now followed his lead, no longer being disruptive, but positively participating in class. Preliminary quantitative findings are encouraging. Students at the project site took a statewide science test in 5th grade and 8th grade each year of s­ tamina.51 Science scores increased significantly during the two years of  stamina (2010–2011 and 2011–2012), declining slightly the year after (2012–2013), but still higher than before stamina (see below). The mean scaled score for the 5th graders was 360 in 2010 and increased to 393.5 following two years in the program. The mean scaled score for the 8th graders was 429.4 in 2010 and increased to 442.6 after two years of the program. In 2010, 60% of 5th graders scored proficient and advanced, as compared with 68% after two years of the program. In 2010, 84% of the 8th graders scored proficient and advanced, as compared with 89% after two years of the program. 51 See http://star.cde.ca.gov/. Students in California take a yearly standardized test each spring and the results are posted each August. The test is divided into five categories: ­advanced, proficient, basic, below basic, and far below basic. The scores are scaled each year.


Reimer and Reimer Percent Student Scoring Proficient and Advanced on CST Science Test

Mean Scaled Score on Science CST 500






300 50

200 25

100 0












Grade 5th Grade

8th Grade

Developing persistence is exemplified in the story of Amy, a rural counterpart to Adriana. Amy’s mom did not want her. She does not know her dad. Her grandparents have raised her, loved her, and provided to the best of their ability. Amy struggled with school and was marginalized by her peers. She began to blossom in 6th grade when she participated in stamina as a tutee/mentee. By the end of 6th grade, she was able to manage academics well enough to no longer require special education services.52 Amy participated in stamina and shared that she was eager to serve as a mentor in 7th grade. Amy so enjoyed being a stamina mentor as a 7th grader, that, like Adriana, she desired to take her service to another level. She proposed to the school administrator and teachers that she and other mentors be allowed to use their elective time to go help in younger classes with science, carrying on an extended version of stamina.53 For the first time in her academic career Amy scored “advanced” on the 8th grade statewide science test. She became self-confident and according to her teachers and grandparents, seemed “happy in her own skin.”



One mentor in particular, Amy, received special education services through the end of 6th grade, as her yearly standardized test scores were typically in the “below basic” category and she struggled with a learning disability. Amy participated in stamina as a sixth grader and shared that she was eager to serve as a mentor during 7th grade. The following year, the author/teacher who served as Interim Principal and could not continue the program.

Persistence and Character in Youth Mentor Partnerships


Like Adriana, Amy freely associates her accomplishments (i.e., exiting special education, improved grades, scoring “advanced” on the science cst, continuing STAMINA on her own initiative) with persistence—a commitment to complete tasks, conquer problems, and achieve goals. Remarkably, Amy received an award at her 8th grade graduation for succeeding through significant challenges. She attributed the mentoring from her science teacher and the opportunity to become a mentor as pivotal in her life. Now in 10th grade, Amy is taking science classes and planning on attending college to become a veterinarian. Amy embodies the notion that persistent commitment can s­ urpass limitations of raw intelligence and challenges associated with poverty. For both Amy and Adriana, goals are aspirations of unqualified dedication; ­virtuous ­characters flourishing in mentoring relationships affording opportunity to ­develop persistence capable of leveraging academic and prosocial growth. References Balswick, Jack, Pamela King, and Kevin Reimer. 2005. The Reciprocating Self. Downers Grove: InterVarsity. Barnes, Wally, and John Slate. 2014. “College-Readiness in Texas: A Statewide, Multiyear Study of Ethnic Differences.” Education and Urban Society 46: 59–87. Bowman-Perrott, Lisa, Heather Davis, Kimberly Vannest, Lauren Williams, Charles Greenwood, and Richard Parker. 2013. “Academic Benefits of Peer Tutoring: A MetaAnalytic Review of Single Case Research.” School Psychology Review 42(1): 39–55. Bray, Signe, and John O’Doherty. 2007. “Neural Coding of Reward-Prediction Error Signals During Classical Conditioning with Attractive Faces.” Journal of Neurophysiology 97: 3036–3045. Brown, Warren, Scott Garrels, and Kevin Reimer. 2011. “Mimesis and Compassion in Care for People with Disabilities.” Journal of Religion, Disability, and Health 15: 377–394. California Department of Education. 2014. Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Results. Last modified July 24, 2014. http://star.cde.ca.gov/. Cardenas, Jose A., María Robledo Montecel, Josie D. Supik and R.J. Harris. 1992. “The Coca-Cola Valued Youth Program: Dropout Prevention Strategies for At-Risk Students.” Texas Researcher 3: 111–130. Cohen, Peter A., James A. Kulik, and Chen-Lin C. Kulik. 1982. “Educational Outcomes of Tutoring: A Meta-Analysis of Findings.” American Educational Research Journal 19(2): 237–248. Cooper, Jeffrey, Simon Dunne, Teresa Furey, and John O’Doherty. 2012. “Human Dorsal Striatum Encodes Prediction Errors During Observational Learning of Instrument Actions.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 24: 106–118.


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Dayan, Peter, and Yael Niv. 2008. “Reinforcement Learning: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly.” Current Opinion in Neurobiology 18: 185–196. Damon, William, and Erin Phelps. 1989. “Strategic Uses of Peer Learning in Children’s Education.” In Peer Relationships in Child Development, edited by Thomas. J. Berndt and Gary. W. Ladd, 135–137. New York: John Wiley and Sons. Decety, Jean, Julie Grezes, Nicolas Costes, Daniela Perani, Marc Jeannerod, Emmanuel Procyk, Fernando Grassi, and Ferruccio Fazio. 1997. “Brain Activity During Observation of Actions: Influence of Action Content and Subject’s Strategy.” Brain 120(10): 1763–1777. Duckworth, Angela L., Christopher Peterson, Michael Matthews, and Dennis Kelly. 2007. “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92: 1087–1101. Duckworth, Angela L., and Patrick D. Quinn. 2009. “Development and Validation of the Short Grit Scale (GRIT-S).” Journal of Personality Assessment 91: 166–174. Duell, Siegmund, Steffen Udluft, and Volkmar Sterzing. 2012. “Solving Partially Observable Reinforcement Learning Problems with Recurrent Neural Networks.” Lecture Notes in Computer Science 7700: 709–733. Emmons, Robert. 1999. The Psychology of Ultimate Concerns: Motivation and Spirituality in Personality. New York: Guilford. Gaustad, Joan. 1993. Peer and Cross-age Tutoring. Eugene: ERIC Clearinghouse on Educational Management. Gorrell, Jeffrey, and Linda Keel. 1986. “A Field Study of Helping Relationships in a Crossage Tutoring Program.” Elementary School Guidance and Counseling 20(4): 268–276. Hart, Daniel, and M. Kyle Matsuba. 2009. “Urban Neighborhoods as Contexts for Moral Identity Development.” In Moral Self, Identity, and Character: Prospects for a New Field of Study, edited by Darcia Narvaez and Daniel Lapsley, 214–231. New York: Cambridge. Hemphill, F. Cadelle, and Alan Vanneman. 2011. “Achievement Gaps: How Hispanic and White Students in Public Schools Perform in Mathematics and Reading on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.” National Center for Education Statistics: ED520960. Houser, R.E. 2002. “The Virtue of Courage.” In The Ethics of Aquinas, edited by Stephen Pope, 304–320. Washington, DC: Georgetown. Jacobse, Annemieke, and Egbert Harskamp. 2012. “Towards Efficient Measurement of Metacognition in Mathematical Problem Solving.” Metacognition Learning 7: 133–149. James, William. 1907. “The Energies of Men.” Science 25: 321–332. Loehlin, John, Robert McCrae, Paul Costa, and Oliver John. 1998. “Heritabilities of Common and Measure-Specific Components of the Big Five Personality Factors.” Journal of Research in Personality 32: 431–453.

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Maia, Tiago. 2009. “Reinforcement Learning, Conditioning, and the Brain: Successes and Challenges.” Cognitive, Affective, & Behavioral Neuroscience 9: 343–364. Masson, Steve, Patrice Potvin, Martin Riopel, and Lorie-Marlene Brault Foisy. 2014. “Differences in Brain Activation Between Novices and Experts in Science During a Task Involving a Common Misconception in Electricity.” Mind, Brain, and Education 8: 44–55. McAdams, Dan, and Jennifer Pals. 2006. “A New Big 5: Fundamental Principles for an Integrative Science of Personality.” American Psychologist 61: 204–217. Miller, Linda J., Frank W. Kohler, Helen Ezell, Kathryn Hoel, and Phillip S. Strain. 1993. “Winning With Peer Tutoring: A Teacher’s Guide.” Preventing School Failure 37(3): 14–18. Montecel, María Robledo, Josie D. Cortez, and Albert Cortez. 2004. “DropoutPrevention Programs Right Intent, Wrong Focus, and Some Suggestions on Where to Go from Here.” Education and urban Society 36(2): 169–188. Plomin, Robert, Michael J. Owen, and Peter McGuffin. 1994. “The Genetic Basis of Complex Human Behaviors.” Science 17: 1733–1739. Prentice, Deborah, and Dale Miller. 2007. “Psychological Essentialism of Human Categories.” Current Directions in Psychological Science 16: 202–206. Reimer, Kevin, and M. Kyle Matsuba. 2012. “A Modest Polemic for Virtuous Pride.” In Theology and the Science of Morality: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience, edited by James Van Slyke, Gregory Peterson, Warren Brown, Kevin Reimer, and Michael Spezio, 61–84. New York: Routledge. Rohbanfard, Hassan, and Luc Proteau. 2011. “Learning Through Observation: A Combination of Expert and Novice Models Favors Learning.” Experimental Brain Research 215: 183–197. Rottman, Benjamin M., Dedre Gentner, and Micah B. Goldwater. 2012. “Causal Systems Categories: Differences in Novice and Expert Categorization of Causal Phenomena.” Cognitive Science 43: 1–14. Schmitt, David, Anu Realo, Martin Voracek, and Allik Juri. 2008. “Why Can’t a Man be More Like a Woman? Sex Differences in Big Five Personality Traits Across 55 Cultures.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 94: 168–182. Schultz, Wolfram. 2012. “Neurophysiological Correlates of Reward Learning.” In Primate Neuroethology, edited by Michael Platt and Asif Ghazanfar, 316–326. New York: Oxford. Swengel, Edwin M. 1991. “Cutting Education’s Gordian Knot.” Phi Delta Kappan 72(5): 704–710. Tangney, June, Jeffrey Stuewig, Elizabeth Malouf, and Kerstin Youman. 2013. “Communicative Functions of Shame and Guilt.” In Cooperation and its Evolution, edited by Kim Sterelny, Richard Joyce, Brett Calcott, and Ben Fraser, 486–502. Boston: MIT.


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Terman, Lewis, and Melita Oden. 1947. The Gifted Child Grows Up: Twenty-Five Years’ Follow-Up of a Superior Group. New York: Oxford. Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, 20 U.S.C. 6301 (1965). Tracy, Jessica, and Richard Robins. 2007. “The Self in Self-Conscious Emotions: A ­Cognitive Appraisal Approach.” In The Self-Conscious Emotions: Theory and R ­ esearch, edited by Jessica Tracy, Richard Robins, and June Tangney, 3–20. New York: Guilford. Wagner, Lilya. 1982. Peer Teaching: Historical Perspectives. Westport, CT: Greenwoood Press.

part 3 The Limits of Habit? Situationism, Individualism, and Freedom

chapter 8

Habit, Character, and the Situationist Challenge Gregory R. Peterson Is moral action possible? Most of us, most of the time, prefer to think that it is. We like to think that, when we engage in action, there is some relevant sense in which we do it freely and voluntarily, and that the aims that we declare to be behind our actions are, in fact, the real aims at play. Yet, we also recognize that this often seems not to be the case. Humans are complex and conflicted beings, and we viscerally feel the truth in Saint Paul’s statement that, “I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.”1 We often act on impulsive desires, revealed in the prosaic but very importantly different ways that we eat. Sometimes we do or say things only to be perplexed after the fact, wondering what prompted us to say what we said or do what we did. These experiences persuade many of us that, however we understand the nature of our moral action, there exist constraints imposed on us by the frailties of human psychology. How do we engage, even push back, against these constraints? One line of argumentation, stemming from Aristotle, claims that our moral action relies significantly on our character, and that our character is constituted by the set of dispositions—virtues and vices—that shape our actions. To be virtuous is to act in the right way at the right time with the right motive. Moreover, the actions of a virtuous agent flow out of the agent’s character, not against it. On Aristotle’s account, character is not something that one is simply born with; rather, character is something that is developed over time under the tutelage of those who are wiser than we.2 Character involves training. It is in this sense that character relies on the development of habits, where habits just are those trained dispositions to act in a certain way at a certain time according to a certain motive. Such habits are not contra-agential—counter to the agent’s freedom—but an essential element of it, the culmination of past decisions working in concert with current ones. While there are nuances and exceptions, I take it that modern virtue theorists subscribe to some version of this view. Yet, it is not without controversy,

1 Romans 7: 15–16, New Revised Standard Version. 2 Nicomachean Ethics, Book ii, Chapter 1.



and its sometimes rosy picture of character development seems to fly in the face of much research in social psychology that suggests quite the opposite, that the real motive and character of our actions flow not out of well-formed habits but rather out of subtle situational influences of which we are often unaware. This “situationism” has a long history in social psychology, but it was brought to prominence in philosophy in the late 1990s and early 2000s, largely due to two seminal and influential essays by Gilbert Harman and John Doris and, to a lesser extent, Owen Flanagan’s reflection on the topic in the Varieties of Moral Personality.3 Although the situationist critique of habit and character has received much attention and several cogent replies, the situationist paradigm still thrives, not only in its original home of social psychology, but also more recently in the science of morality, notably due to the recent work of Jonathan Haidt.4 What follows is an analysis and critique of the stronger claims sometimes made on behalf of situationism. Like most critics, I acknowledge the existence of situational effects; these seem obvious and real, and it was perhaps such effects that the apostle Paul had in mind in that pivotal passage. The real question is the extent of such effects and whether they are strong enough to support skepticism concerning the possibility of moral action.5 Here I answer in the negative. Unlike many responses to situationism, I argue that the main experimental evidence in fact does not support the strong situationist thesis.6 This can be shown by examining two of the most commonly cited classic sets of experiments, Stanley Milgram’s series of experiments on obedience to authority and the “Good Samaritan” experiment by John Darley and Daniel Batson. Although both experiments are old, they remain noteworthy, and I concentrate on them in part because the methodology they employ remains typical of current and ongoing experimentation in social psychology. Despite their age, Milgram’s experiments remain particularly important, in part because of their excellence and rigor, and in part because they are now rather difficult to replicate due to ethical concerns. Because of this, Milgram’s experiments provide a best case for the strong situationist thesis, and if it does not support it, then strong situationism is likely to be false. 3 Harman 1999; Doris 1998, 2002; Flanagan 1993. 4 Significant replies include Snow 2010; Miller 2009; Flanagan 2009; Sabini and Silver 2005. 5 Note that this is different than moral skepticism proper. It may be the case that there really are moral truths but that we are incapable of following them. Martin Luther in particular pushed this line of thinking in a theological context. See Bielfeldt, this volume. 6 Sabini and Silver 2005 being a notable exception.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


Situationism Spelled Out

As noted, situationism as a critique of character and the role of habit in character derives primarily from two essays by John Doris and Gilbert Harman. Doris argues that virtue ethics is based on a psychology of character, one that supports an account of the virtues that is robust and descriptively thick. According to Doris, an important feature of the virtues is their cross-situational consistency; to be courageous on a virtue ethics account is to be courageous not just in battle but in other contexts as well. To be generous is not just to be generous at church or to the United Way at work but to be generous across the board. Someone who is generous on Tuesdays but not on Wednesdays would be strangely inconsistent and so not truly generous in a virtue theoretic sense. But, asserts Doris, this is precisely what the situationist literature in social psychology shows, that we are not consistently generous and that our level of generosity is influenced by such irrational factors as whether or not I found a dime in a pay phone just prior to the opportunity to help someone pick up some papers she had dropped.7 We are better off, asserts Doris, acting as an exemplar might advise us to act, not necessarily how an exemplar would act. Given our situational weaknesses, Doris suggests that an exemplar would typically advise us to avoid compromising situations in the first place. If you have a flirtatious relationship with a coworker and she invites you out to dinner while your spouse is out of town, it is better to simply avoid the dinner than to rely on one’s character to resist temptation in the first place. To the extent that we are consistent in our behavior, we are likely consistent only within situations, not across them. We find a similar line of argument from Gilbert Harman. Harman relies heavily on The Person and the Situation by L. Ross and R. Nisbitt, adopting their view that our propensity to attribute the source of action to a person’s character rather than the situation the person finds herself or himself in constitutes a “Fundamental Attribution Error.”8 More strongly than Doris, Harman asserts that the results of situationism are inconsistent with virtue-theoretic accounts of character, and so both character and habit must go. It is notable that both Doris and Harman make much of the influential experiments by Stanley Milgram as well as the well-known “Good Samaritan” 7 The example is taken from an early experiment conducted by Isen and Levin (1972) that Doris features prominently in his paper, although attempts to replicate the experiment have a checkered history (cf. Miller 2003). 8 Ross and Nisbett 1991.



experiment by John Darley and Daniel Batson.9 Doris also references in several places the work of Philip Zimbardo, whose Stanford prison experiment is equally well known.10 Although a great many experiments have been done on situational effects since, there is a reason for their citation in relation to virtue theory: they have more direct implications than most situational effects experiments on moral decision-making.11 It is important to note that, while Doris and Harman were making what in philosophy seemed a novel line of attack against character, the line of argument they were supporting is not only well known but also deeply influential if not dominant in social psychology. Among those currently working in social and moral psychology, elements of Jonathan Haidt’s work fit clearly into this mold. In an influential essay, “The Emotional Tail and the Rational Dog,” Haidt argues that our moral judgments are not based on explicit, thoughtful, and rational deliberation, but typically on implicit, fast, intuitive, and largely unconscious mental processes.12 In several experiments, Haidt has attempted to demonstrate that we are all subject to “moral dumbfounding,” of expressing strong ethical convictions while being unable to give clear justifications for them. According to Haidt, the moral justifications we give are typically post-hoc: we develop them after the fact, and we are blithely unaware that the motives we give are not the real motives guiding our action. Some of Haidt’s experiments highlight situational effects in a way consistent with the earlier generation of experiments that Doris and Harman cite. Although Haidt’s target is not character and habit per se, his framework provides little hope for believing that they exist or that our moral actions emerge out of something we might reliably call virtues.13 In what follows, I will simply refer to the thesis that Doris and Harman develop as strong situationism. The key feature of strong situationism is not that situational effects exist—a relatively uncontroversial claim—but that they 9 10 11

12 13

Milgram 1974; Darley and Batson 1973. cf. Zimbardo 2007. Harman does cite, for instance, the work of Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman (e.g., 1981; see also Kahneman and Tversky 2000), but their experiments deal mainly with how the framing of choice influences reasoning, not moral decision-making per se. Haidt 2001. Haidt’s own approach relies significantly on the claim that our moral intuitions are the result of six value systems imbued in us by evolution. But these are, on Haidt’s account, molded by cultural influence in a way that seems consistent with the situationist critique. See Haidt 2012.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


are so strong that they undermine the idea of character completely. Such an empirical result would indeed be devastating to character based virtue ethics, but its reach potentially extends further. If strong situationism is correct, it stands to undermine any claim that normal human beings can, in fact, behave morally because it calls into question the idea that the motives we consciously experience are connected to the real motives guiding our actions. Fortunately, while there is significant evidence that situational effects do exist and that they may sometimes be quite strong, the research doesn’t support the strong situationist claim that these effects are so strong and so pervasive that they undermine any account of character altogether. Quite the opposite, that such effects exist show the need for character development, and the literature on moral exemplars as well as the literature on expertise gives some hints as to how this might be. Milgram Stanley Milgram began his experiments in 1961, the results of which are summarized in his 1974 Obedience to Authority. As the title indicates, Milgram’s ­primary concern was the extent to which individuals conform to the will of an authority figure even when it would seem to be contrary to good moral judgment. Prominent in Milgram’s mind was the willingness of seemingly decent German people to do unspeakable things under the Nazis. Milgram’s experimental set-up is straightforward. In the experiment are three individuals, the experimenter and the “learner,” both of whom were hired actors and confederates in the experiment, and the “teacher,” the role assigned to the experimental subject. In the experiment, the subjects are led to believe that the teacher and learner roles were randomly assigned, but, in fact, they were rigged, so that the subject was always the teacher. Subjects were instructed that they were taking part in an experiment on learning. The teacher would read a list of word pairs to the learner and then quiz the learner on memory of the word pair associations. If the learner answered incorrectly, the teacher administered an “electric shock.” The “shocks” started at 15 volts, and the teacher was instructed to increase the administered “shock” by 15 volts every time a wrong answer was given, to a maximum of 450 volts. The teachers (the experimental subjects) were each administered a real sample 45 volt shock to give them an idea of what it felt like before beginning with the experiment. In addition, the settings for the shocks were labeled from “slight shock” to “danger: severe shock,” with the final two switches simply marked “xxx.”



While the subjects were led to believe that they were administering real shocks, no actual shocks were delivered, and the learner simply pretended he was being shocked. Although in the first experiment the learner was not instructed to give any vocal feedback, in subsequent experiments he was instructed to start protesting at 150 volts (e.g., “get me out of here!,” “I refuse to go on!”). At 330 volts, the learner would become unresponsive. If the teacher expressed a desire to quit the experiment, the experimenter was pre-instructed to respond with prompts such as “please continue,” “the experiment requires that you continue,” and “you have no other choice, you must go on.” In addition (and perhaps crucially), if teachers inquired about physical injury, they were told, “Although the shocks may be painful, there is no permanent tissue damage, so please go on.”14 In addition to lacking vocal feedback, the first experiment also deprived the teacher of visual feedback: the learner was in another room with a silvered glass between them, and the learner’s responses flashed silently on the teacher’s signal box. In this first experiment, all teachers/subjects increased the strength of the shock up to 300 volts, at which time the learner pounded on the wall, presumably in distress. Even then, 65% of the subjects continued to run the voltage up to the maximum of 450. Disturbed by this result, in a second experiment, Milgram introduced vocal feedback at 150 volts. This helped lower the point at which individuals refused to comply, and five individuals did so at that time. But 62% still continued through to the full 450 volts. In a third experiment, the learner was placed in the same room as the teacher/ subject, enabling the two to see each other. This again lowered compliance, this time to 40%. If the teacher/subject was required to place the reluctant learner’s hand on a shock plate, full compliance reduced to 30%. If subjects were allowed to choose their own shock levels, nearly all chose to go no higher than 90 volts. In all, eighteen experiments were conducted, and each was designed to tease out the variables involved. Taken as a whole, the experiments reveal three dominant trends. First, as the initial experiments demonstrate, proximity matters. If the learner is all but invisible, as was the case in the initial experiment, most demonstrate a willingness to obey instructions to continually increase voltage to the maximum possible. But this willingness declines if the subject is visible or has to be physically coerced. Second, authority figures ­matter greatly. Throughout the experiment, the “experimenter” is present 14

Milgram 1974, 21–22.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


to encourage ­compliance if subjects hesitate, and if the implied authority is diminished, the compliance diminishes as well. Thus, full compliance diminished to 47.5% if the locale of the experiment was moved from the Yale campus to a generic o­ ffice building. Similarly, if the plan to continually increase the voltage is recommended by someone posing as a fellow “teacher” rather than an experimenter, full compliance drops to 20%, and if there are two experimenters giving conflicting commands, full compliance drops to zero. Somewhat paradoxically, if this second teacher takes over and starts applying the shocks directly, in effect making the experimental subject a bystander, most again don’t intervene. Further, although most of the experimental subjects were men, a further experiment with women as subjects showed that they complied at about the same rate as the men. Because of the ethical issues involved, the replication of the study has been limited. A review by Thomas Blass indicates nine replications or partial replications of one of the original experiments, with overall rates of full compliance from 28% to 87.5%.15 The low compliance figure of 28% comes from a 1974 Australian study, with more men (40%) than women (16%) complying. A more recent, partial replication conducted in the United States in 2006, which sought to see whether subjects were willing to inflict more than 150 volts (the point at which the learner starts to protest), suggests rates of ­obedience similar to those in the Milgram study and found equivalent rates of obedience between men and women. Disturbingly, two studies in the 1970s used real shocks on real animals, one using puppies. Both of these studies showed almost ­perfect compliance among women, but only about half of men would fully comply with shocking puppies. Some further features of the study are worth noting. Milgram and others have highlighted the unexpected nature of the results. Milgram himself expected lower rates of compliance among his American subjects, and when he polled fellow psychiatrists, they predicted an average of 120–135 volts as the maximum that subjects would be willing to shock. The level of compliance is indeed striking and disturbing, but it is also important to note the variability in compliance. Even in the original experiment, not everyone complied all the way to the end. Subjects often reported duress during the process and many protested even though they continued to comply. There may also be some mitigating factors, three of which are noteworthy. First, the somewhat obscure method of punishment (from the average 15

Blass 2000.



l­ayperson’s perspective) may have affected the level of compliance. Although the experimental subjects were given a trial shock of 45 volts themselves, and although familiarity with 120 volt outlets (in the u.s) should provide a sense of what is dangerous and life threatening, it is not clear to what extent all subjects understood the dangers associated with specific voltage levels. Second and very importantly, the subjects inflicting the voltage were assured that the experiment would cause no permanent damage. Certainly, we might expect the subjects to doubt these assurances given the dramatic responses of the learner in the later versions of the experiment, but recognizing this suggests that the experiment isn’t only about obedience to authority, but also about believing an authority figure. Third, in follow up with the subjects, Milgram found that only 56.1% of the subjects fully believed that the learner was getting the shocks with a further 24% of subjects believing that the learner was probably getting the shocks. The remaining 20%, then, had varying but more significant levels of doubt. Given this, we should view the level of compliance in the experiment as artificially high, and at minimum we should view the real results to be slightly lower given this level of doubt. Despite these caveats, the results do seem strikingly robust, especially given our expectations of relatively low compliance at the outset. In this controlled setting, there does seem to be some sort of obedience effect: people are willing to comply with an authority to perform morally questionable actions that they would not predict themselves willing or capable of doing, and they would not predict this of their neighbors. Further, the experiments fit with aspects of our historical and anecdotal knowledge of human nature. Many Germans did engage in horrible actions under Nazi leadership, actions that they and, indeed, the world thought civilized human beings incapable of doing. Many stories of corporate malfeasance seem to fall into the same pattern of individuals complying with the commands of executives even when it seems that they should obviously know better.

Darley and Batson

Nearly as influential as Milgram’s work is a single experiment conducted by John Darley and Daniel Batson. The two researchers recruited Princeton Seminary students and divided them into two groups, one a control group, the other given the task of preparing a sermon based on the parable of the Good Samaritan from the Gospel of Luke. Subjects were then required to walk across campus in varying states of hurry (low, intermediate, and high).

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


Those in the high hurry category were informed that they were already late and needed to hurry to get to the next building. Along the way they would encounter a man “… s­ itting slumped in a doorway, head down, eyes closed, not moving.”16 In addition, the “victim” would cough twice and groan as the subject passed by. Darley and Batson found that, while the level of hurrying correlated with the level of helping, whether students were engaged in preparing a talk on the Good Samaritan did not. Of the 40 students involved, 16 (40%) in total helped. 63% of those in the low hurry state helped, but only 45% of those in the intermediate hurry state and a measly 10% of those in the high hurry state did so. Again, the situational effects seem to dominate. Again, there are some caveats to note, in this case two. First, while it is difficult to know how needy the victim looked in the actual experiment, the instructions that Darley and Batson provide are important: “The victim should appear somewhat ambiguous— ill-dressed, possibly in need of help, but also possibly drunk or even dangerous.” Like many experiments in social psychology, the experimental set up seeks to simulate a borderline situation. We might imagine some contrast cases: a mild one being someone who appears to have a cold and is in need of a kleenex, a more extreme one being an individual who appears to be suffering a heart attack or is laying on the ground bleeding from an apparent knife wound. It would seem safe to predict that levels of helping would be lower in the mild case and higher in the extreme ones, and we might expect that, in the extreme case, the level of hurry would be less of a factor. Second, the effort to produce a borderline case makes it difficult to assess what the moral expectation is here. Imagine, for instance, you are in a subway station, and you pass someone who is slumped, coughing and moaning. Is this a situation where, morally speaking, we should intervene and provide assistance? How slumped over is the individual? Is it the sort of slumped over implying that the person has a head cold and is simply a tired, sick, commuter? Or is it the sort of slumped over suggesting the individual is seriously ill and in need of immediate medical attention? Perhaps the kind of moan or the kind of cough would help signal the level of distress involved. Would it matter if we saw this individual on the Princeton Seminary lawn instead? Such questions don’t affect the results of the study, but they are important for the interpretation from an ethical stance. If the study succeeded in creating an ethically ambiguous situation, it would not be surprising if highly moral individuals 16

Darley and Batson 1973, 103.



responded ambiguously. Whether the seminarians in question were highly moral is another question.17

Inferences and Critiques

For Doris and Harman, these studies and ones like them call into question the ethical concept of character since they seem to show that, for most individuals, it is the situation that determines behavior rather than character. If one is put in a position where one is asked to obey an authority, take the role of a prison guard, or go some place in a hurry, the argument is that these situational effects dominate qualities of personality, character, or free will. Doris suggests that, at best, we can postulate local traits rather than global ones. In other words, there is no such thing as courage in the general way that virtue ethicists speak of it, but only relative courage in the context of obedience to authority, relative generosity in the context of being in a good mood, and so on. On Doris’s account, the only way to deal with situational effects is to avoid the situations in the first place. The situationist challenge posed by Doris and Harman has received a number of responses by other philosophers. Nancy Snow, for instance, has argued that we should not simply look at behavior, but at how the subjects view and interpret what is going on, the implication being that what may be identical in terms of behavior is not necessarily identical in terms of perception, motivation, and intention.18 Jesse Prinz has argued that while the situational effects are real, so too are effects of personality and culture.19 As Prinz notes, there is an extensive psychological literature on the “big five” personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Importantly, this evidence indicates that these traits are stable over an individual’s lifetime; individuals who are conscientious when young tend to be 17

18 19

I also leave aside here two interesting but related questions. The first concerns the effect of religiosity on helping behavior. The study by Darley and Batson did not distinguish between religious and non-religious, but did distinguish between forms of religiosity, with “questers” and “highly orthodox” individuals both being more likely to help. The second point concerns the effect of priming the students with the Good Samaritan narrative. Priming is a standard technique in social psychology, and there a number of studies that use priming of one form or another as itself a situational effect. It is thus noteworthy that, in this study, priming was not effective. Snow 2010. Prinz 2011.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


c­ onscientious when older. Similarly, there also seem to be traits and behaviors that are broadly associated with one’s culture, and these too show significant stability. Consequently, the evidence against character can be countered with evidence that supports stable character traits.20 Owen Flanagan, who played an important role in making moral philosophers aware of the social psychological literature, has made a related argument, and he urges some caution. Flanagan notes that if we look at the correlation coefficient (r-value) of some of the standardly cited moral situationist experiments, it comes out to be .4 (40%).21 This is significant, but far from determinative. A more recent study by Richard et al., looking at over three hundred meta-analyses of the social psychological literature generally but inclusive of the kind of morally relevant studies described here, suggests a lower correlation coefficient of .21.22 These studies do not reject situational effects outright, but they create significant trouble for the strong situationist thesis, especially when we keep in mind that many, if not most, situationist experiments are set up to exploit borderline situations to begin with.

Assessing Situationism

Often left unstated in these arguments is exactly what counts as a “situation.” Presumably, what is meant is any sort of environmental effect, whether social or physical. This ambiguity connects to some ambiguity in what is being claimed or could be claimed. For clarity, we might begin with the extremes. On the one hand, one might argue for situational determinism, the claim that the situation wholly determines the behavior of individuals. A situational ­determinist might 20

21 22

We can note, however, an important difference between these modern personality traits and Aristotle’s concept of virtue, for while the former have evidence of a heritability component (based on twin studies), Aristotle conceived of virtues as being character traits that are wholly learned. It is also important to note that, while Prinz raises criticisms of the situationist literature, he does not adopt a virtue-theoretic account of character. Flanagan 2009; Krueger and Funder (2004) come to the same conclusion, albeit relying on a different meta-analysis. Richard et al. 2003. Krueger and Funder suggest also a number of wider ranging issues for the field of social psychology and its methods, criticisms which apply to the studies noted here. I simply note two here. First, they argue that what may appear maladaptive in a lab setting is adaptive in the real world, a point discovered in the study of perception and visual illusions. Second, they note that the social psychological literature massively and disproportionately focuses on purported failures of rationality, often without first establishing what the healthy rationality baseline would be.



say something like this: any given organism O placed in situation S will do D. Not only is this clearly false, it is contradicted by all the experiments cited here, each of which demonstrates some variability in response. Notably as well, no one is arguing this, and even Philip Zimbardo, among the strongest supporters of situationism in psychology, notes the limitations of situational influence on behavior.23 Situational determinism can be contrasted with its opposite: situational indifference. On the indifference account, the situation would have no effect whatsoever on the organism’s actions. While this may seem appealing to someone who holds a radically strong doctrine of libertarian free will, reflection should reveal problems interpreting what situational indifference even means. To make a decision is to make a decision about something, including the situation one finds oneself in. Jane is at a coffee shop and opts for some Ethiopian coffee. Does being in a coffee shop determine Jane’s actions? Not necessarily, but if Jane is in a coffee shop, she is probably there for a reason, and being in a coffee shop means that, at some point, Jane will have to make some decisions about the coffee shop, decisions that she is unable to make about a sushi bar simply by virtue of the fact that she is not in a sushi bar. So, even on a libertarian free will account, the situation exerts some influence on behavior simply by virtue of being the situation the person is in. Situational indifference is thus obviously false and even incoherent when taken in its pure form. A third model we might call the rational goal-directed model. As the name implies, this model supposes that individuals are motivated by the goals that they have, and so they always act in such a way as to most easily and e­ fficiently achieve these goals. When reading the situationist literature, one gets the strong impression that it is this rational goal-directed model that is thought to be refuted by the experimental evidence and that studies, such as those conducted by Milgram, show that we act not according to our explicit, consciously accessible aims but according to situational factors. But it is not clear that the situationist experiments, including Milgram’s, genuinely show this. Indeed, there seem to be three lines of interpretation consistent with both the rational goal-directed model and with the results of the situationist experiments. On the first, it may be argued that, in the situationist experiments, people simply are acting on their beliefs and prior aims. There is some evidence to support this. As noted in the Milgram experiment, there is anecdotal evidence of individuals simply acting on the basis of their values, and Milgram provides brief narratives of two individuals who were compliant subjects and appeared to 23

Zimbardo 2007.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


suffer no conflict or distress over their participation. One, a thirty-seven year old Italian welder, expressed disgust at the learner’s distress, and he replied “yes” when asked whether more experiments of this kind should be conducted. Similarly, one of the research subjects who refused to comply beyond 150 volts was a professor of Old Testament, who responded to the experimenter that “If one had as one’s ultimate authority God, then it trivializes human authority.”24 That individuals are acting according to their convictions in these experiments is an uncomfortable thought given the number of subjects who comply with authority, but it is one that should be considered. We often forget the true diversity of values that exist, and we are perhaps inclined in modern Western societies to attribute culturally ideal values to others, ignoring the gap between ideals and reality. We would like to think that the great majority of Americans are not racist, but racists exist, perhaps in greater numbers than realized. Note also that the situational influence by itself does not tell us how rational or goal-directed our actions are. Someone may hold a gun to my head and demand I hand over all my money. This would be a very strong situational effect, and it is reasonable to suppose that the great majority of individuals would comply with the demand. But that does not negate the rationality or goal-directedness involved. A second possibility consistent with the rational goal-directed model is that the experiments show that people are conflicted about their motives. There is evidence to support this position as well. In Milgram’s experiment, a number of subjects made various sorts of protest or displayed emotional distress while at the same time being compliant. While this could be interpreted as a case of the situation overwhelming an individual’s values, it could also be interpreted as a case of the situation revealing a conflict in an individual’s value systems. After all, most of us do value both the principle of nonmaleficence (do no harm) and obedience to authority, albeit to varying degrees. But, very likely, few of us have worked out very well how to balance these two values in all cases. On this interpretation, the obedience experiments put subjects into a kind of situation that they had not previously experienced and were 24

Milgram 1974, 49. Although Milgram did not collect data on religious commitment or affiliation, it is interesting that two of the narratives he provides from those resisting authority appear to have strong religious convictions. In the equally famous Stanford Prison experiments conducted by Philip Zimbardo, this same phenomenon is noted but arguably underemphasized. In that experiment, some of the student-subjects acknowledged that their willingness to continue in the experiment was based on the money they were being paid to do it. Presumably, for these individuals, participating in the experiment and being subjected to humiliating treatment was worth the money they were receiving.



not prepared for. As a result, these subjects experienced significant conflict in their values, and while some of them chose to value nonmaleficence over obedience, many chose obedience over nonmaleficence. Such conflict may occur in the Darley and Batson experiment as well, and they suggest that, at least for some subjects, their actions can be explained in terms of whom to help, the slumped over individual or the experimenters they were working with.25 The third possibility is the one that situationists seem to favor, that the situational effects overwhelm individuals’ values and character traits, so that they act contrary to how they view themselves. Again, there is evidence for this view. Recall that Milgram polled psychiatrists, who predicted much lower levels of obedience. Similarly, when Milgram polled Yale seniors, they predicted an average of 1.2% of subjects would be fully obedient. We don’t know the basis of these predictions, but presumably they were based on what Yale seniors ­believed people value, ones shared by the Yale seniors. It is a short step from making judgments of what others would do to what I would do. Plausibly, many individuals tell themselves that they would never fully comply, and so they conclude that others would not as well.26 Later surveys have suggested that the gap between prediction and rate of compliance is smaller, depending on the way the question is asked and on whether fuller information about the experiment is provided. The prediction error remains, however, with estimates ranging from 12%–44%.27 Given even this smaller gap, it is plausible to interpret this as supporting the situationist case that the situation is influencing at least some people in a way contrary to their own values. It is important to note that these three possibilities are not mutually exclusive alternatives for a population. Indeed, it seems likely that, when we look at these and related experiments, we have all three effects going on among the experimental subjects. Some people do prefer to obey authority, and act accordingly. Some may experience conflict between existing but competing values, and they must make a judgment as to which value takes priority. Some may experience a genuine situational effect, where their values are overwhelmed by the situational factors at play. Further, the situational effects may be additive to the preference for authority and to that preference in a conflict of values. Given the evidence for situational effects contrary to consciously held values, 25 26


Darley and Batson 1973, 108. Zimbardo in particular emphasizes the claim that the experiments show that anyone is subject to situational effects, and individuals who deny that they would be so affected are likely deluding themselves. Blass 2000.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


the rational goal-directed choice model is at best partially true: we sometimes act according to our aims, but sometimes we don’t. This leads us to the fourth and final model, the dual-process model. As the name implies, the dual-process model asserts that there are two modes of cognition, one accessible to consciousness and self-analysis, the other unconscious and so not accessible. In this literature, the conscious, slow, deliberative reflection is referred to as explicit processing, while the fast, intuitive responses of the unconscious are contrasted as implicit processing. As is typically conceived, when a judgment is made, it may be the result of either explicit or implicit processing. Presumably, it could be the result of both if both are in concord, but if implicit and explicit processing are in conflict, then one or the other would be dominant. Does the dual-process model provide a better explanation? Taken by itself, it is not clear that it does, although it can help to make sense of how our rational, goal-directed aims may be overwhelmed by judgments arising out of implicit processes. The problem here is that the model by itself does not tell us what those judgments are or what the underlying aims are. Obedience to an experimental authority or proneness to pass by an apparently slumped over sick individual may be due to judgments based on implicit processes, explicit processes, or both. What is needed is some further theory to suggest why people act the way that they do, based on some innate tendency, some history of environmental effects, or both. By itself, the situationist literature does not provide the resources for making this determination, and it does not clearly discriminate between rational goal-directed models and dual-processing ones. It does seems to show that there is something we may call a situational effect: people’s judgment and behavior can be influenced, and influenced in ways that result in bad judgments and bad behaviors. This situational effect is significant, but not on average overwhelming. Although this point is sometimes missed, it is highly likely that it is not the same for everyone. Some people obey, but some do not. Some hurry past, but others stop and assist. Recognizing this is an important step in recognizing the role that character may play.

The Case for Character

The experiments commonly cited to support situationism do not show that character does exist, but this is not the same as supporting the claim that character does exist. Why think that there is such a thing as character? Anecdotally, the case for character may seem obvious. People are different, and they are



often different in reliable and predictable ways. Some individuals are prone to cutting corners or even theft, while others are compulsively fair, insisting that all dinner checks be split evenly and worrying deeply about the proper rewards and punishments in the workplace. We can reflect on individuals who have served as reliable moral exemplars in our own lives as well as those who have worked more dramatically for the good, often at some sacrifice to themselves. Such anecdotal observations do not stand alone, however, and they are supported by a small but growing literature on moral exemplarity. Kristen Renwick Monroe, for instance, has interviewed and studied Holocaust rescuers from World War ii. Anne Colby and William Damon have studied community nominated exemplars in some detail, and Lawrence Walker and colleagues have explored the moral personality of exemplars.28 While still very preliminary, these studies provide some support for the existence of stable traits of the sort that we conceive of as virtues and elements of character. What role ought habit to play in our concept of character? Here translation issues can hamper our efforts, since in English “habit” typically has the connotation of “mere repetition.” Certainly, there are passages in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics that suggest this. In his discussion of how virtue is acquired, ­Aristotle argues that virtue is acquired by imitation and the doing of virtue. For Aristotle, the doing of virtuous acts come first, and it is only by the (presumably repetitive) doing of such acts that we become virtuous.29 But whatever role such repetition plays, it does not capture what Aristotle seems to have in mind. In this vein, Joe Sachs argues that understanding virtues as habits or even as dispositions is insufficient. Sachs argues that the term typically translated as virtue, hexis, has a much more active and holistic meaning for Aristotle.30 To perform an action is to perform it in the right frame of mind, one that requires active concentration and paying attention to the issue at hand. This is very different from the caricature of virtue theoretic approaches that treat ­virtuous actions as arising out of character in a way that bypasses the conscious self, with the implication that virtuous actions are by definition done thoughtlessly and in opposition to our conscious willings. Further, highly repetitive actions can hardly be described as virtuous. Helping the elderly across the street is a good thing; compulsively doing so even when help is not desired is another. 28 Monroe 2004; Colby and Damon 1992; Walker and Frimer 2007; Reimer et al. 2009. 29 Book ii, Chapter 1: “Virtues, however, we acquire by first exercising them…. So too we become just by doing just actions, temperate by temperate actions, and courageous by courageous actions.” p. 23. 30 Sachs 2005.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


Clearly some repetitive behaviors are maladaptive and signs of mental illness. Something more is needed. A promising line of inquiry, one taken prominently by Julia Annas among others, is to understand virtues in analogy to skills.31 Skills are things we learn to do, and they are embodied forms of knowing. One can know in theory how to play the piano or practice carpentry, but knowing in principle about a skill and actually being able to practice the skill are two very different things. Likewise, much space exists between knowing about courage and actually being courageous, and while it is possible that some of us are in some sense born courageous, for most of us courage is something that is learned over a lifetime, involving many intangibles. A youth may be terrified of speaking in front of a crowd, and a young manager may find herself fearful of confronting a disruptive employee; over time, however, the youth may learn to move many with words, and the manager may become a model leader. Empirically, insight may be gleaned from the social scientific literature on expertise. Expertise in a given area requires considerable time and training, with 10,000 to 50,000 hours being a much cited estimate.32 Expertise is cognitive, and yet experts are not necessarily good at being able to explain what they do. A great hitter in baseball is not necessarily a great coach. This intuitive element of expertise appears even in such obviously intellectual endeavors as playing chess. Contrary to popular wisdom, chess experts do not plan ahead much further than average players; rather, they rely on an extensive history of playing that provides instant pattern recognition, enabling them to rapidly weed out weaker moves in order to concentrate on the most likely and promising options on the board. The skill/expertise model is suggestive for how we think about virtues. The learning of skills does involve much repetition, and this is true in not only obvious examples like chess and piano playing but also in professions like medicine and carpentry. Yet, the repetition, especially in these latter examples, is not mere repetition, but rather repetition of similar but not identical cases, and they are situations that enable the development of appropriately nuanced judgments. Further, the true expert is not someone who has simply memorized by rote a table of facts or a set of procedures; a chess player who has only memorized all the possible sets of opening moves listed in chess handbooks will perform very poorly once play moves past the opening (and perhaps even before), and the doctor who can only recite anatomical facts and lists of

31 32

Annas 1995; Stichter 2007. Simon and Chase 1973.



d­ iseases is no doctor at all. Something more is needed. In addition to arguing on behalf of moral expertise, Darcia Narvaez has argued for the importance of moral imagination as well.33 Moral imagination has some resonance with the more traditional Aristotelian concept of phronesis, or practical wisdom. As traditionally understood, phronesis is an intellectual virtue that is non-­ quantifiable and which serves as a kind of “meta-virtue” to the moral virtues. Central to phronesis is not only imagination, to picture what may be but is not, but also moral creativity. Put differently, we may say that what is required is a habit of moral creativity and that this is what often sets moral exemplars apart from the less exemplary; an exemplar is not simply someone who follows rules by rote, but a person who has enough understanding of moral rules to know how and when to apply them, when to reject them, and when to search out some alternative framework when existing rules fail. I describe this as a habit of creativity for two reasons. First, for many of us, such moral creativity needs to be cultivated, and we must learn to become creative, both from personal experience and from the example of those wiser than us. It is a fine thing to be even-tempered, the virtue concerning anger, but it is even better to be able to handle situations so that tempers are not provoked in the first place. Second, it is important to recognize the importance of the habitual character of moral creativity, that it be an active disposition that is readily engaged. The necessity for this lies in the complexity of human social situations; as highly social mammals, we find ourselves in social situations nearly constantly, and they must be navigated with both insight and care. A baseball analogy is again useful: it is not enough to be able to hit a fast ball, or both a fast ball and a curve ball. The excellent hitter is one who is able to adapt to the unexpected, the pitcher who throws in an unanticipated way, to play well not only when there is no pressure but when it is the ninth inning and bases are loaded, and so on. Such excellence is difficult in baseball, and, I would argue, even more so in the moral realm. It is difficult enough that passing few of us are truly morally excellent, and most of us can only hope to be a bit better than satisfactory. There are limitations to the skill/expertise model, and two are important in this context. First, it is important to note that Doris does raise the possibility of such expertise only to dismiss it, and he provides two notable reasons for doing so. First, he argues that, while it is possible that there are such moral experts, they must be extraordinarily rare given the results of the situationist 33

Narvaez 2008.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


literature. But, as we’ve seen, we have no reason to think that such situational factors are determinative for behavior, and while such situational effects are real and sometimes quite important, they are not strong enough to simply dismiss the existence of character. But we also have to be careful. It is a common prejudice to simply assume that the average person is a morally good person, and so the task of moral theory is to justify a version of “common-sense” morality. But this is not an obvious assumption. The average person is perhaps “good enough,” able to get by in life without seriously hurting people (physically or emotionally) on a regular basis, but most of us have much room for improvement, a point well-acknowledged in religious ethics but much less so in philosophical ethics. But Doris also makes a second argument: the expertise literature itself shows that expertise is domain specific, and he claims that this fact is consistent with the situationist literature but inconsistent with traditional accounts of virtue. Thus, Doris is happy to concede that a person is consistent within situations, that a person who helps someone pick up dropped papers after finding a dime in a pay phone would consistently do so. But he claims that the situationist literature shows that we should not expect consistency across situations, even across all situations of helping a person pick up papers. Doris is correct that the expertise literature shows considerable domain specificity, and so we should not expect someone who has expertise in physics to be an expert in other intellectual disciplines, and a medical professional who is an expert in one area of medicine may not have better than average expertise in another. But care must be taken how we apply this to moral expertise. First, it can be argued that morality itself is a single area of expertise, and so the issue of domain specificity doesn’t arise. But this seems too strong, especially when we consider the way that morality encompasses all or almost all of life. Additionally, there are empirical reasons to believe that such domain specificity occurs even in individuals commonly identified as moral exemplars. Studies by Lawrence Walker and colleagues suggest three common kinds of exemplars—just, brave, and caring—and Colby and Damon also observe a distinction between just and caring exemplars. This might not be domain specificity. An exemplar may be equally just and caring but simply choose to devote more time to promoting social justice rather than providing humanitarian aid. But this seems unlikely, and it is more plausible that some people simply are (or learn to be) better at righting social wrongs than working with those in need. But this doesn’t mean that someone who provides humanitarian aid has no  sense of social justice, and it would be quite surprising if this were the case. Aristotle argued for the unity of the virtues, but it remains a thesis much



­debated.34 More empirical evidence here would be helpful, but it seems likely that there exist individuals with highly attenuated virtues buffeted by situational effects in the way that Doris argues, but there also exist many who are mature and resilient and for whom such situational effects are minimized. This does not imply that there would be no situational effects on the latter, but that their effects would be partially controlled and in some cases eliminated. Do these individuals exist? The preliminary evidence on exemplars suggests that they do, and they are perhaps more prevalent than the situationist literature would lead us to believe. But, contra Doris, they don’t have to be that common. Perhaps most of us are “moral enough,” but it is doubtful that most of us are “deeply moral,” and there is good reason to believe that we are not. This brings us to our final point. Although I have supported the skill model of virtue in this argument, we should be cautious about construing virtue simply as a skill. What makes a virtue a virtue is not only its skill aspect, but the end to which the virtue is applied. To take one famous example, we can ask the question whether courage is a virtue when put in service to a bad cause, such as that of the Nazis in World War ii.35 Is compassion a virtue when it is directed only to members of one’s in-group (race, sex, class) but not outside of it? I may have a well-attuned sense of compassion to my in-group, expressing it at the right time and in the right amount, but if I fail to express it appropriately outside of my in-group, I have certainly failed morally. The virtues thus need to be ordered appropriately, and such ordering requires a sense of what the larger aims of the virtues are. Conclusion Strong situationism is false. While there are indeed situational effects, and while these situational effects may sometimes be quite powerful for some people, the evidence does not support the claim that the immediate situation one finds oneself in determines behavior. When we look closely at those studies most commonly cited on behalf of strong situationism, we find that there is complexity in their findings, and less support for strong situationism than its advocates suppose. Rather than showing that there is no such thing as character, such studies reveal what character is up against, and thus the importance of habituation as Aristotle spoke of it. For this, we find some support in the

34 35

E.g., Sreeinivasan 2009; Wolf 2007. Geach 1977.

Habit, Character, And The Situationist Challenge


literature on moral exemplarity and on expertise. While this literature remains in its early stages, it helps us to chart a path for thinking about character and the virtues for both the scientist and the philosopher. References Annas, Julia. 1995. “Virtue as a Skill.” International Journal of Philosophical Studies 3 (2): 227–243. Aristotle. 2000. Nicomachean Ethics. Edited by Roger Crisp. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Blass, Thomas. 2000. “The Milgram Paradigm After 35 Years: Some Things We Now Know About Obedience to Authority.” In Obedience to Authority: Current Perspectives on the Milgram Paradigm, edited by Thomas Blass. Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum. Colby, Anne, and William Damon. 1992. Some Do Care: Contemporary Lives of Moral Commitment. New York: The Free Press. Darley, John M., and C. Daniel Batson. 1973. “‘From Jerusalem to Jericho’: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27 (1): 100–108. Doris, John M. 1998. “Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics.” Nous 32 (4): 504–530. Doris, John M. 2002. Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Flanagan, Owen. 1993. Varieties of Moral Personality: Ethics and Psychological Realism. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Flanagan, Owen. 2009. “Moral Science? Still Metaphysical After All These Years.” In ­Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology, edited by ­Darcia Narvaez and Daniel K. Lapsley, 52–78. New York: Cambridge University Press. Geach, Peter. 1977. The Virtues. New York: Cambridge University Press. Haidt, Jonathan. 2001. “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment.” Psychological Review 108: 814–834. Haidt, Jonathan. 2012. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Vintage Books. Harman, Gilbert. 1999. “Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99: 315–331. Isen, A.M., and H. Levin. 1972. “Effect of Feeling Good on Helping: Cookies and ­Kindness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21: 384–388. Kahneman, Daniel, and Amos Tversky, ed. 2000. Choices, Values, and Frames. ­Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.



Krueger, Joachim I., and David C. Funder. 2004. “Towards a Balanced Social Psychology: Causes, Consequences, and Cures for the Problem-Seeking Approach to Social Behavior and Cognition.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 27 (3): 313–327. Milgram, Stanley. 1974. Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper & Row. Miller, Christian. 2003. “Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics.” Journal of Ethics 7: 365–392. Monroe, Kristen Renwick. 2004. The Hand of Compassion: Portraits of Moral Choice ­during the Holocaust. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Narvaez, Darcia. 2008. “Triune Ethics: The Neurobiological Roots of Our Multiple ­Moralities.” New Ideas in Psychology 26 (1): 95–119. Prinz, Jesse J. 2011. “Is Empathy Necessary for Morality?” In Empathy: Philosophical and Psychological Perspectives, edited by Amy Coplan and Peter Goldie. New York: ­Oxford University Press. Reimer, Kevin, Brianne M. DeWitt Goudelock, and Lawrence Walker. 2009. “Developing Conceptions of Moral Maturity: Traits and Identity in Adolescent Personality.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 4 (5): 372–388. Richard, F.D., Charles F. Bond Jr., and Juli J. Stokes-Zoota. 2003. “One Hundred Years of Social Psychology Quantitatively Described.” Review of General Psychology 7 (4): 331–363. Ross, Lee, and Richard E. Nisbett. 1991. The Person and the Situation: Perspectives of Social Psychology. London: Pinter & Martin Ltd. Sabini, John, and Maury Silver. 2005. “Lack of Character? Situationism Critiqued.” ­Ethics 115 (3): 535–562. Sachs, Joe. 2005. “Aristotle: Ethics.” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Accessed ­November 1, 2014. http://www.iep.utm.edu/aris-eth/. Simon, H., and W.G. Chase. 1973. “Skill in Chess.” American Scientist 61: 394–403. Snow, Nancy. 2010. Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory. New York: Routledge. Sreenivasan, Gopal. 2009. “Disunity of Virtue.” The Journal of Ethics 13 (2–3): 195–212. Stichter, Matthew. 2007. “The Skill of Virtue.” Philosophy in the Contemporary World 14 (2): 29–49. Tversky, Amos, and Daniel Kahneman. 1981. “The Framing of Decisions and the ­Psychology of Choice.” Science 211: 453–458. Walker, Lawrence J, and Jeremy A Frimer. 2007. “Moral Personality of Brave and Caring Exemplars.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 93 (5): 845–860. Wolf, Susan. 2007. “Moral Psychology and the Unity of the Virtues.” Ratio 20 (2): 145–167. Zimbardo, Philip. 2007. The Lucifer Effect: Understanding How Good People Turn Evil. New York: Random House.

chapter 9

Paying Attention to the Will: On the Neuroscience and Psychology of Self, Volition, and Character Adam Martin Beginning in the 1990s, a research paradigm emerged in neuroscience, philosophy and psychology, focusing on the automaticity of the mind’s operations. Receiving particular attention were those processes associated with volition or, as often reported in non-academic media, questions of “free will.” At issue was the contention that much, if not most, of the repertoire of human “voluntary” actions were in fact automatic, chosen, and carried out unconsciously. While the research paradigm had its roots in earlier laboratory experiments, in recent years it has been possible to bring to bear tools such as functional magnetic resonance imaging to give a finer-grained view of volition in action.1 Such findings as those by Soon et al. have provided fuel for an intense debate about just how much the conscious processes of the self cause a person’s actions, and, if they do not, why the feeling of willed action persists and what purposes it serves.2 Neuroscientists and philosophers have taken the claims of recent neuroscientific and psychological evidence to both academic and lay audiences, making the case for conscious will as an illusion and for the potential superiority of unconscious processes in decision-making.3 Perhaps the most controversial implications of such recent scholarship on volition lie in morality and ethics. Given societies’ contemporary assumption of personal responsibility, rationality, and self-restraint in both legal norms and interpersonal relationships, an account that rules out conscious will poses grave problems. One can cluster these problems into questions regarding the past and the future. Regarding the past, the most basic issue is accountability: holding agents responsible for actions that they had both the capacity and intention to take. A functional moral community relies upon ways that individuals can feel real-time feedback for their actions, having at least the possibility of behaving differently in a future encounter. Regarding the future, there is the formation of character: what may happen not only

1 One of the most notable early experiments being Libet 1985. 2 Soon 2008. 3 Wegner 2002; Dijksterhuis et al. 2006.



across the life of any one agent but of any future agents. How can pro-social habits be taught if they cannot be consciously integrated and acted on? How can they be taught to an individual, and how can curricula be devised for more than one generation if such individuals are incapable of choosing to follow them? No one clear set of answers to these questions has emerged from the recent debates on the neuroscientific, psychological evidence, or their interpretation. Because the issue of conscious (or “free”) will touches on deeply held worldviews and commitments about what constitutes a human being or “self,” consensus has proved elusive. Scholars have alternately made sweeping claims that entire worldviews and social structures must change, and they have also hastened to say that recent findings will have few everyday ramifications.4 The recent findings suggesting conscious will is illusory have likewise prompted defenses of the concept, ranging from methodological critiques of recent research to speculation on a nonmaterial basis for the mind. The present chapter addresses such recent issues regarding conscious volition, the relationship between intentions and behavior, and their moral implications. Evaluating the potential for “free will” requires a deeper understanding of what consciousness and the self actually are and an understanding of what forms of information processing in the brain contribute to willed action. When these are accounted for, the theory of conscious will as an illusion emerges as incomplete. The present point of departure is the nature of the self, consciousness, and the role of attention. While unconscious processes account for a large amount of behavior, contemporary approaches indicate that there may be a role for conscious processes in constraining action. Attention is one key faculty shaping a person’s orientation to action, and its scope and direction have social, self-regulatory, and behavioral consequences. Such a role for attention provides an addition to discussions of morality and agency. If attention can play such a role as that described above, then a principal part of moral responsibility can be viewed as the need to cultivate attention as a skill, both in its scope and its contents. What we do, morally, is a function of what we attend to and how. Because the impact of attentional cultivation works more on larger trends of behavior in aggregate than any one discrete decision, it is appropriate to ground it in moral concepts appropriate to Aristotelian accounts of character. To speak of ethical cultivation of ­attention is to speak not of (or not only of) doing the right thing, but living an ­appropriate life. 4 For the former, see Cashmore 2010; for the latter, see Gazzaniga 2012.

Paying Attention to the Will


This chapter proceeds in multiple sections. First, it lays out dominant accounts of the origins and aspects of consciousness and the construct of the self, and it identifies how these have important relationships to conscious volition and agency. Second, it discusses an under-developed area of inquiry: the experiences people have of free will, their beliefs in it, concepts of it, and the consequences of those beliefs, thereby laying out the stakes for mass belief in free will and conscious volition. Third, it reviews some of the latest neuroscientific findings on volition and the major claims made for the illusory nature of free will based upon those findings. Fourthly, major objections to the ­illusory nature of will and the unconscious nature of action are explored and discussed, with an emphasis on those that reveal a possible macro-level influence for consciousness. Fifthly, and most importantly, it discusses and integrates a number of findings on attention as a global-level faculty that facilitates agency. Finally, it brings the importance of attention into a broader paradigm of moral psychology and philosophy, and it poses suggestions for a moral curriculum. In all cases, it poses questions of volition and its moral aspects as one part of a larger orientation to the world.

Origins of and Conditions of the Self

A necessary part of discerning how a human agent exercises conscious volition lies in understanding where the self of an agent comes from, its relation to consciousness, and the neurological architecture underlying it. What follows is one set of accounts of how what is commonly termed the “self” emerged psychologically, including some features of the brain that seem to make it ­possible. These set a necessary precedent for how, if it exists, any conscious agency may make itself felt. While contemporary philosophical accounts such as those by Metzinger and Dennett deny that an essential self exists, the psychological and neurological literature seem to converge around an account of an experienced selfconstruct, apparent or real.5 Based on the evidence, it seems to include brain functions involved in memory, social cognition, action control, monitoring, anticipation, and processing information from the surrounding environment. If such a self exists, it appears to be a continuously changing and fluid process, and its self-representation as enduring needs to be taken cautiously. It next becomes critical to piece together what processes of consciousness in the brain underlie this self, give rise to it, and perform the operations 5 Metzinger 2003; Dennett 1993.



it r­ ecognizes as its own. One prominent model of the basis of consciousness in  the brain is Bernard Baars’s Global Workspace theory, helpfully given a ­biological underpinning from Gerald Edelman’s dynamic core hypothesis.6 In line with a social-psychological description of a widely distributed set of selffunctions, they describe ways in which consciousness itself similarly works in a distributed fashion. Baars’s Global Workspace theory seeks to understand how the brain, in modular fashion, coordinates action and flows of information between its component parts. It understands a person’s conscious mind as a kind of “blackboard” or “information exchange.” In this way, information can be made available to multiple centers of activity (e.g., memory, motivation, prediction, values) at once, linking needs and stimuli with responses. In such a way, tasks too novel or complex to be handled by subconscious processes can arrive at solutions. It also binds such content into what is felt as a unified experience, and this process seems to depend on a cortico-thalamic core.7 Baars conceives of the workspace as a theater, with working memory as the stage and different brain centers as the audience.8 The immediate content of consciousness is what is under the spotlight of executively controlled attention. The self, as a set of unconscious assumptions or frames, is held to be one of these contexts.9 The role of attention, as the spotlight on what is most important or relevant for consciousness at a given moment, will emerge as a key factor. Events in a given global workspace can be treated as momentary and globally available patterns of activity within the brain, corresponding to discrete contents.10 Out of all possible inputs or activities that could become the focus of conscious decisions or planning, which ones do? Do most occur below the level of awareness, with the result that they do not need to enter the conscious workspace? Later sections of this chapter take up these questions.

What Does it Feel Like to be a Volitional Self?

One additional factor complicating discussions of conscious volition is the strong feeling of having initiated and performed an action. Beliefs about such actions have consequences of their own. As a matter of social perception, 6 7 8 9 10

Baars 1997, 2003, 2005; Edelman and Tononi 2000; Edelman 2003. Baars et al. 2013. Baars 2005. Baars 1988. Edelman et al. 2011.

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­individuals believe that others have less free will than themselves.11 This trend is evident in how people judge the unpredictability of their own actions, number of options available for future decisions, and the role of intent in future ­behavior. As such, beliefs about free actions may be self-fulfilling prophecies. Rigone and colleagues found neurological consequences of such beliefs: a lower readiness potential in the brain for voluntary motor control, observable more than a second before a decision to move.12 Such dynamics extend beyond simple motor control; Stillman, Baumeister, Vohs and colleagues found that higher levels of belief in free will enabled prediction of both better performance on the job (as evaluated by employers) and in motivations for the same.13 Rigoni et al. found that increasing disbelief in free will impeded adaptive reaction to errors. Such phenomena suggest that lack of belief in free will is comparable to “learned helplessness” and that belief in free will thus serves an adaptive function.14 Put differently, conscious volition may be illusory, but belief in its existence may act as a placebo effect, while disbelief acts as a nocebo effect. Higher rates of disbelief in free will likewise have their correlates and/or consequences in higher social conformity and prejudice.15 At the level of political and social views overall, however, Carey and Paulhus noted that actual ­belief in free will predicted more conservative beliefs, including greater authoritarianism, higher levels of religiosity, and more potentially judgmental moral standards.16 No matter what the ultimate answer to the question of whether conscious volition is possible, perceptions of an answer already create impacts felt in the social world.

The Non-volitional Self: Evidence and Implications

Neuroscientific evidence for the illusory nature of conscious volition can be found in multiple streams of research. One stream of research focuses on the temporal dimension of volition. First, experiments have focused on the timing matched between brain activity and conscious actions. Numerous studies have also measured subjects’ psychological inferences about causality, based on perceptions of time. 11 12 13 14 15 16

Pronin and Kugler 2010. Rigone et al. 2011. Stillman et al. 2010. Rigoni et al. 2013; Brass et al. 2013. Alquist et al. 2013; Zhao et al. 2014. Carey and Paulhus 2013.



Many, if not most, of the studies allegedly refuting conscious agency rely upon perceptions of time. Foundational to this paradigm is the insight that individuals poorly judge timing of their own actions, and they instead infer causality based on flawed estimates. Wegner and Wheatley were among the first to notice that both thought leading to action and the action itself are unconscious, but together they produce the experience of conscious volition.17 The timing of effects and intentions in determining ownership of action and the fact that such ownership of action can be easily misplaced occurs via a phenomenon termed intentional binding.18 Individuals have been known to perceive voluntary movements and subsequent effects as closer together in time than they actually were.19 However, the brain not only frequently makes false inferences about conscious volition, it can also be fooled by unconscious manipulation.20 Moreover, even involuntary movements, if self-causation is properly implied, will show intentional binding effects.21 Perhaps the most controversial evidence for a lack of conscious volition comes from neurobiological accounts. Libet provided the prototype for such experiments, asking subjects to focus on a rotating point on a screen and to then signal when they felt the urge to move, noting activity in the brain before voluntary action was ever taken.22 While subsequent work has critiqued and refined Libet’s initial experiments, the paradigm’s basic goal remains the same. Soon and colleagues discovered, using fMRI scans, that action outcomes could be represented (and detected) in the prefrontal and parietal cortices several seconds before an individual was consciously aware of them.23 Soon and colleagues thus inferred that action was driven by unconscious processes that could be predicted. Following up on these results, Bode and colleagues’ fMRI findings show that the closer the time to the actual decision, the more stable and reliable such predictions of action were.24 Based on their findings they judged that the frontopolar cortex played a preeminent role in such unconscious preparation for action. Furthermore, observations of locations in the cortex for making such predictions have become far more accurate. According to Fried, Mukamel and Kreiman, only 256 neurons in the supplementary 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24

Wegner and Wheatley 1999. Haggard 2005; Haggard and Clark 2003; Haggard et al. 2002. Haggard et al. 2002. Aarts and van den Bos 2011. Dogge et al. 2012. Libet 1985. Soon et al. 2008. Bode et al. 2011.

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­ otor area would be needed for them to predict a decision to act “with greater m accuracy than 80% already 700 ms prior to subjects’ awareness.”25 A person’s decision to act has now migrated from their control—deeper below conscious awareness, deeper into the past, and precisely in identifiable neurons. Such findings have led to a research program termed “Unconscious Thought Theory,” in which not only are the majority of actions and thoughts of the mind unconscious, but they operate better this way.26 One such example is what Dijksterhuis and colleagues deem the “deliberation without attention effect,” whereby, though conscious thought could process simple choices well, more complex information and choices were better suited to unconscious ­processes.27 Not only would this imply that conscious volition’s existence is often ­exaggerated; in the majority of cases it might not be needed.

Unconscious Will: Critiques and Alternatives

The emerging paradigm of unconscious neural influences on “conscious” volition has faced its share of criticisms. Broadly speaking, these critiques can be grouped according to questions about methods (do Libet’s and others’ experiments show what they claim?), definitions (what is meant by “unconscious”?), and causes (what model of influence is appropriate?). At each stage, they pose both empirical and philosophical questions that, in the end, may not rule out conscious volition, but they may adjust the existing picture of how (or if) it might be exercised. In tandem with criticisms of the original eeg paradigms, questions have emerged as to what exactly is being measured. At base is the question of whether decisions, as reflected in the data, happen all at once. Miller and Schwarz claim that the kind of action potential observed by Libet-style experiments is not unconscious preparation outside of consciousness, but instead is consciousness gradually becoming visible along a spectrum.28 What is called the “urge” to act is only the endpoint in this process. A decision to act may be smeared across several points in time rather than a discrete point that appears at once in consciousness.29 A buildup of potential by different stages seems to

25 26 27 28 29

Fried, Mukamel, and Krieman 2011. Dijksterhuis and Nordgren 2006. Dijksterhuis et al. 2006. Miller and Schwarz 2014. Klemm 2010.



indeed characterize readiness potentials.30 A movement along the spectrum of increasing consciousness of choice would presumably pass along increasing readings of a readiness potential or other brain activity in related regions. Such decision process gradations may also closely track transitions from abstract “rules of the game” into specific contexts for a concrete outcome.31 Another family of critics takes for granted that individual decision events may be automatic, but they nonetheless insist that conscious volition can take place indirectly. A common feature of these alternatives is the assertion that specific actions take place in a nested hierarchy of agency. Pacherie argues that discrete decisions are the wrong level of analysis to understand conscious action, and instead such agency should be understood as part of an extended set of decisional areas of varying complexity.32 At higher levels of generality, they may guide lower levels. At the highest level exist action schema holistically referring to the whole extended act. One level down is a system that matches goals with motor strategies, in line with context. At the lowest level, alternatives are valued and weighted, setting boundary conditions. Pacherie notes that the boundaries between these abstract and concrete steps should not be reified, but they plausibly explain how conscious thought might influence the overall outcomes of action. This account likewise treats intent and action as linked, as guides that set the agenda for action, not just as representations of unconscious goals. Jordan has put forward a similar proposal, arguing on the basis of the time scale of actions, and he contends that the human brain is undertaking actions on multiple time-scales, pursuing multiple near-term and long-term goals simultaneously.33 At each level, feedback loops inform such goal systems with relevant information. Jordan describes this process as “multiscale event control,” echoing hierarchical event control and similar concepts.34 On this view, the system continuously updates itself using information needed for immediate, near-term, and long-term goals. In a similar relationship, each level is delimited by others depending on the time-scale needed; both limit possibilities. The whole three-part assembly acts as a kind of funnel narrowing down actions. Such a flow could work in both directions, with ­real-time feedback. Causality, in a crude, billiard-ball sense, may be an inappropriate way to analyze the influence of thought on behavior.35 Further, Jordan notes that 30 31 32 33 34 35

Schurger et al. 2012. Klemm 2010. Pacherie 2014. Jordan 2013. Kumar and Sreenivasan 2014. Jordan 2013.

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Baars’s proposal of a global workspace, making information globally available to different levels of processing in the brain, at different time-scales, fits well with his own model. Setting longer-term goals engages more abstract planning, relying less upon automatic processes underlying moment-to-moment actions. As such, it relies heavily upon inculcation of habit and fixed routines.36 These may appear as automatic, but they are dependent upon initial conscious guidance and preparation. Exercising such volition requires conscious analysis of past events, particularly counter-factual thinking.37 In addition, consciousness, according to such arguments, is at root a process of conflict resolution, both internal and without. Linguistically, conscious thought, as internal dialogue, may be responsible for adjudicating conflicts between inputs to the brain.38 Not only is volition thus stretched across time, it also relies upon foresight, judgment, comprehension of meaning, and awareness of complexity. Pacherie speaks of conscious intention as a form of commitment to norms of practical rationality.39 Intentions cut off such reasoning for the purposes of action, but they can also instigate future reasoning to adjust plans. Commitment has social dimensions as well. Authorship of actions, according to Frith, should be augmented or minimized by the concept of responsibility.40 An ethic of responsibility socially mediated by dialogue and learning can shape the sense of agency in socially adaptive directions. The corollary to findings about belief in free will, responsibility enables discursive activity about agency, and it makes use of moral emotions such as guilt, regret, and anticipation of consequences. The phenomenology of volition (what it feels like to agents themselves) may be taught. Hence, perception effects and illusions should be considered social and cultural products as well as psychological ones.

Attention, Consciousness, and Volition: Elements of a Theory

As hierarchical models of conscious volition have become prominent at the same time that automaticity for action is attested, it becomes clearer that perceptual faculties will play a large role in recruitment of strategies for action. Jordan claims that a given perception is impossible to separate from recruited 36 37 38 39 40

Masicampo and Baumeister 2013. Ellis and Davidi 2005. Morsella 2005. Pacherie 2014. Frith 2013.



action patterns and that they work in tandem. Such a perception-action link is reflected in overlapping neuron assemblies for both tasks.41 Accordingly, in his multi-scale event control model, seeing is planning.42 Attention, like many faculties, can have a degree of automaticity, as revealed by spontaneous neural activity prior to attending.43 However, it is plausible that the kind of refinement of concepts of agency and conscious volition made by hierarchical event control theory also apply to exercise of attention. In the present section, a perspective is presented that treats attention as an entry point into discussion of volition and morality. If perception and action are coupled, then perceptual acts of attention take on a volitional, or at least constraining, quality of their own. The scale, content, and scope of attention may enable behaviors, constrain them, and set priorities. Habits of attention can become stable over a child’s development and throughout an adult’s lifetime. Any pedagogical program promoting the possibility and desirability of moral action needs to address the role of attention and its proper education. In terms of conscious volition, an ethical approach is here developed, drawing upon psychology, philosophical traditions, and contemporary neuroscience to describe an “ethics of attention.” Attention is both perception and preparation for action, and each individual is responsible for the direction and quality of attention they pay. This perspective owes something to Simone Weil, who notes that attention has a potentially greater role for ethics than fellowfeeling.44 Pace Weil, attention is an act both of recognition and renunciation: a recognition of the Other and a turning away of attention from oneself.45 Ethical instruction is a set of methods cultivating proper strength, complexity, and self-regulation in attention. Attention has behavioral consequences: all the way down to the individual and all the way up to society. Unconscious goals and priming can drive an individual’s later decisions, and attention can also be guided and biased in a similar way.46 Dijksterhuis and Aarts explain goals and attention as separate from consciousness, and hence often operating outside it.47 Given the complexity of natural and social environments, such attention needs to be capable of both sustained concentration and fluidity. Dijksterhuis and Aarts allow that attention links goals to 41 42 43 44 45 46 47

Jordan 2003. Jordan 2013, 5. Bengson et al. 2014. Weil 2009. Weil 2009, 36. Bargh et al. 2001. Dijksterhuis and Aarts 2010.

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behavior and orients a person to information, but they assert that it does so unconsciously. Such processes find their roots in the prefrontal cortex, posterior parietal cortex, and the anterior cingulate. Attention could inform goal-based behavior even if offline, so Dijksterhuis and Aarts see no reason to suppose conscious thought is responsible. It might be able to broadcast information to relevant brain regions in a global workspace and facilitate a new response, but they imply that such occasions may be the exception.48 Unconscious Thought Theory has its criticisms, and one of these concerns attention.49 Srinivasan and colleagues, in a number of experiments, focused on the role of attention in decisional experiments under distraction (e.g. triggering unconscious thought).50 They conclude that differences in the scope of attention place limits on unconscious thought, and these differences can change its roles in influencing preferences and recalling options. They assert, “ut itself is affected by consciously controlled attentional strategies.” Changing the scope of attention plays a role in decisions and memory, and it is shaped by cognitive load and at what place in the sequence of information processing it occurs. This was particularly marked in the difference between attention processing that is global (distributed) as opposed to local (focused). Attentional scope can likewise interact with affect, since positive affect has been shown to shift attention from local to global processing, encompassing a wider range of visual information and thought.51 Scope of attention likewise has social consequences. When primed under certain conditions, global (as opposed to local) processing appears to be ­associated with greater charitable giving (Mukherjee et al. 2014). In terms of communication, global processing enhances the ability of respondents to better catch sarcasm, implicit meanings, and deciphers ambiguity.52 The wider context given by “global processing” can thus have implications for behaviors with social outcomes. A crucial task is to discern how attention can be used or acted upon in moral ways. To illustrate this point, the following claims are made. Since routines for action are often partly or wholly automatic, the scope and direction of attention will often be enough to recruit such strategies and plans without willful action. The spotlight of attention may do this by virtue of assigning priorities. 48 49 50 51 52

Bongers et al. 2010. For general criticisms, see Newell and Shanks 2014 and responses; Srinivasan and Mukherjee 2014. Srinivasan et al. 2013. Fredrickson and Branigan 2005; Rowe et al. 2007. Woltin et al. 2012.



It can select those stimuli needed for a moral task or widen its scope to gain a larger portrait of the context for action. Ethical competency thus demands a cultivation of attentional skills and an overall attentive disposition. The former is a regular self-pedagogy, and the latter should be conceived of under the rubric of life-long learning.53 Different methods can inform attentional competency. This includes schooling of focused attention and global processing. In the past, methods for attentional training, from a moral and ethical perspective, were often culturespecific, and they often still are. To sketch a picture of what elements a lifelong pedagogy of education would require, one culturally-situated method will be discussed here. Various forms of meditation in the Buddhist tradition have been found to have useful consequences for attention. At present, much of the research on these methods focuses on the mindfulness therapeutic paradigm, but these methods are rooted in much older traditions with established practices of their own, and principles within these can be applied cross-culturally. The changes in personality that regular schooling of attention impacts can be seen at the most basic biological levels. The self is represented under different temporal circumstances; in experienced practitioners of mindfulness, a gradual de-coupling of networked connections occurs between the right insula and the medial prefrontal cortex, indicating a division between self-referential processes of the self over time and the self in the present.54 By dint of attentional training via meditation, virtually the whole cortex undergoes change. In regular meditators, greater levels of thickness form in the frontal parts of the cortex as opposed to non-meditators (especially near the medial prefrontal cortex), while regions in the posterior regions of the cortex are not as thick.55 The variety of meditation traditions available, both for individual practice and for clinical purposes, all seem to share a key psychological and biological component: the refining of attention’s capacity and control.56 Raffone and Srinivasan distinguish between focused attention and open monitoring forms of meditation.57 The first can be seen as a witnessing, involving concentration on a single stimulus or object (e.g., breath) while allowing other content to pass out of awareness. The second widens the attentive set, characterized by a more all-encompassing awareness, often involving metacognitive processes. Open monitoring has no obvious object of concentration as such; instead, 53 54 55 56 57

Fischer 2000. Farb et al. 2007. Kang et al. 2013. van Dillen and Papie 2015. Raffone and Srinivasan 2009.

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it involves a deeper appreciation of the present moment. Both forms echo the “global” versus “local” nature of attentional processing described previously, and there are signs that meditation works on both levels. As stated previously, one of the most prominent working theories of consciousness is global workspace theory, and attentional processes such as those dealt with by mindfulness can be integrated into it. Raffone and colleagues contend that global workspace functioning finds itself limited by contexts in the audience for the stage of consciousness (those referring to the self).58 In light of previous work, such as that by Farb and colleagues, Raffone and his colleagues suggest that such self-referential inputs could be reduced, resulting in more flexible responses.59 If true, the global workspace dynamics described above may offer a ­counterpoint to Unconscious Thought Theory. Strick and colleagues concede that meditative practices may have consequences for affect, thinking, and ­decision-making.60 According to their attention experiments, Zen meditative activity led to “a greater correspondence between attention and the contents of consciousness.”61 Given that their model assumes a separation of attention from consciousness, this is a salient theory. One question to explore is whether such a refinement of attention might access motor decisions and other content that, uti insists, do not need to be handled by conscious awareness. Aside from the implications of attentional refinements for consciousness in general, the effects of attentional refinement have moral consequences. This may seem a paradox, given that morality is often associated with selfless outcomes. However, meditative refinements of attention can lead to what Leary, Adams and Tate term hypo-egoic self-regulation.62 Such a state cultivates attentional processes that ground an individual in the present moment, making cognition about the self more concrete. As Leary and colleagues describe, excessive deliberation and vulnerability to distraction often inhibit action. Hypoegoic states, in practice, shape habits of thought, action, and self-awareness over time. The influence, as with hierarchical theories of agency, may be more in the form of guidance than direct control, and this influence may result in the long-term reshaping of stable personality characteristics and habits. While mindfulness interventions influence the possible foundations of ­ethical behavior, what effect do they have on behavior itself? Some ­preliminary 58 59 60 61 62

Raffone et al. 2014. Farb et al. 2007. Strick et al. 2012. Strick et al. 2012, 1480. Leary, Adams, and Tate 2006.



answers are available. Ruedy and Schweitzer report higher levels of mindfulness correlated with a heightened importance of moral self-identity and a greater reliance on more formalistic (i.e., rule-driven as opposed to consequentialist) processes for making ethical decisions.63 In behavioral tasks, such individuals were also less likely to cheat than others. Additional tests have shown the effects of mindfulness on five moral reasoning dilemmas.64 One such moral dilemma resembles the classic Heinz Dilemma. Performance on such tests is indicative of the level of moral reasoning. After two months of training and then practicing mindfulness meditation, the mean score on moral reasoning markedly improved.65

Attention and a Moral Life

As the neural mechanisms for refining attention have increasingly become known, the lifespan dimensions of when control of attention arises take on renewed importance. To some degree, as Simone Weil notes, all successful educational programs have a mindful or even sacramental character to them, since they engage the formation of habits, skills, and aptitudes that shape a young person’s character into pro-social or anti-social directions.66 Even the most mundane task makes use of the potential to focus directly on the object at hand, when awareness or concern with the self is sidelined as an input. What remains to be seen is how this use of attention can take place developmentally and educationally. Executive attentional control, as part of a larger ensemble of effortful control, is present as one component of temperament during childhood, and it manifests itself quite early, perhaps even as young as 36–48 months of age.67 Throughout childhood, such attentional development may also play a role in the formation of a moral conscience. Beyond the obvious role of inhibition of response in moral development, the kind of effortful control associated with executive attention can interact with standard motivations for good behavior.68 The neural architecture underlying this seems to center around 63 64 65 66 67 68

Ruedy and Schweitzer 2010. Rest et al. 1999. Shapiro et al. 2012. Weil 2009. Rothbart and Rueda 2005; Jones et al. 2003. Rothbart and Rueda 2005.

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the anterior cingulate cortex and lateral prefrontal cortex.69 Given how early attentional control can take place and given the connections underlying it, Rothbart and Rueda developed an executive attention-training curriculum for young children.70 Among other exercises, the lesson plan includes games for tracking objects, resolving visual conflict, and visual discrimination. Initial tests showed reduction in students’ reaction times for conflict resolution and overall improvements for composite iq scores. There are signs that these effects may persist over time, as well. A one year, longitudinal study revealed similar associations as well as results for pro-social attitudes among 10th-grade students, with higher ratings for acting with awareness (i.e., mindful behavior), emotional self-awareness, and on the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (act)-derived experiential acceptance.71 These findings indicate that the trainability of attention emerges early and develops rapidly, demonstrating immediate and long-lasting opportunities for moral training. Discrete events of training as described above become increasingly woven into what Narvaez terms “neurobiological narratives.”72 Given recent findings on the brain’s ability to shape itself over a lifespan, such narratives are always being written, revised, and lived out. Among the most important narratives thus inscribed is one of moral character. According to Narvaez, this includes different components of a Triune Ethics Theory, comprised of an ethic of security, an ethic of engagement, and an ethic of imagination. The attentional resources described here, when developed and trained, serve the engagement ethic, as well as a portion of what is described as communal imagination. Wellfunctioning executive attention, if optimally present, accomplishes several things at once: the paradox of increased self-control in a hypo-egoic fashion, a detachment from unnecessary distractions in the self, and the clarity to see oneself as embedded in a larger situation, both environmental and social. As such, executive attention is ideally positioned to meet the demands of the ethics of engagement and communal imagination. The scope of how far communal imagination can extend depends upon the scale, scope, and duration of said attention, and, in theory, this circle of regard could extend far beyond one’s own community, country, or even species.73 69 70 71 72 73

Posner and Fan 2008. Rothbart and Rueda 2005. Ciarrochi et al. 2011. Narvaez 2011. Monroe 1996, 2004; McFarland et al. 2012.



Conclusion The present chapter has sought to explore to what extent conscious volition in human choice can be said to exist. While neurobiological and psychological evidence does illustrate the power of unconscious predecessors and causes of individual actions, by themselves such experiments are not the end of the story. The experiments themselves are subject to multiple interpretations, including those that have a more nuanced view of causality in volition than is typically assumed. One consequence of a more complex notion of volition is an appreciation of the role of perception, particularly attention. Given that many specific repertoires of action are deployed automatically, the role of attention as an orienting device assigning priority will be enough to center a field of action on an object or situation. At the same time, if attention is sufficiently refined, it may be possible for automatic patterns of behavior to be deactivated if they are uncovered via conscious access. Deployment of attention can be trained through appropriate, culturally-embedded practices. Attention, as revealed here, is also a learned skill, shaped over a lifetime, and it hence should be measured less as individual acts of will or directions of action than as one larger component of an aggregate moral character. The beginnings of this attentionally-attuned character can be found in childhood, and it can have consequences at even the political level. In the end, the best test of volition and its moral underpinnings may be in the neurobiological narratives that Narvaez describes. The life well attended may be the life well-lived, and it may be possible to measure it. Vaillant and ­McAdams both point to the possibility of assessing the fruits of such a life.74 In the work of McAdams, which moves beyond individual traits and nearterm goals, a longer-view life-story narrative is constantly being written and re-­written. Perhaps threaded throughout such a life account, intertwined with agency, is a steady lucidity, a constantly attested clarity that is the mark of refined attention. This theme of the attentive life might thus find its link with the perceived ability to choose and to make choices that matter—a life of freedom. References Aarts, Henk, and Kees van den Bos. 2011. “On The Foundations of Beliefs in Free Will: Intentional Binding and Unconscious Priming in Self-Agency.” Psychological Science 22 (4): 532–537.


Valliant 2002; McAdams 2006.

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Alquist, Jessica L., Sarah E. Ainsworth, and Roy F. Baumeister. 2013. “Determined to Conform: Disbelief in Free Will Increases Conformity.” Journal of Experimental S­ ocial Psychology 49 (1): 80–86. Baars, Bernard. 1988. A Cognitive Theory of Consciousness, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Baars, Bernard J. 1997. In The Theater of Consciousness: The Workspace Of The Mind. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Baars, Bernard. 2003. “How Brain Reveals Mind Neural Studies Support the Fundamental Role of Conscious Experience.” Journal of Consciousness Studies 10 (9–10): 100–114. Baars, Bernard J. 2005. “Global Workspace Theory of Consciousness: Toward a Cognitive Neuroscience of Human Experience.” Progress in Brain Research 150: 45–53. Baars, Bernard J., Stan Franklin, and Thomas Z. Ramsoy. 2013. “Global Workspace ­Dynamics: Cortical “Binding and Propagation” Enables Conscious Contents.” Frontiers in Psychology 4: 200. Bargh, John A., Peter M. Gollwitzer, Annette Lee-Chai, Kimberly Barndollar, and ­Roman Trötschel. 2001. “The Automated Will: Nonconscious Activation and Pursuit of Behavioral Goals.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 81 (6): 1014. Bengson, Jesse J., Todd A. Kelley, Xiaoke Zhang, Jane-Ling Wang, and George R. Mangun. 2014. “Spontaneous Neural Fluctuations Predict Decisions to Attend.” Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 26 (11): 2578–2584. Bode, Stefan, Anna Hanxi He, Chun Siong Soon, Robert Trampel, Robert Turner, and John-Dylan Haynes. 2011. “Tracking the Unconscious Generation of Free Decisions Using Ultra-High Field fMRI.” PloS One 6 (6): e21612. Bongers, Karin C.A., Ap Dijksterhuis, and Russell Spears. 2010. “On the Role of Consciousness in Goal Pursuit.” Social Cognition 28 (2): 262–272. Brass, Marcel, Margaret T. Lynn, Jelle Demanet, and Davide Rigoni. 2013. “Imaging ­Volition: What the Brain Can Tell Us About The Will.” Experimental Brain Research 229 (3): 301–312. Carey, Jasmine M., and Delroy L. Paulhus. 2013. “Worldview Implications of Believing in Free Will and/or Determinism: Politics, Morality, and Punitiveness.” Journal of Personality 81 (2): 130–141. Cashmore, Anthony R. 2010. “The Lucretian Swerve: The Biological Basis of Human Behavior and the Criminal Justice System.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (10): 4499–4504. Ciarrochi, Joseph, Todd B. Kashdan, Peter Leeson, Patrick Heaven, and Carlie Jordan. 2011. “On Being Aware and Accepting: A One-Year Longitudinal Study Into Adolescent Well-Being.” Journal of Adolescence 34 (4): 695–703. Dennett, Daniel C. 1993. Consciousness Explained. United Kingdom: Penguin UK. Dijksterhuis, Ap, and Henk Aarts. 2010. “Goals, Attention, and (Un)Consciousness.” ­Annual Review of Psychology 61: 467–490.



Dijksterhuis, Ap, Maarten W. Bos, Loran F. Nordgren, and Rick B. Van Baaren. 2006. “On Making The Right Choice: The Deliberation-Without-Attention Effect.” Science 311 (5763): 1005–1007. Dijksterhuis, Ap, and Loran F. Nordgren. 2006. “A Theory of Unconscious Thought.” Perspectives on Psychological Science 1 (2): 95–109. Dogge, Myrthel, Marloes Schaap, Ruud Custers, Daniel M. Wegner, and Henk Aarts. 2012. “When Moving Without Volition: Implied Self-Causation Enhances Binding Strength Between Involuntary Actions and Affects.” Consciousness and Cognition 21 (1): 501–506. Edelman, Gerald M. 2003. “Naturalizing Consciousness: A Theoretical Framework.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 100 (9): 5520–5524. Edelman, Gerald M., and Giulio Tononi. 2000. “Reentry And The Dynamic Core: ­Neural Correlates of Conscious Experience.” In Neural Correlates of Consciousness, Empirical And Conceptual Questions, Edited by Thomas Metzinger, 139–151. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Edelman, Gerald M., Joseph A. Gally, and Bernard J. Baars. 2011. “Biology of Consciousness.” Frontiers in Psychology 2:4. Ellis, Shmuel, and Inbar Davidi. 2005. “After-Event Reviews: Drawing Lessons From Successful and Failed Experience.” Journal of Applied Psychology 90 (5): 857. Farb, Norman AS, Zindel V. Segal, Helen Mayberg, Jim Bean, Deborah McKeon, Z ­ ainab Fatima, and Adam K. Anderson. 2007. “Attending To The Present: Mindfulness ­Meditation Reveals Distinct Neural Modes of Self-Reference.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 2 (4): 313–322. Fischer, Gerhard. 2000. “Lifelong Learning—More Than Training.” Journal of Interactive Learning Research 11 (3): 265–294. Fredrickson, Barbara L., and Christine Branigan. 2005. “Positive Emotions Broaden the Scope of Attention and Thought Action Repertoires.” Cognition & Emotion 19 (3): 313–332. Fried, Itzhak, Roy Mukamel, and Gabriel Kreiman. 2011. “Internally Generated ­Preactivation of Single Neurons in Human Medial Frontal Cortex Predicts Volition.” Neuron 69 (3): 548–562. Frith, Chris. 2013. “The Psychology of Volition.” Experimental Brain Research 229 (3): 289–299. Gazzaniga, Michael. 2012. Who’s in Charge?: Free Will and the Science of the Brain. ­London: Constable & Robinson. Haggard, Patrick. 2005. “Conscious Intention and Motor Cognition.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 9 (6): 290–295. Haggard, Patrick, Gisa Aschersleben, Jorg Gehrke, and Wolfgang Prinz. 2002. “Action, binding, and awareness.” In Common Mechanisms in Perception and Action: Attention & Performance XIX, edited by Wolfgang Prinz and Bernhard Hommel, 266–285. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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Haggard, Patrick, and Sam Clark. 2003. “Intentional Action: Conscious Experience and Neural Prediction.” Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4): 695–707. Jones, Laura Backen, Mary K. Rothbart, and Michael I. Posner. 2003. “Development of Executive Attention in Preschool Children.” Developmental Science 6 (5): 498–504. Jordan, J. Scott. 2003. “Emergence of Self and Other in Perception and Action: An Event-Control Approach.” Consciousness and Cognition 12 (4): 633–646. Jordan, J. Scott. 2013. “The Wild Ways of Conscious Will: What We Do, How We Do It, and Why It Has Meaning.” Frontiers in Psychology 4:574. Kang, Do-Hyung, Hang Joon Jo, Wi Hoon Jung, Sun Hyung Kim, Ye-Ha Jung, Chi-Hoon Choi, Ul Soon Lee, Seung Chan An, Joon Hwan Jang, and Jun Soo Kwon. 2013. “The Effect of Meditation on Brain Structure: Cortical Thickness Mapping and Diffusion Tensor Imaging.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience 8 (1): 27–33. Klemm, W.R. 2010. “Free Will Debates: Simple Experiments Are Not So Simple.” ­Advances in Cognitive Psychology 6: 47. Kumar, Devpriya, and Narayanan Srinivasan. 2014. “Naturalizing Sense of Agency With a Hierarchical Event-Control Approach.” PloS One 9 (3): e92431. Leary, Mark R., Claire E. Adams, and Eleanor B. Tate. 2006. “Hypo Egoic Self Regulation: Exercising Self Control by Diminishing the Influence of the Self.” Journal of Personality 74 (6): 1803–1832. Libet, Benjamin. 1985. “Theory and Evidence Relating Cerebral Processes to Conscious Will.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 8 (4): 558–566. Masicampo, E.J., and Roy F. Baumeister. 2013. “Conscious Thought Does Not Guide Moment-To-Moment Actions—It Serves Social and Cultural Functions.” Frontiers in Psychology 4: 1–5. McAdams, Dan P. 2006. “The Redemptive Self: Generativity and the Stories Americans Live By.” Research in Human Development 3 (2–3): 81–100. McFarland, Sam, Matthew Webb, and Derek Brown. 2012. “All Humanity Is My Ingroup: A Measure and Studies of Identification With All Humanity.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 103 (5): 830. Metzinger, Thomas. 2004. Being No One: The Self-Model Theory of Subjectivity. ­Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Miller, Jeff, and Wolf Schwarz. 2014. “Brain Signals Do Not Demonstrate Unconscious Decision Making: An Interpretation Based on Graded Conscious Awareness.” ­Consciousness and Cognition 24: 12–21. Monroe, Kristen R. 1996. The Heart of Altruism: Perceptions of a Common Humanity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Monroe, Kristen. 2004. The Hand of Compassion. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Morsella, Ezequiel. 2005. “The Function of Phenomenal States: Supramodular Interaction Theory.” Psychological Review 112 (4): 1000.



Mukherjee, Sumitava, Narayanan Srinivasan, and Jaison A. Manjaly. 2014. “Global ­Processing Fosters Donations Toward Charity Appeals Framed in an Approach ­Orientation.” Cognitive Processing 15(3): 391–396. Narvaez, Darcia. 2011. “The Ethics of Neurobiological Narratives.” Poetics Today 32 (1): 81–106. Newell, Ben R., and David R. Shanks. 2014. “Unconscious Influences on Decision ­Making: A Critical Review.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences 37 (1): 1–19. Pacherie, Elisabeth. 2014. “Can Conscious Agency Be Saved?” Topoi 33 (1): 33–45. Posner, Michael I., and Jin Fan. 2008. “Attention As An Organ System.” In: Topics in I­ ntegrative Neuroscience, edited by James R. Pomerantz, 31–61. New York: ­Cambridge University Press. Pronin, Emily, and Matthew B. Kugler. 2010. “People believe they have more free will than others.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107 (52): 22469–22474. Raffone, Antonino, and Narayanan Srinivasan. 2009. “An Adaptive Workspace Hypothesis About the Neural Correlates Of Consciousness: Insights From Neuroscience And Meditation Studies.” Progress In Brain Research 176: 161–180. Raffone, Antonio, Narayanan Srinivasan, and Hank Barendregt. 2014. “Attention, ­Consciousness and Mindfulness in Meditation.” In Psychology of Meditation, edited by Nirbhay N. Singh, 147–166. New York: Nova Science. Rest, James R., Darcia Narvaez, Stephen J. Thoma, and Muriel J. Bebeau. 1999. “DIT2: Devising and Testing A Revised Instrument of Moral Judgment.” Journal of Educational Psychology 91(4): 644. Rigoni, Davide, Simone Kühn, Giuseppe Sartori, and Marcel Brass. 2011. “Inducing ­Disbelief in Free Will Alters Brain Correlates of Preconscious Motor Preparation The Brain Minds Whether We Believe in Free Will or Not.” Psychological Science 22 (5): 613–618. Rigoni, Davide, Hélène Wilquin, Marcel Brass, and Boris Burle. 2013. “When Errors Do Not Matter: Weakening Belief in Intentional Control Impairs Cognitive Reaction to Errors.” Cognition 127 (2): 264–269. Rothbart, Mary K., and M. Rosario Rueda. 2005. “The Development of Effortful ­Control.” In Developing Individuality In The Human Brain: A Tribute To Michael I. Posner, 167–188. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Rowe, Gillian, Jacob B. Hirsh, and Adam K. Anderson. 2007. “Positive Affect Increases The Breadth of Attentional Selection.” Proceedings of the National Academy of S­ ciences 104 (1): 383–388. Ruedy, Nicole E., and Maurice E. Schweitzer. 2010. “In The Moment: The Effect of Mindfulness On Ethical Decision Making.” Journal of Business Ethics 95 (1): 73–87. Schurger, Aaron, Jacobo D. Sitt, and Stanislas Dehaene. 2012. “An Accumulator Model for Spontaneous Neural Activity Prior to Self-Initiated Movement.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 109 (42): E2904–E2913.

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Shapiro, Shauna L., Hooria Jazaieri, and Philippe R. Goldin. 2012. “Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Effects on Moral Reasoning and Decision Making.” The Journal of Positive Psychology 7 (6): 504–515. Soon, Chung Siong, Marcel Brass, Hans-Jochen Heinze, and John-Dylan Haynes. 2008. “Unconscious Determinants of Free Decisions in the Human Brain.” Nature Neuroscience 11 (5): 543–545. Srinivasan, Narayanan, and Sumitava Mukherjee. 2014. “Even ‘Unconscious Thought’ Is Influenced By Attentional Mechanisms.” Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 37: 40–41. Srinivasan, Narayanan, Sumitava Mukherjee, Maruti V. Mishra, and Smriti Kesarwani. 2013. “Evaluating The Role of Attention in the Context of Unconscious Thought Theory: Differential Impact of Attentional Scope and Load on Preference and Memory.” Frontiers in Psychology 4: 37. Strick, Madelijn, Tirza HJ van Noorden, Rients R. Ritskes, Jan R. de Ruiter, and Ap ­Dijksterhuis. 2012. “Zen Meditation and Access to Information in the Unconscious.” Consciousness and Cognition 21 (3): 1476–1481. Stillman, Tyler F., Roy F. Baumeister, Kathleen D. Vohs, Nathaniel M. Lambert, Frank D. Fincham, and Lauren E. Brewer. 2010. “Personal Philosophy and Personnel Achievement: Belief in Free Will Predicts Better Job Performance.” Social Psychological and Personality Science 1 (1): 43–50. Vaillant, George. 2002. Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life From The Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development. Boston: Little, Brown and Company. van Dillen, Lotte F., and Esther K. Papies. 2015. “From Distraction to Mindfulness: ­Psychological and Neural Mechanisms of Attention Strategies in Self-Regulation.” In Handbook of Biobehavioral Approaches to Self-Regulation, edited by Guido H.E. Gendolla and Mattie Tops, 141–154. New York: Springer. Wegner, Daniel M. 2002. The Illusion of Conscious Will. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Wegner, Daniel M., and Thalia Wheatley. 1999. “Apparent Mental Causation: Sources of the Experience of Will.” American Psychologist 54 (7): 480. Weil, Simone. 2009. Waiting on God (Routledge Revivals). New York: Routledge. Woltin, Karl-Andrew, Olivier Corneille, and Vincent Y. Yzerbyt. 2012. “Improving ­Communicative Understanding: The Benefits of Global Processing.” Journal of ­Experimental Social Psychology 48 (5): 1179–1182. Zhao, Xian, Li Liu, Xiao-xiao Zhang, Jia-xin Shi, and Zhen-wei Huang. 2014. “The Effect of Belief in Free Will on Prejudice.” PloS One 9 (3): e91572.

chapter 10

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character Kevin Timpe

Free Choice, the Good, and Teleology

My goal in this paper is to explore the ways in which a person’s habits may shape what she is capable of freely choosing to do by (i) exploring how an agent’s exercise of free choice is constrained by her reasons and (ii) giving an account of how habits can shape what an agent sees as reasons. At the heart of my view is what I shall call “the reasons-constraint on free choice”: roughly, the claim that if an agent sees no reason at a particular time for doing a particular action, then the agent is unable to freely choose to perform that action at that time. I 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. By forming habits, the agent thus can close off (or open up) possibilities for acting in various ways. I begin with the connection between an agent’s exercise of free will and the good—or, to be more accurate, what the agent perceives as good. The degree of overlap between what the agent perceives as good and what is actually good will depend, to a large degree, on the moral character of the agent in question. The view that we only freely or intentionally do what we perceive as good in some way is sometimes referred to as “the Guise of the Good Thesis.”1 The vast majority of the medievals embraced the Guise of the Good Thesis and rejected the normative neutrality that characterizes much of contemporary philosophical writing on the issue. Despite this connection’s pedigree, the majority of contemporary philosophical work on free will avoids any explicit connection between free choice,

1 So far as I am aware, this specific name comes from Velleman (1992), but a medieval predecessor can be found in the common dictum: quidquid appetitur, appetitur sub specie boni. For a collection of worthwhile papers addressing the Guise of the Good Thesis, see Tenenbaum 2010.

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the good, or even the perceived good, and thus don’t directly draw upon the Guise of the Good Thesis. Instead, most philosophers working on free will ­prefer to use the language of reasons.2 Shortly, I shall suggest that this ­language is not as far removed from the Guise of the Good Thesis as is sometimes ­suggested by the terminological shift. But I begin with a discussion of the teleological nature of free will. Since at least Aristotle, it has been noted that action is teleological in nature and that the proper explanation for a morally responsible action will be a teleological explanation.3 The question, Why did A freely X? is a request for a reason, but as Richard Taylor noted it “is almost never a request for a recital of causes. It is rather a request for a statement of purpose or aim.”4 G.F. Shueler unpacks the intentionality of actions as follows: It seems clear enough that intentional actions are inherently purposive; indeed, intentional human actions are paradigm examples of purposive behavior. There is always some point, aim, or goal to any intentional action. It is equally clear that our everyday explanations of actions in terms of the agent’s reasons (“reasons explanations” for short) must always refer to that fact, that is to the purpose of the action, if only implicitly, on pain of not explaining the action at all. If I tell you that my reason for sprinting toward the bus stop is that the last bus leaves in five minutes, you will take this as an explanation of my action only if you assume that my purpose is to catch the last bus (or anyway that there is something involving my being there at the same time the bus is—spray painting it with graffiti perhaps). Without some such addition, my reference to the time of the last bus simply won’t “connect” in the right sort of way to what I am doing, i.e. sprinting toward the bus stop, and my action won’t have been explained.5

2 For just two of many examples, see Fischer (2006) and Smith (2004, Chapter five). Boyle and Lavin (2010) suggest that the contemporary departure from “the Guise of the Good” is largely a result of rejection of teleological explanations of action; see Boyle and Lavin 2010, 162ff. 3 It is not my intention, in this chapter, to give arguments for the teleological nature of intentional action or the existence of free will in general. My reasons for preferring a teleological account over a causal account are largely shaped by Goetz (2009), Sehon (2005), and Schueler (2003), though the account of teleological explanation at work in this chapter differs in a number of ways from each of these views. For why I think there is free will, see Timpe 2013. 4 Taylor 1973, 141; See also Goetz 2009, 16. 5 Schueler 2003, 1.



Freely performed actions are thus done with the aim of a goal, and the achieving of that goal serves as a purpose or reason for why the agent did that action.6 What is key to understanding an agent’s choice is the fit between the agent’s reasons-giving structure and the goal that she is trying to accomplish in making that choice. If Audra freely chooses to go to the kitchen to have a cup of coffee, her choice and subsequent behavior were directed at the goal of drinking coffee. The action is performed by the agent for a reason, and the action cannot be fully explained without mention of both (a) the agent and (b) the goal to which she directed the choice and which served as the reason for her choosing to perform that particular action. As R. Jay Wallace points out: It is important to our conception of persons as rational agents … that [their] motivations and actions … are guided by and responsive to their deliberative reflection about what they have reason to do. Unless this guidance condition (as we might call it) can be satisfied, we will not be able to make sense of the idea that persons are genuine agents, capable of determining what they shall do through the process of deliberation.7 Marie Alvarez makes a related connection, describing how rational agency means we have the capacity to act for reasons: “we have the capacity to recognize certain things as reasons to act, and to act motivated and guided by those reasons. Because of this, moreover, many human actions can be explained by reference to the agent’s reasons for acting.”8 So, when choosing which of various alternatives for action to do, agents have in mind an end (or ends) that they want to achieve, and the purpose of the action, or the reason for which the action is done, is the achievement of that end. If, as I suggested above, an agent’s reasons are a function of what she perceives to be good, then this purpose or reason for which a choice is done will be connected with the agent’s judgment that the end to be achieved by choice is good. By “good” here, I do not mean specifically moral goodness; I mean good in the generic sense of the term, recognizing and accepting that goodness comes in many forms: intrinsic, instrumental, moral, pleasurable, etc. Using the language of Judith Jarvis Thomson—who said that “when people say about a thing 6 In what follows, I’ll primarily use the language of choice since my general concern is with free will, and I take choices to be the primary locus of such freedom. Actions too can be free, if freely chosen. 7 Wallace 2006, 44. 8 Alvarez 2010, 7.

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‘That’s good,’ what they mean is always that the thing is good in some way”9—I am endorsing pluralism about the ways a thing can be good. An agent would not intentionally choose some option if she did not believe that option to be good in at least some way or other. Richard Swinburne says that attributing a reason for doing a particular action while denying the agent sees any good in it is contradictory.10 At the very least, such a choice for something that is not perceived to be good in any way is the antinomy of rational agency. Swinburne immediately adds, and he is no doubt correct, that other things are not always equal, and that one can have competing reasons to both perform and not perform the same action, or have reasons to perform two mutually exclusive actions at the same time. In such cases, not all of one’s reasons for acting can in fact lead to action, even though they all provide at least some motivation for acting. Furthermore, even if one does not have competing motivation, one may still “yield to non-rational forces,”11 such as the passions and desires. But this possibility reinforces, rather than undermines, the connection between agency and the perceived good, for “a man will only resist desire if he believes it good to do so.”12 In choosing, then, the agent chooses to act for the sake of some end that she perceives to be good in some way, and, in so choosing, aligns herself with the promotion of that good end. Here the Guise of the Good Thesis connects with talk of reasons, for the belief that the end promoted by the choice is good, again in some way or other, gives the agent a reason for making that choice.13 To have a purpose or reason to perform an action is to have a motivation to work toward actualizing a particular state of affairs. To put the point a slightly different way, in being motivated to act in a certain way, the agent’s motivation involves two elements: the state of affairs that she is working toward bringing about (which I will refer to as the motivation’s content), and the judgment that the content is good.14 Choosing, in order to be explicable, necessarily involves this second element as well as the first, for the content apart from the judgment that the content is good does nothing to explain the agent’s reason for 9 10 11 12 13


Thomson 2001, 17. Swinburne 1994, 66f. Ibid., 67. Ibid., 68. See also Swinburne (1997, 260). In fact, Kieran Setiya argues that the Guise of the Good Thesis is fundamentally about reasons and only derivatively about desires (Setiya 2010, 85f). Although I am inclined to accept Setiya’s argument as persuasive, all that I need for the present chapter is the weaker claim that reasons and perceived goodness go together. For a similar account, see Korsgaard 2008, 215f.



choosing in this way. As Scott Sehon has claimed in his teleological account of action, “explanations of action imply that the state of affairs toward which the agent directed her behavior had some apparent value [or, in my preferred terminology, goodness] from the perspective of the agent.”15

Reasons and Choice

The previous section made repeated reference to the agent’s reasons. In general, a reason is a consideration that counts in favor of some course of action. It thus provides some degree of motivation for that action, though the motivation is certainly defeasible by other reasons. There are a number of different kinds of reasons, and it is important for purposes of this chapter to make a number of clarifications about my use of the term. I will be almost exclusively concerned with moral reasons, though there are certainly other kinds of reasons as well (e.g., prudential reasons, legal reasons, etc.). Also, agents need not actually be motivated, in the sense of acting on that reason, even if a reason provides a motivation for doing a particular action. So we should distinguish between motivational reasons and normative reasons.16 Motivational reasons are the reasons that an agent has for doing a particular action and are capable of explaining her choice if she were to perform that action. As Maria Alvarez correctly notes, “what [motivating] reasons a person has for acting and wanting things depends partly on who that person is and on her circumstances and values, because, in general, things are not good or right tout court but in some respect; and that respect may be more or less relevant to different people depending precisely on what their circumstances and values are.”17 In contrast, normative reasons are those reasons which would morally justify a particular choice by the agent at a particular time, regardless of whether the agent actually considers them or not.18 Insofar as an action is morally good for the agent in question to do, there is a normative reason for her performing that action. Likewise, insofar as an action would be morally bad for an agent to perform, there is a normative reason for her not performing it. But if the agent is u ­ naware 15 16 17 18

Sehon 2005, 149. See also Alvarez 2010, 8. For more on this distinction, see O’Connor 2005, 1ff; Smith (2004, 59ff). Motivational reasons are sometimes also referred to as explanatory reasons; see Alvarez 2010 33ff. Ibid., 22. There may be other sorts of normative reasons, which are not explicitly moral in nature, such as pragmatic reasons. However, insofar as my general interest is with free will and its connection with moral responsibility, those need not concern me here.

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character


of the moral goodness or badness of an action, or simply does not care about the morality of the action, then her motivational reasons will not track the normative reasons that there are. Which kind of reason we point to will depend on whether we are merely explaining or morally evaluating the agent’s action. The claim that free choices are made for reasons should be taken to involve reasons in the motivational sense of the term, though I shall say a little more about normative reasons below. I shall also begin by talking explicitly about intentional actions,19 as opposed to habitual actions. However, I shall return to habitual actions below in the discussion of moral character. Returning then to the connection between reasons and free will, we can now understand a bit more clearly just what is involved in the claim made earlier that an agent never freely chooses to do an action A when she has no reason for A-ing. Peter van Inwagen has argued, convincingly in my view, that the following conditional C is true about human agents: C: If X regards A as an indefensible act, given the totality of relevant information available to him, and if he has no way of getting further relevant information, and if he lacks any positive desire to do A, and if he sees no objection to not doing A (again, given the totality of relevant information available to him), then X is not going to do A.20 First, it is worth noting that van Inwagen intends C to be not only a statement regarding what X will (or will not) do, but about what X is capable (or incapable) of doing: “The general lesson is: if I regard a certain act as indefensible, then it follows not only that I shall not perform that act but that I can’t perform it.”21 Second, the various conjuncts in the antecedent of this conditional involve what I earlier referred to as intellectual and affective reasons. The first and third conjuncts involve X having intellectual reasons for not doing A (namely, that he regards it to be an indefensible act) and no reason for doing A; 19



Intentional action and morally responsible action are obviously two different classes. One can do an intentional action that is neither morally good nor morally evil, and via habituation one can perform a responsible action unintentionally. However, in this case, the history of how the agent became that kind of agent will involve intentional actions, as I discuss below; thus, I claim, all morally responsible actions are either intentional actions or the result of a moral character that was formed through intentional action. van Inwagen 1989, 407. In fact, van Inwagen thinks that this conditional is a necessary truth. Again, I’m inclined to agree, though the stronger point is not needed in the present context. van Inwagen 1989, 409.



the second conjunct involves X having no affective reason for doing A. While van Inwagen’s formulation of the conditional here doesn’t explicitly mention free will, the context of his discussion makes it clear that in saying that X is not going to do A, he has in mind those cases where X’s doing A is a free act.22 Putting these elements together, the truth of van Inwagen’s conditional C seems to entail the following claim, which I shall call the reasons-constraint on free choice. Reasons-constraint on free choice: If, at time t, A has neither any motivational intellectual reasons for X-ing nor any motivational affective ­reasons for X-ing, then A is incapable, at t, of freely choosing to X.23 The incapability here should be understood in a strong sense: necessarily, ­given her lack of reasons for X-ing, A will not freely choose to X. Van Inwagen argues from the considerations related to his conditional C, and thus also related to the reasons-constraint on free choice, to what is now known as Restrictivism.24 Restrictivism is the claim that we have “precious little free will”25 insofar as there are “few occasions in life on which—at least after a little reflection and perhaps some investigation into the facts—it isn’t absolutely clear what to do.”26 Although I’m inclined to think that we have free will more frequently than does van Inwagen (and here it will be helpful to


It should be noted that van Inwagen is here, as elsewhere, using the term “free will” in a very particular way. For him, free will just is the ability to do otherwise. As he puts it in one recent paper: “The free-will thesis is the thesis that we are sometimes in the following position with respect to a contemplated future act: we simultaneously have both the following abilities: the ability to perform that act and the ability to refrain from performing that act (This entails that we have been in the following position: for something we did do, we were at some point prior to our doing it able to refrain from doing it, able not to do it)…. Whatever you do, do not define ‘free will’ this way: ‘Free will is whatever sort of freedom [or control] is required for moral responsibility’ (2008, 329). For reasons why I do not follow van Inwagen’s advice on this point and instead take free will to be the control condition on moral responsibility, see Timpe 2011. Despite this terminological difference, what van Inwagen has to say about free will is, I think, worth addressing in the present context. 23 A somewhat similar principle, put to a similar use, can be found in Goetz 2009, 22. 24 So far as I am aware, the term “Restrictivism” was first coined by Vander Laan 2001. See also Pettit 2002. 25 van Inwagen 1989, 414. 26 Ibid., 415.

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remember van Inwagen’s specific definition of free will), not much hangs on this for present purposes, for van Inwagen goes on to argue that “it does not, however, follow that moral accountability [or responsibility] is a less common phenomenon than one might have thought.”27 He continues: The inability to prevent or to refrain from causing a state of affairs does not logically preclude being to blame for that state of affairs…. An agent cannot be blamed for a state of affairs unless there was a time at which he could so have arranged matters that that state of affairs not obtain…. It is an old, and very plausible, philosophical idea that, by our acts, we make ourselves into the sorts of people we eventually become. Or, at least, it is plausible to suppose that our acts are among the factors that determine what we eventually become. If one is now unable to behave in certain ways … this may be because of a long history of choices one has made.28 Here we directly encounter issues of moral character and habituation. There are important issues that need to be addressed which I am unable to ­address in the present context. Perhaps the most pressing of these is giving an a­ ccount of how a young child who has no choice about her initial character traits, her environment, or upbringing can over time come to make free choices. That is, how do we develop from agents who are not free and responsible into free and responsible agents? It is not my goal here to present such a ­developmental account.29 Instead, in what follows, I will focus on agents who are already moral agents.

Moral Character and Agency

In this section, I want to begin to explore some ways in which our moral character affects our exercise of free will. Character traits are typically understood as “dispositions to have thoughts and feelings of a certain sort, and thus to act in certain ways”30 in particular kinds of circumstances; in this general respect, 27 28 29


Ibid., 418. Ibid., 419f. There is, to my knowledge, no extant account of the development of the faculties and capacities needed for freedom and moral agency. This is a lacuna (if indeed it is one) that should be filled. Goldie 2000, 141. More fully, Goldie takes character traits to “refer, not to a single ­disposition, but to a complex network of dispositions which interlock and dynamically



philosophers and psychologists alike tend to use the term “character trait” along these lines. This similarity often masks differences in how the two groups understand such traits more fully, and these differences are crucial. It is thus advisable to differentiate those traits that are morally relevant from those that are not. The psychologist Lawrence Pervin, for example, defines a character trait as “a disposition to behave expressing itself in consistent patterns of functioning across a range of situations.”31 But even among such traits, some do not appear to be morally relevant. Philosophers, in contrast, typically think that character traits, unlike other personality or psychological traits, have an irreducibly evaluative dimension; that is, they involve a normative judgment. The evaluative dimension is directly related to the idea that the agent is morally responsible for having the trait itself or for the outcome of that trait. Thus, a specifically moral character trait is a character trait for which the agent is morally responsible or for which it is appropriate to hold the agent morally responsible. Exactly how these traits are understood depends upon the larger normative theory to which they are wed. In what follows, I will assume a roughly Aristotelian approach that I think is correct, though I will not defend this assumption in the present context. Despite this assumption, I think that much of what I say could also be accepted by someone who preferred a different normative theory. As a result of assuming a roughly Aristotelian account of moral character, I tend to view moral character traits primarily as a function of whether the agent has or lacks various moral habits or dispositions. A disposition for which the agent is deserving of a positive reactive attitude, such as praise or gratitude, is a virtue, and a vice is a disposition for which the agent is deserving of a negative reactive attitude, such as resentment or blame. Furthermore, though this understanding of such traits has come under considerable pressure from Situationist approaches in recent years, I shall also assume that moral character traits are relatively stable, fixed, and reliable dispositions of action and affect that ought to be rationally informed.32 It is widely accepted that our moral character influences our choices. John Kronen and Eric Reitan write, for example, that “moral character influences, often decisively, what one does or does not do. In other words, one’s moral

31 32

interrelate in ways that enable the agent both to recognize and to respond to a situation as embedded in a complex narrative which includes the agent, and his thoughts, feelings, and action” (Goldie 2000, 157). Pervin 1994, 108. For the challenge posed by Situationism, see Doris 2002; Merritt, Doris, and Harman 2010. For virtue based replies to Situationism, see Miller 2003; Adams 2006, Chapter nine.

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character


character gives rise to motives for actions, the totality of which excludes some actions, permits others, and necessitates still others.”33 I agree with this, though there are, as I see it, at least two different ways in which an agent’s various moral character traits can shape what she freely chooses to do.34 One’s character directs one’s choices both by influencing what one sees as reasons for actions and influencing how one weighs her reasons, in the sense of rankordering the various reasons she has. To put this point in a slightly different way: in making free decisions, one’s character traits affect not only the weights, but also the scales. Both of these aspects can be seen as follows. First, given my present moral character, I can see no good in refraining from depriving myself of caffeine in the morning. Furthermore, when I weigh the good of having an espresso (or five) against the goods that would be served by not drinking espresso (e.g., the few cents it costs me to make an espresso at home), I easily and clearly decide that the pleasures of caffeination win. My character is involved insofar as, if I were more avaricious, I might find monetary gain, even small monetary gain, a good reason to engage in self-denial. Similarly, if I were less addicted to caffeine, I may weigh the good of monetary gain more heavily than I do against the good of the pleasures of caffeination. Since we freely choose to do only things that we think we have some reason to do, our character affects our free choices by affecting both the weight or strength we assign to reasons, and by affecting the scale by which we compare a reason or set of reasons for acting one way against a reason or set of reasons for acting another. There is a third way in which an agent’s moral character can affect her exercise of free will, and that is via weakness of will. An agent acts with weakness of will when she controls her behavior on the basis of her reasons, yet chooses to perform an action that she judges would be better for her, all things considered, not to perform. Nothing in the present account of acting for reasons that are shaped by one’s character rules out the possibility of weakness of will. The more weak-willed a person is, the easier it is for the agent to act contrary to her overall judgment, which we can understand as the sum-total of all her reasons properly weighted. And since such weakness of will is itself a flaw in one’s moral character, cases of weakness of will are yet another example of how an agent’s moral character can impact what she freely chooses to do. The discussion above has focused almost entirely on intellectual reasons. But some philosophers think there are also affective reasons that are not reducible to intellectual reasons. It is thus worth making a few brief remarks here

33 34

Kronen and Reitan 2010, 201. This paragraph is taken, with modification, from Pawl and Timpe 2009, 407.



about the role that character formation can have in shaping one’s affective reasons. Among other roles that they play in the psychological life of an individual, the emotions give us reasons for acting.35 In a paper comparing the ways in which the passions can influence our choices in Aquinas, Descartes, and Reid, Paul Hoffman describes three different ways the passions can provide reasons: Passions or desires could be regarded as providing reasons for action on the grounds that the mere fact that we have a desire or passion provides a reason for satisfying it…. [Second,] we might also be said to act in view of a passion or desire if we think that a desire or passion is undesirable, and thus that we have a reason for acting in a way either to prevent ourselves from pursuing its object or even to rid ourselves of the desire or passion. Still a third way in which passions can be regarded as providing reasons for action is by representing their objects as good or as harmful. The idea here is that we have a reason to pursue something that appears good or to avoid something that appears harmful, and that passions therefore provide reasons for acting in virtue of representing things as good or as harmful.36 Hoffman thinks that there is a connection between the first and third ways in which passions can provide reasons for action. For him, “the reason why the mere fact that we have a desire for something provides a reason to satisfy it is precisely that a desire for something is not distinct from a representation of the thing as good, or at least as pleasant, and that we have a reason to pursue something in virtue of its appearing good or pleasant.”37 This fits nicely with my earlier account of the connection between the perceived good and motivation. For example, my anger towards a driver who cuts me off on the freeway gives me a reason for showing him my displeasure via various bodily gestures insofar as I think there is some good to be achieved by those gestures. Furthermore, if one holds fixed the other factors (such as my beliefs about the offender being able to see my display of displeasure, etc.), then the angrier I become, 35 36


Here I am speaking of motivating reasons; whether these reasons will also be normative will depend upon the moral character of the possessor of those emotions. Hoffman 2008, 45. Hoffman distinguishes between providing a reason and operating as a reason as follows: “[a] passion, even though it represents something as good or pleasant, harmful or unpleasant, and thereby provides a reason for making a choice, might not necessarily operate as a reason in our choice. To operate as a reason, the desire or passion must influence our choice in virtue of its providing a reason” (Ibid., 46). Ibid., 45.

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character


the more good I will see in engaging in an expression of my displeasure. Generalizing from this example, we can see that the emotions a person is feeling can affect what reasons she has for acting in various ways, as well as the strength of those reasons. And if it is true (as I am here assuming) that among the qualities of an individual shaped by her moral character are her emotional habits, then her moral character will influence what she sees as affective reasons for acting in various ways. Something similar is true for how an agent weighs various reasons against each other. Though the emotions need not always hamper our ability to weigh one set of reasons against another, it is clear that the emotions are capable of confounding such judgments. An agent’s moral character is thus capable of affecting her affective reasons in both of the ways that it can affect her intellectual reasons. The passions affect our exercise of our free will because they influence our perception of the goodness—both in terms of the level and the rank ordering—of various alternatives for action. None of this is to say that the passions play no role in a virtuous moral character; in fact, the normative tradition that I’m assuming clearly rejects such a claim. Rather, the point is that they are capable of influencing the choices that we freely make. More specifically, vicious emotions are capable of contributing to the misuse of our free will. That is, even if the emotions do not undermine our having free will, they can inhibit the proper expression of that freedom. I have now argued that an agent’s reasons, both intellectual and affective, affect her free choices by influencing both the weight and strength she assign to reasons and by affecting the scale by which she compares a set of reasons for acting one way against a reason or set of reasons for acting another. Given this fact, as well as the fact that our moral character can change over time, an agent may develop her moral character in such a way that, given how that agent evaluates and compares her reasons, there may be actions that she no longer sees as reasonable in any way at a particular time, given the particular moral habits that she has. Our characters can be such that we are simply no longer capable of freely choosing certain courses of action without our character first changing from what it is given the role that our character has in shaping our reasons for action. Why this is will be related to the reasons-constraint on free choice introduced earlier. Over time, an agent’s performance of certain actions and the lack of performance of others will become more and more natural for her to do (or not to do) given her moral character. As a person’s moral character develops even further, she may come to no longer have either intellectual or affective reasons for doing certain actions. Furthermore, in such a case she will be incapable of freely choosing to perform those actions. In these cases, an agent need no longer consciously consider at the time of action what is good for her to do since her character makes that determination ­automatically.



So an agent may freely do an action even though it is no longer possible in the relevant sense, given her moral character, for her to freely refrain from performing that action.

Moral Character and Habit Explanation

Furthermore, if we understand the agent’s moral character along Aristotelian lines, as I am inclined to do, then such instances will be examples of what Bill Pollard has referred to as habit explanations: cases of “explain[ing] by referring to a pattern of a particular kind of behavior which is regularly performed in characteristic circumstances, and has become automatic for that agent due to this repetition.”38 Now, Pollard’s class of habit explanations is broader than the use I’m putting it to here in reference to moral character, for Pollard thinks that actions like biting one’s nails or missing a turn while driving along a road because one normally goes straight are examples of habit explanations. And Pollard has no truck with what he takes to be the over-intellectualized nature of much philosophy of action. But keep in mind that the reasons-constraint on free choice condition, as well as the larger account of moral character that I’m situating it within, takes account not only of intellectual reasons, but also affective reasons. Pollard also has a stronger account of what it means to be a habit than I’m appealing to in the present discussion. For him, “the test of whether Φ-ing has become a habit is not only that Φ-ing has become part of her history, but also for Φ-ing (in these circumstances) to be automatic.”39 There are numerous ways for an action to be automatic for an individual, only one of which is that it’s a natural result of the agent’s moral character such that not performing that action (in the right circumstance) isn’t compatible with said character. It is only this group that I’m interested in here. Actions that are habitual in this way seem to be teleological, even if the habit itself need not be. But if, as Aristotle claims, an action must be done for the right reason (as well as at the right time and to the right degree, etc.) in order to be virtuous, then the forming of a virtuous moral character will require us to consider the goal not only of our individual actions but also the larger pattern of behavior that those actions are a part of. The exact degree to which we can expect that a person’s moral character will become developed in such a way will depend on a variety of factors related 38 39

Pollard 2006, 57. Ibid., 61.

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character


to the actual psychology of individuals, the time involved in fortifying habits, the degree to which their motivational reasons line up with normative reasons, how attuned their passions are to the demands of virtue, etc. But there seems to be nothing that would, in principle, preclude an agent from so developing her character that she is only capable of the good, no longer seeing any motivational reason for doing wrong actions. In the next section, I address cases of acting freely on the basis of habits.

Moral Character and Habit

Earlier, I said that the kinds of reasons involved in the teleological explanation of action were motivational reasons—that is, the reasons that the agent actually has for choosing what she does—rather than normative reasons. However, now that we’re focusing on the evaluation of an agent’s moral character, we would do well to address, even if briefly, normative reasons. Bill Pollard provides a careful analysis of how the nature of a habit should be understood, and it will be helpful for us to consider a number of features of his treatment.40 First, it is important to acknowledge that the habit is acquired through the repetition of certain related actions in a characteristic kind of circumstance; the behavior habituated will be of the same general sort as the pattern of behavior intentionally performed, and the circumstances in which the habit is manifest will share features with the circumstance of the habituating actions. The details of this acquisition will depend on a number of factors: There are no guarantees that any particular set of repetitions will establish habituation for a given agent. Acquiring some habits will take more practice than others. And some people will pick up a given habit through fewer repetitions than others. Some people may never acquire a habit, no matter how many times they repeat the same action.41 Nevertheless, despite this variation, the general pattern of the acquiring of the habit remains the same. Furthermore, the stronger the habit becomes, the less active the role of the agent’s intellect. This is in two ways. The first is that “the intellect is required less and less for the successful performance of the repeated actions and, once habituation is complete, will not be required at all.”42 40 Ibid., 77ff. 41 Ibid. 42 Ibid., 78.



Though Pollard doesn’t mention it, there is also a second way in which the fostering of a habit reduces the involvement of the intellect at the time of an action: the stronger the habit becomes, the less the agent need be intellectually aware of the perceived good that the action aims at. Finally, a proper understanding of the nature of habitual action needs to not lose sight of the role that the will plays in both the forming and maintaining of the habit: The agent can, for instance, choose whether to exercise the initial actions which may become a habit; whether to cultivate a habit deliberately, by [intentionally] repeating a certain action; whether to inhibit or modify particular exercises of action…; and whether to adopt strategies to break habits.43 This connects back with the earlier discussion of my disagreement with van Inwagen regarding Restrictivism. When a pattern of intentional actions, done for a particular reason, becomes fixed enough within the agent’s character structure, she may cease being consciously aware of the reasons she has for doing the habitual action. But this does not mean the agent isn’t acting for a reason in such cases; nor does it mean, as even van Inwagen would agree, that she is no longer morally responsible for her habituated action. In closing, let me briefly sketch how the account of habituation and moral character formation sketched here can even provide a framework for understanding a perfected moral agent as a kind of limiting case. The ideal moral agent will need to have a number of qualities. First, it must be the case that the agent’s motivational reasons track the normative reasons for acting. If she finds that there is a disconnect here, then she should work on changing her motivational reasons to align with the normative, though the exact method for accomplishing this will depend upon a larger account of moral education which I cannot here provide. Once the agent has accomplished this, she will have achieved excellence in reason detection. And if we allow for there to be normative affective reasons, this will involve a proper training of the agent’s emotions and not just her intellectual ability. But, as indicated earlier, proper training with respect to reasons detection will not be sufficient to ensure that the agent always acts in the proper manner, for the agent could fail to weigh the totality of her reasons properly or she could fail to be moved appropriately with respect to those reasons. Regarding the first, the agent will need to see how the various reasons that she has relate to each other, and in the case 43

Ibid., 79.

Freedom as Sensitive to Reasons, Habits, and Character


of conflicting reasons, which reason should trump the other. This, like with the ability to detect intellectual normative reasons, will involve the perfection of the agent’s intellectual facilities. Similarly, the agent’s coming to be moved appropriately with respect to her reasons will involve a perfection of her volitional capacities. This, however, need not be understood to be simply one of will-power. As indicated above, the formation of habits can make certain patterns of action to be the default for an agent. In general, then, since an agent’s moral character includes the habits or dispositions of her intellectual, emotional, and volitional capacities, the perfection of moral character will require the perfection of each of these elements.44 References Adams, Robert Merrihew. 2006. A Theory of Virtue: Excellence in Being for the Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Alvarez, Maria. 2010. Kinds of Reasons: An Essay in the Philosophy of Action. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Boyle, Matthew, and Douglas Lavin. 2010. “Goodness and desire.” In Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good, edited by Sergio Tenenbaum. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 161–201. Doris, John. 2002. Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. Cambridge: ­Cambridge University Press. Goetz, Stewart. 2009. Freedom, Teleology, and Evil. London: Continuum. Goldie, Peter. 2000. The Emotions: A Philosophical Exploration. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Hoffman, Paul. 2008. “Freedom and Weakness of Will.” Ratio XXI: 42–54. Fischer, John Martin. 2006. My Way: Essays on Moral Responsibility. New York: Oxford University Press. Korsgaard, Christine. 2008. The Constitution of Agency: Essays on Practical Reason and Moral Psychology. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Kronen, John, and Eric Reitan. 2010. “Species of Hell.” In The Problem of Hell: A Philosophical Anthology, edited by Joel Buenting Burlington. VT: Ashgate, 199–218. Merritt, Maria, John Doris, and Gilbert Harman. 2010. “Character.” In Moral Psychology Handbook, edited by John Doris. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 355–401. Miller, Christian. 2003. “Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics.” The Journal of Ethics 7: 365–92.


I would like to thank Greg Sadler, Eric Silverman, Audra Jenson, and Steven Coles for helpful comments on earlier drafts of this chapter.



O’Connor, Timothy. 2005. “Freedom with a Human Face.” Midwest Studies in Philosophy 29: 207–27. Pawl, Timothy, and Kevin Timpe. 2009. “Incompatibilism, Sin, and Free Will in H ­ eaven.” Faith and Philosophy 26 (4): 396–417. Pervin, Lawrence. 1994. “A Critical Analysis of Current Trait Theory.” Psychological I­ nquiry 5: 103–13. Pettit, Gordon. 2002. “Are We Rarely Free? A Response to Restrictivism.” Philosophical Studies 107 (3): 219–37. Pollard, Bill. 2006. “Explaining Actions with Habits.” American Philosophical Quarterly 43 (1): 57–69. Scheuler, G.F. 2003. Reasons and Purposes: Human Rationality and Teleological ­Explanation of Action. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Sehon, Scott. 2005. Teleological Realism: Mind, Agency, and Explanation. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. Setiya, Kieran. 2010. “Sympathy for the Devil.” In Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good, edited by Sergio Tenenbaum. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 82–110. Smith, Michael. 2004. Ethics and the a Priori. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Swinburne, Richard. 1994. The Christian God. Oxford: The Clarendon Press. Swinburne, Richard. 1997. The Evolution of the Soul, revised edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Taylor, Richard. 1973. Action and Purpose. New York: Humanities Press. Tenenbaum, Sergio (ed). 2010. Desire, Practical Reason, and the Good. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Thomson, Judith Jarvis. 2001. Goodness and Advice. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Timpe, Kevin. 2011. “Free Will.” In Continuum Companion to Metaphysics, edited by Neil A. Manson and Bob Barnard. London: Continuum. Timpe, Kevin. 2013. Sourcehood and Its Alternatives, 2nd edition. London: Bloomsbury. van Inwagen, Peter. 2008. “How to Think About the Problem of Free Will.” The Journal of Ethics 12: 327–41. van Inwagen, Peter. 1989. “When is the Will Free?” Philosophical Perspectives 3: 399–422. Vander Laan, David. 2001. “A Regress Argument for Restrictive Incompatibilism.” Philosophical Studies 103 (2): 201–15. Velleman, J. David. 1992. “The Guise of the Good.” Nous 26 (1): 3–26. Wallace, R. Jay. 2006. Normativity and the Will. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

part 4 From Habit to Virtue: Integrating Science, Philosophy, and Religion

chapter 11

In the Image and Likeness: Theological Reflections on the Science of Habits Charlene P.E. Burns Virtue theorists have always taught that the virtues function like skills that can be taught and that their application can be honed with practice. Exciting new psychological and neuro-scientific research into habit formation and the human capacity for compassion seems to lend support to this ancient intuition. This essay is an exercise in dialogue between Christian theology and western science that aims at identifying places of convergence on development of virtues. My hope is that this endeavor will enhance theological development and allow for ongoing conversation with the sciences on issues central to understanding what it means to be a human being. In classical Christian thought, virtue is a state of character that makes possible the enactment of that which is morally good. The ability to act virtuously cannot be achieved through human effort alone—it has two points of origin, in that it is the product of divine grace and human effort. Virtue is aligned with knowledge in the tradition, since one must know what is considered good or evil, but simply knowing what is good or evil does not constitute virtue. Lactantius (240 ce−320 ce), author of one of the earliest Latin theologies and apologist for the faith, wrote that “as the knowledge of good and evil is not virtue, so the doing of that which is good and the abstaining from evil is virtue. And yet knowledge is so united with virtue, that knowledge precedes virtue, and virtue follows knowledge; because knowledge is of no avail unless it is followed up by action.”1 The importance of virtue development was a central theme in early Christianity, and for centuries, a predominant theme of Christology and soteriology was that Jesus is/was the archetypal moral exemplar.2 Over time, Christian reflection led to a theological taxonomy of the virtues as falling into two categories, infused (or theological) and acquired (or moral) virtues. The infused virtues are faith, hope, and charity, or caritas/ agape, and they arise from the grace of God; it is God who enables “the graced

1 Lactantius 1886, Divine Institutes VI.5. 2 For more on Jesus as moral exemplar in light of cognitive science, see Burns 2013.



development of a habitus.”3 Their object is God. The acquired virtues, prudence, justice, fortitude, and temperance, can be developed through natural human abilities and have as their object the world. Caritas/agape is the highest of the virtues; it informs and gives shape to the other virtues, orienting them toward God. As such, it forms the foundation for the Christian moral life.

Theology and the Virtues

As others in this volume have explored, habitus refers to a set of stable characteristics or dispositions of the personality that incline us to behave in certain ways that have been developed through intentional action. In Christian virtue ethics the human is assumed to have agency which we must learn to exercise in habitus formation such that we are able to live the virtuous life. The virtuous life is understood to be one lived in the pursuit of the good as revealed in the life and death of Jesus Christ. Examination of Christian literature on morality reveals a somewhat puzzling discomfort on the part of many Western theologians, past and present, regarding the idea that we ought to work toward development of virtues as habits. This is puzzling because the idea permeates the moral teachings of the Christian scriptures, even if the word itself does not appear that frequently.4 The Sermon on the Mount was used by early Christians as a guide to the moral life; there, as elsewhere, agape is the primary virtue. Paul lists the virtues (Gal. 5:19–23) and explicates the meaning of agape (1 Cor 13:4–7) at length. These themes were foundational for early church development. The discomfort among theologians with virtue ethics began with the work of Augustine of Hippo (d. 430 ce). In keeping with the scriptures, he wrote that Christ is “the virtue of God and the wisdom of God,”5 but he feared the implication of human agency in development of morality because this would, he thought, necessarily lead to pride and reliance on self rather than on God.6 Augustine’s anxiety that a focus on virtue would lead to concern for self over others continues to echo through the ages in spite of the fact that virtue was of primary concern for many of the greatest early Christian theologians. In his Letter to Marcellinus, Athanasius (d. 373) argued that “the whole divine

3 Cessario 2009, 95. 4 Ibid, 2. 5 Augustine 1886, City of God X.28. 6 For an excellent discussion of Augustine’s position, see Herdt 2008.

In the Image and Likeness


Scripture is the teacher of virtue.”7 Gregory of Nyssa, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory­ Nazianzus, John Climacus, and Maximus the Confessor all wrote extensively on virtue and its role in the Christian life. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274 c.e.) is perhaps the best known among early virtue thinkers for his Christianized Aristotelian ideas of virtue and expanding the theory to include a direct role for the will in developing the virtues. During the 16th and 17th centuries, concern about human moral agency was especially acute. The Protestant reformers, in their eagerness to refute medieval Roman Catholic emphasis on the role of purchased or earned indulgences in salvation, insisted that moral transformation can come about only through the grace of God, with human actions (“works”) relegated to playing little or no role at all in the process. For 18th century thinkers, the major problems with virtue had to do with ideas of autonomy—some Enlightenment philosophers thought that to practice the virtues was to be untrue to who one had been created to be. Near the close of the 18th century, Kant developed his deontological system, and duty/rule-based ethics became the foundational approach for the next two centuries. The emphasis on duty was coupled with suspicion of emotions and stress was put on rationality over sense knowledge. Given the central role of agape in the New Testament, it is somewhat surprising that emotion in the ethical life was so easily relegated to the sidelines. Actually, the misgivings about attempts to develop habits of virtue are based in the same fears as those that led to condemnation of Pelagianism, the teachings attributed to Augustine’s greatest opponent, Pelagius, in the 5th century. The Pelagian heresy (not Pelagius’s actual teachings but a misrepresentation of them) claims that we have an innate capacity, operating independently of God’s grace, to avoid sinning. Against this, Augustine argued that we are so corrupted by sin as to be incapable of avoiding it (non posse non peccare in Latin)—we have no ability to avoid sinning at all outside divine grace. At the Council of Orange in the 6th century, the Church also declared the Augustinian position heresy and adopted a “middle of the road” position that says when working in concert with grace, we do have the capacity to choose not to sin. This decision ensured that virtue ethics, while sometimes controversial in Christian theological history remained a viable, even if often contested, option. The virtue approach is actually more consistent with the Christian tradition than moral theories like deontology and consequentialism because, rather than placing primary focus on our actions, the virtue emphasis is on three 7 Athanasius 1949.



questions: “Who are we? Who ought we to become? How do we get there?”8 In virtue ethics, the love of God shapes our action, not the fear of negative consequences for violation of rules or failure to discern our duties properly. Another important assumption of virtue ethics is also far closer to Christian theological understandings of what it means to be human than the ways of thinking that have dominated ethics in the last few centuries. In virtue ethics human beings are assumed to be communal and “embodied creatures whose choices and actions are neither completely determined nor completely free…we shape ourselves and each other toward or away from the virtues by our choices, actions, and interaction” (emphasis mine).9 Ethical deciding shaped by the virtue of caritas/agape and flowing from the habits of other-concern gives rise to guidelines for living the Christian life. According to Thomas Aquinas, “in a virtue can be considered the habit and the act. Now the habit of a virtue qualifies a person to act well. If it enables him to act well in a human mode, it is called a virtue. But if it qualifies one for acting well, above the human mode, it is called a gift.”10 There are two types of virtue, acquired and infused. Acquired virtues are those we can develop through our own natural abilities by exercising choice. They can be understood as aspects of nature, whereas the infused virtues come about only through the grace of God. Infused, or theological, virtues cannot be developed through human activity and choice; they can only be developed through God’s action. The infused virtues—faith, hope, and caritas/agape—are God-oriented whereas the acquired virtues—prudence, temperance, fortitude, justice—are oriented toward the world. For Aquinas, caritas is the “mother” of the virtues. It is the manifestation of the love of God, expressed through participation of the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer. It is not something God creates and adds to the soul; it is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit in the mind.11 Caritas is the virtue that makes it possible for humanity to love God for God’s own sake and to love the world for the sake of God. The fully virtuous person must embody the infused and acquired virtues in pursuit of the good. Development of virtue for the Christian has two points of origin: divine action and intentional human effort aimed at learning reliably to choose the good. The infused virtues alone do not, even though Godoriented, make for a truly virtuous Christian. The Christian life is not simply about the individual’s relation to God; it is communal and remains incomplete 8 9 10 11

Harrington and Keenan 2002, 49. Kotva 1996. Aquinas 1966. Aquinas 1947, Summa Theologica 2.2 q24.a2; 2.2 q23.a.2.

In the Image and Likeness


­without action in the world. The infused virtues work in concert with naturally appearing traits: “acts produced by an infused habit, do not cause a habit, but strengthen the already existing habit; just as the remedies of medicine given to a man who is naturally healthy, do not cause a kind of health, but give new strength to the health he had before.”12 The infused virtues exist as potentials within us and are not complete without the acquired virtues. The process of developing the virtues is not only a simple issue of mere repetition. It is also a matter of “openness to creative activity” through divine and natural causes like intentional effort to control the will and develop new habits. For Aquinas, the divine revelation in Jesus shows us that the infusion of grace implants within us the law of love, which restrains the mind. This new law of love replaces the law of penalty, which restrains only “the hand” through threat of punishment.13 Before engaging the theological idea of caritas in light of scientific research into the human capacities for selflessness and the development of habits, some clarification of terms is needed. English translation of the New Testament passage on which theologians have based the claim that faith, hope, and charity or love are the theological virtues says that “faith, hope and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.”14 The Greek word translated as love is agape, which has a much richer meaning than the English “love.” Agape indicates selfless, other-oriented care. It is an altruistic, empathic willingness to give all on behalf of another, the love that God has for creation, and the kind of love Christians are to have for one another and even for their enemies (Matt 5: 43–48). This meaning was lost over centuries of interpretation, beginning with Jerome’s (d. 420 ce) translation of the Bible into Latin in the early fifth century. In creating the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible, Jerome chose to use caritas for the Greek agape. In Latin, the choice makes some sense, as it once meant loving God for God’s own sake, but moving to English from caritas leads to difficulties. In English, caritas is usually translated as “charity.” In its “archaic” sense (o.e.d.) it meant having love for humanity, and although its meaning today retains a sense of other-oriented intent, it has lost the full force of its original sense. Neither the archaic nor the current sense of the word in English carries the connotation of pure selflessness conveyed by the original Greek term. Although we usually think of charity in terms of selflessness, one may do acts of charity without doing so from a place of agape, so “charity” has lost its

12 13 14

Ibid, 2.1 q51.a.4.3. Cessario 2009, 15, 36. I Corinthians 13:13, New Revised Standard Version.



power as a theological concept in this context.15 The English word “love” is not much better since it has a wide-ranging sematic field and can mean anything from feeling affection for someone or something to taste preferences for types of shoes, pets, vacation spots, food, etc. Agape is a much better term in that it is God-centered, signifying “the divine extravagance of giving that does not take the self into account.”16 Throughout the New Testament God and agape go hand-in-hand. Paul’s attempt to explain what this really means in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8a illustrates our difficulty in grasping its true sense; even he felt the need to use numerous synonyms in trying to communicate the power of this concept. He used fifteen descriptive phrases to say what agape does and does not do, none of which easily translates into English since he used the verb form of some words that only function as adjectives or nouns in English. The verb forms convey the powerful message that agape is not a thing but an action, a way of being in the world. He tells us agape never seeks its own interests. It “protects, trusts, hopes, and perseveres with the other in patience, kindness, selflessness, humility, equanimity, forgivingness. This is what God is and what we are to work toward… The Christian God is agape; this reality challenges us to live it as best we can… Ethics flows from rather than defines the term.”17 For the sake of precision in this endeavor, then, I use the phrase caritas/agape rather than the usual English words “charity” or “love.”

Science and the Virtues

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter to a friend that humanity is “endowed with a sense of right & wrong [which] is as much a part of his nature as the sense of hearing, seeing, feeling; it is the true foundation of morality… The moral sense, or conscience, is as much a part of man as his leg or arm. It is given to all human beings in a stronger or weaker degree… It may be strengthened by exercise, as may any particular limb of the body.”18 Scientists are today discovering that he was correct on all counts. Innate capacities demonstrable in infants as young as three to six months include awareness of the “goodness” or “badness” of actions (morality), the desire to alleviate suffering experienced 15

“Selfish” charity is now a prescribed treatment for depression and other health problems. See, for example, Aknin et al., 2013. 16 Grant 1996. 17 Burns 2006. 18 Jefferson n.d.

In the Image and Likeness


by others (compassion and rudimentary empathy), and a sense of fairness and justice.19 “Grant me chastity and self-control, but please not yet,” prayed Augustine.20 He seems to have felt completely incapable of controlling his sexual urges and assumed that God works through overpowering the human will. Although most of us have probably felt as helpless as he in the face of our own vices occasionally, a large body of research shows that we have much more control over the process of developing virtue than Augustine’s plea implies. For a long time, western psychology agreed with Augustine’s implication that willpower is a fiction but research now shows that Aquinas’s emphasis on the role of the will in developing the virtues was an important shift in understanding human moral behavior. In 1998, psychologist Roy F. Baumeister and colleagues first reported research demonstrating the reality of willpower. In what has since become a famous and often-cited study, subjects were told to go without food for a period of time and then they were taken into a lab where chocolate chip cookies had just been removed from the oven. The smell of freshly baked cookies filled the air as the subjects were instructed to sit at a table where there was a plate of the freshly baked cookies, a bowl of chocolate candy, and a bowl of radishes. Some of the subjects were allowed to eat the cookies, some were told they could have the candy, and some were allowed only the radishes. Everyone did as instructed. A couple of the “radish” subjects did weaken and go so far as to pick up a cookie but did not eat it. Next the subjects were taken to another lab and asked to solve geometry puzzles which were, unbeknownst to the subjects, unsolvable. The results were fascinating: the cookies, candy, and a hungry but not tempted control group all spent about twenty minutes trying to solve the impossible puzzles before giving up. The radish group, who had the more difficult challenge of resisting the temptation of fresh baked cookies or candy, gave up after only eight minutes. Apparently, the effort expended in resisting the cookie temptation made it harder for the radish subjects to persist in a frustrating mental task! Baumeister and his colleagues began to suspect that willpower is real and that it functions something like a muscle that can be fatigued through over use and strengthened through exercise.21 More importantly, it has since been demonstrated that self-control generalizes from one area of focus to other areas of life when practiced regularly.

19 20 21

Bloom 2013. Augustine 2001, 149. Baumeister 1998.



Researchers in Australia theorize that self-control has real and unexpected health benefits. They designed an eight-week program in which participants rehearsed self-control through setting and meeting artificial deadlines as part of the course. At the end of the program, study participants showed significant improvements in time management, which was the goal of the program. Surprisingly, they also showed significant positive health changes in behaviors that were not explored at all during the eight weeks of sessions: caffeine, alcohol, and tobacco use decreased; the quality of diets improved; engagement in physical exercise increased.22 The actual process of learning new habits has been found to be a relatively simple interaction between a cue, a routine (the behavior), and a reward, which naturally reinforces the cue. Through repetition, the association between cue and reward becomes very strong, even to the point of craving the behavior in some cases.23 A 2012 meta-analysis of the literature on self-control research found that this beneficial trait exhibits its strongest effects not in terms of inhibition of undesirable behavior but rather in the formation/breaking of habits.24 It is clear, then, that willpower can be harnessed to develop habits and can, in the context of this project, be considered a “natural cause” for virtue. Willpower’s impact on self-control is equivalent to prudence among the acquired virtues. Prudence, choosing well, is a foundational virtue in the sense that it informs and shapes other virtues. It, like willpower, is essential to the successful management of habits of virtue. Proponents of virtue as habitus are clearly on to something. Although the virtues are not habits per se, there is a sense in which their consistent enactment relies on the habit-making process. The distinction between habits and virtues is that habits are unconscious, routinized behaviors whereas the virtues are more like practical skills. Practical skills (like playing a musical instrument at the concert level) do require rehearsal until some part of the behavior becomes unconscious, but the playing of a piece of music is always shaped by the player’s conscious interpretation of that music.25 Additionally, virtue is more than simply a practical skill because it requires the development of “right feelings as well as right reasons.”26 The ideal 22 23 24 25 26

Oaten and Cheng 2006a; 2006b. Duhigg 2012. DeRidder et al., 2012. I have explored parallels between training in the virtues and skills learned for theatrical improvisation in Burns 2013. Annas 2011, 12–14; 66.

In the Image and Likeness


of the genuinely virtuous person requires that one act from an inner feeling state of caritas/agape. The acquired virtues like prudence (self-control enhanced through the exercise of willpower) can be developed in the service of habit formation, but what about the infused virtues? Can willpower be of any help in learning to live out the virtue of caritas/agape? Current thinking among psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists is that the answer is yes. The assumption that empathy can be learned has actually become commonplace in psychology today. Once its central role in psychological healing came to be well understood in the twentieth century (although the exact nature of the phenomenon itself is still debated), the need to train therapists to enhance natural empathic tendencies came to the fore. Training programs for therapists and medical professionals have been well researched and show significant impact. One study reported in the 1990s explored the efficacy of a system called the Empathy Training Program (etp) for enhancing empathy among social work students. The post-training mean empathy scores for the research group showed a statistically significant improvement over pre-training scores.27 In other research, short-term literature-based courses in empathy have been found to lead to statistically significant improvement in empathic engagement among first year medical students. One study found that student comprehension and reporting of the patient’s perspective became more detailed and complex after the course.28 Another study done with graduate psychology students found that empathic accuracy, measured as the ability to infer clients’ feelings, improves with practice.29 A large number of studies have documented the efficacy of a variety of methods for teaching empathy to children, teens, and undergraduates.30 In one, twenty-four teenaged girls housed in a residential treatment center because of aggressive behavior engaged in four training sessions designed to increase cognitive and affective empathy. In addition to measuring changes in empathy, researchers assessed the relationship between empathy and ego development. The study found a strong positive relationship between ego development and scores on both cognitive and affective empathy, and the training led to significant increases in levels of affective empathy displayed by the

27 28 29 30

Erera 1997. Shapiro, Morrison, and Boker 2004. Barone et al., 2005. Feshbach and Feshbach 2009.



participants.31 This sampling of research findings shows that virtuous attitudes and behaviors can be learned and improved through practice. Now that the possibility of teaching empathy to people from kindergarten to adulthood has been well documented, recognition of the value of enhancing empathic skills for society at large has stimulated interest in improving our abilities to teach it. Harvard University researchers recently announced they are piloting a role-playing game simulation for making teaching skills in empathy more widely available. The game starts with participants watching a confrontation between two people and then they are asked to play the game from the perspective of first one, then the other character. At the conclusion of the gaming experience, the players are asked to negotiate a resolution to the conflict. Participants who played both roles in the game are much more likely to negotiate than a control group who did not play both parts before attempting to resolve the situation. In follow-up studies, researchers found similar results when participants only read detailed descriptions that closely followed the gamers’ experiences without actually playing the game.32 This finding is exciting because it demonstrates that access to computer technologies is not at all necessary for the game design to have an impact, a finding that means the game concept can be used in non-affluent regions as effectively as with Harvard University populations. Other tools for teaching compassion and empathy are being developed out of neurological research into what happens to the brain during meditation. Using fMRI studies of people who practice compassion meditation, researchers have found that this training alters the activation of neural circuits that have been linked to empathy and theory of mind in previous research.33 Regular meditation on compassion causes brain changes similar to neural changes seen in fMRI studies of subjects who view video of people suffering. This fascinating correlation led to speculation that meditation on compassion may actually result in more empathetic behavior outside the meditative state. Psychologist Richard Davidson and colleagues at the University of ­WisconsinMadison have recently begun studies aimed at determining whether this is true. In one study, after two weeks of training in compassion meditation, experimental subjects and a control group viewed images of suffering while being scanned by fMRI. The trained group showed less activation in the amygdala,

31 32 33

Pecukonis 1990. Marietta et al., 2013. Lutz et al., 2008.

In the Image and Likeness


a region known to be important to processing of emotion, than the control group. This same experimental group also showed differences in how they responded during play of an economic decision-making game designed to measure altruistic responses. The game experiment subjects were told they would be playing against other people in an online game, although in reality they were playing a computer program. Each player received $30 for the game and instructions that the other characters in the game would be the “dictator,” who also got $30, and the “victim,” who did not get any money at the start. If the dictator gave the victim a small amount of money, the experimental subject could give some of his/her own money to the victim to make things more equitable. If, for example, the dictator gave the victim $5, the subject might give $10, leaving the victim with $15, the dictator with $25, and the subject with $20. Comparisons were then made between the control group and subjects who had been trained in compassion meditation. A statistically significant difference in responding was found in the compassion-subjects as compared to the control group. Even though this was a low-stakes situation, and the supposed victim’s “suffering” would be minimal by real-world standards, participants who were trained in compassion meditation tended to be much more likely to give the victim money than those who had not been trained. On average, the meditators gave over 38% more to the victim than those who had not done compassion meditation training. The researchers concluded that compassion meditation appears to decrease personal distress in the face of suffering (revealed by the reduced activation in the amygdala on fMRI) while also activating regions of the brain associated with goal-directed behavior aimed at alleviating the suffering of others.34 The findings that indicate reduction in personal distress while viewing suffering of others combined with activation of goal-directed centers is interesting in that it supports theories of compassion that distinguish between sympathy and empathy. Sympathy (“feeling with”) may be a more rudimentary precursor to empathy in that it stimulates feelings in the observer that seem as if “I” am suffering in the same way as the actual sufferer. Empathy (“feeling into”) is a higher order cognitive choice wherein the observer does not confuse her own feelings with those of the sufferer but is able, through imaginative projection, to understand that the other suffers and needs help. Compassion meditation may work to overcome the selfish confusion of my feelings with your pain, and allow me to become a much more effective actor in terms of helping behaviors.35 Many more studies could be cited to support the claim

34 35

Davidson and Begley 2012. Burns 2002. See especially Chapter 5, “The Empathic, Relational Human,” pp. 91–115.



that empathy and compassion can be taught/learned, but these examples suffice to make the point. Now, the task remains of connecting this research to a theology of the infused virtues; this connection comes via altruism. Rudimentary expressions of altruism in humans are seen as early as fourteen to eighteen months of age. Although some researchers have denied that helping behaviors on the part of infants is really altruism, research now shows that very young children engage in helping behaviors without the promise of reward and apparently without expectations of reciprocation and enhancement of reputation (factors which do play a part in maintaining helping behaviors in teens and adults).36 Developmental psychology has demonstrated that the ability to physiologically entrain with and attune to other human beings is foundational for the experience of empathy and is necessary for the development of healthy selves.37 Altruism itself is linked to the capacity for empathy.38 As Daniel Batson says, “Empathic concern produces altruistic motivation.”39 After conducting many studies over the course of decades, Batson (and many others) conclude that this connection is unquestionable. Empathic ability alone does not account for truly altruistic action on the part of human beings, but studies show that it is influential in the process leading to risking one’s own well-being for the sake of another. Human beings are linked to others by virtue of our capacity for intersubjective participation. This participation is a multilevel process, crucial to the development of healthy human selves, through which we are able to entrain with, attune to, sympathize, and empathize with others. We are created in the image of God and this image is made known biologically as the capacity for empathy-altruism.40 This capacity can be understood as the inherent potential to learn how to cooperate with the Holy Spirit in manifesting the infused virtue of caritas/agape. The infused virtues might best be understood in terms of divine energeia, God’s “energies” or intentions at work in creation, a concept that has long been important to the Orthodox tradition but received very little consideration in the West.

Theology & Science: Developing Habits of Agape

According to scripture, the energies of God are manifestations of God’s own self in the world. In 1 Corinthians 12:6–11 Paul writes that there are different 36 37 38 39 40

Warneken and Tomasello 2009, 100. Stern 2000. Eisenberg 1986. Batson 2010, 11. Burns 2002, 17.

In the Image and Likeness


kinds of energematon (operations or activities) but the same God energeon (energizing, operating, activating) everything. Miracles and other gifts of the Spirit are the divine energemata. In Philippians 2:13 (nrsv translation), Paul says “for it is God who is at work in you, enabling you both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” More literally with the Greek, we have, “God is the one energon [work, operation, energy] in you both to will and to energein [operate, work] on behalf of his good pleasure.” In other words, God is that which makes it possible for us to will and to act in accord with the divine aims. Elaborating on these ideas, Eastern Orthodox theology distinguishes between the unknowable divine essence and God’s uncreated energies as revealed in creation, and it sees nature and grace as integrated aspects of the whole of reality. In the West, particularly for Protestant theologies and others following an Augustinian emphasis on corrupt human nature, grace became an external force available to us only through divine imputation. Salvation became a juridical process, and participation in God happened only by means of the will, not in any ontological sense. Grace in the West became a somewhat static created reality rather than something constitutive of creation itself, but without a strong ontological basis for assertions about grace and love, any attempt to integrate scientific and theological claims about altruism will fail. As I have shown elsewhere, however, the vocabulary for a more adequate Christian theological interpretation of altruism in nature has existed at least since the 4th century and has been developed brilliantly in Eastern thought since that time.41 In the 14th century, Gregory Palamas (d. 1358) taught that God “makes ­Himself present to all things by His manifestation and by His creative and providential energies.”42 God is revealed in full through this manifestation: “Possessing in Himself each of these energies, He reveals Himself wholly in each by His presence and His action.” The gulf between humanity and God is bridged through the divine energies: “as an energy having no independent existence of its own, [divine energy] exists as a function of the three divine [persons of the Trinity] insofar as they enact the divine essence, and it exists gratuitously in created [persons] which are given the privilege of ‘acting’ the divine essence.”43 The uncreated energies of God are “enhypostasized” within us. Enhypostasis means “that which is possessed, used, manifested by a person.”44 In this context, the divine energy of caritas/agape itself becomes

41 42 43 44

See Burns 2006 for a more complete discussion of these points. Palamas 1998, Triads 3.2.24. Ibid, 3.1.9; 3.1.18. Hussey 1974, 24; 27.



manifested in us as an infused virtue, a habitus we can only know through the living of it. The reality of God as Trinity is a mutual indwelling of self-giving love—Caritas/Agape Itself, in other words. In learning the right use of our desires and by living in compassionate relation to creation we discover God in the world. Human beings are creatures made in the image and likeness of God. We are, in fact, microcosms of creation and mediators between God and world. The essence of the human is found not in the stuff out of which we are formed but in the reality toward which we are called by the divine energies. Altruism, or caritas/agape, is the enhypostasized energy of God, which makes possible all forms of other-directed behavior found in creation.45 In Christian virtue ethics, the theological virtues of faith, hope, and caritas/agape are manifestations of divine grace, the embodied divine intentions or energies which were most fully lived out by Jesus and which exist in us as potential. Christ is the exemplar of the virtues, and the task for the believer is to work constantly at developing the virtues into practical skills wherein they operate at both the conscious and unconscious levels. Human agency working in concert with the infused energies of God leads to genuine personal transformation such that virtuous dispositions become second nature to us. Although we tend to think of caritas/agape as a feeling or emotion that happens to us, it is in truth an act of the will. We can choose to act “as if” we love even when we do not, and this is why Christ commands that we love one another. Since it is an act of will, it is subject to shaping and development through practice. We have a duty to encourage our loving not because this is caritas but because it aids it: “When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him…Love in the Christian sense does not mean an emotion. It is a state not of feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we have naturally about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.”46 Research on habit formation and self-control has shown that willpower is necessary in developing new behaviors. Researchers were surprised to learn, however, that once new habits are established those habits actually require only minimal self-control.47 Once a behavior or thought pattern becomes habitual, it operates almost on “auto-pilot,” with very little conscious intervention on the part of the individual. People who have channeled willpower to concentrate self-control on development of habits spend less time resisting desires than others do because they are actually less tempted to deviate from 45 46 47

Burns 2006, 130. Lewis 1996, 65–66. DeRidder et al., 2012.

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the positive habits than other people. The formation of virtuous habits is a kind of automatizing of behaviors and responses to temptations; with repetition, the self’s resources are conserved and the virtues become almost instinctual. Through this process of learning the Christian is transformed from one who practices the virtues to one who simply is virtuous. This is precisely the goal of virtue development. The virtuous person is not just someone who reliably makes good choices and does good things. Once a virtue is developed it becomes habitus and changes who you are; the Christian who has learned to cooperate with the infused virtue of caritas/agape reliably responds with genuine Other-Centered concern to the challenges of life. The Christian strives to develop the virtues in order to express the image of God within, for “whoever pursues virtue participates in nothing other than God, because He is Himself absolute virtue.”48 References Aknin, Lara B., Elizabeth W. Dunn, Gillian M. Sandstrom, and Michael I. Norton. 2013. “Does Social Connection Turn Good Deeds into Good Feelings? On the Value of Putting the ‘Social’ in Prosocial Spending.” International Journal of Happiness and Development 1 (2): 155–71. Annas, Julia. 2011. Intelligent Virtue. New York: Oxford University Press. Aquinas, Thomas. 1947. The Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province. New York: Benziger Bros. Accessed November 1, 2014. http:// www.ccel.org/a/aquinas/summa/SS.html. Aquinas, Thomas. 1966. Commentary on Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians. Translated by F.R. Larcher. Magi Books, Inc. Athanasius. 1949. Letter to Marcellinus: St. Athanasius on the Psalms. New York: Morehouse-Gorham Co. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://cs-people.bu.edu/ butta1/personal/marcelli.htm. Augustine. 1886. “City of God.” In Saint Augustine’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, edited by Philip Schaff, Marcus Dods, and J.F. Shaw. Vol. 2. A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. Grand Rapids mi: William B. Eerdmans. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/npnf102 .iv.X.28.html. Augustine. 2001. The Confessions, Revised. Translated by Maria Boulding. Hyde Park ny: New City Press.


Gregory of Nyssa 1978, 31.



Barone, David F., Philinda S. Hutchings, Heather J. Kimmel, and Howard L. Traub. 2005. “Increasing Empathic Accuracy Through Practice and Feedback in a Clinical Interviewing Course.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology 24 (2): 156–71. Batson, Daniel. 2010. The Altruistic Human. New York: Oxford University Press. Baumeister, Roy F., E. Bratlavsky, M. Muraven, and D.M. Tice. 1998. “Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74: 1252–65. Bloom, Paul. 2013. Just Babies: The Origins of Good and Evil. New York: Crown Publishers. Burns, Charlene P.E. 2002. Divine Becoming: Rethinking Jesus and Incarnation. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Burns, Charlene P.E. 2006. “Altruism in Nature as Manifestation of Divine Energeia.” Zygon: Journal of Religion and Science 41 (1): 129–41. Burns, Charlene P.E. 2013. “Wired for Drama? Theological Speculations on Cognitive Science, Empathy, and Moral Exemplarity.” In Theology and the Science of Moral Action: Virtue Ethics, Exemplarity, and Cognitive Neuroscience, edited by James Van Slyke, Gregory R. Peterson, Michael Spezio, Kevin Reimer, and Warren Brown, 149–63. New York: Routledge. Cessario, Romanus. 2009. The Moral Virtues and Theological Ethics. 2nd ed. Notre Dame, in: University of Notre Dame. Davidson, Richard, and Sharon Begley. 2012. The Emotional Life of the Brain. New York: Penguin. DeRidder, Denise, Gerty Lensvelt-Mulders, C. Firkenaur, F.M. Stok, and Roy Baumeister. 2012. “Taking Stock of Self-Control: A Meta-Analysis of How Trait Self-Control Relates to a Wide Range of Behaviors.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 16 (1): 76–99. Duhigg, Charles. 2012. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. New York: Random House. Eisenberg, Nancy. 1986. Altruistic Emotion, Cognition, and Behavior. New York: Lawrence Erlbaum. Erera, Pauline I. 1997. “Empathy Training for Helping Professionals: Model and Evaluation.” Journal of Social Work Education 22: 245–60. Feshbach, Norma Deitch, and Seymour Feshbach. 2009. “Empathy and Education.” In The Social Neuroscience of Empathy, edited by Jean Decety and William Ickes. Cambridge ma: mit Press. Grant, Colin. 1996. “For the Love of God: Agape.” Journal of Religious Ethics 24: 3–21. Gregory of Nyssa. 1978. The Life of Moses. New York: Paulist Press. Harrington, Daniel, and James F. Keenan. 2002. Jesus and Virtue Ethics: Building Bridges Between New Testament Studies and Moral Theology. Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield. Herdt, Jennifer A. 2008. Putting On Virtue. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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Hussey, M. Edmund. 1974. “The Persons-Energy Structure in the Theology of St. Gregory of Palamas.” St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly 18: 22–43. Jefferson, Thomas. n.d. “Letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787.” Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.let.rug.nl/usa/presidents/thomas-jefferson/letters-of-thomas -jefferson/jefl61.php. Kotva, Joseph J. 1996. The Christian Case for Virtue Ethics. Georgetown: Georgetown University Press. Lactantius. 1886. Divine Institutes. Edited by Alexander Roberts and James D ­ onaldson. Vol. 7. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Grand Rapids mi: William B. Eerdmans. Accessed ­November 1, 2014. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.ii.vi.v.html. Lewis, C.S. 1996. Mere Christianity. New York: Touchstone Book. Lutz, Antoine, Julie Brefczynski-Lewis, Tom Johnstone, and Richard J. Davidson. 2008. “Regulation of the Neural Circuitry of Emotion by Compassion Meditation: Effects of Meditative Expertise.” Edited by Bernhard Baune. PLoS ONE 3 (3): e1897. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001897. Marietta, Geoff, Aaron King, Elsbeth Hahn, Christopher Dede, and Hunter Gehlbach. 2013. “Improving Negotiation Outcomes through Virtual and Imaginative Role-Taking.” Accessed December 23, 2014. http://isites.harvard.edu/fs/docs/icb .topic1192409.files//AERAPoster2013.pdf. Oaten, M, and K Cheng. 2006. “Longitudinal Gains in Self-Regulation from Regular Physical Exercise.” British Journal of Health Psychology 11: 717–33. Oaten, Megen, and Ken Cheng. 2006. “Improved Self-Control: The Benefits of a Regular Program of Academic Study.” Basic and Applied Social Psychology 28: 1–6. Palamas, Gregory. 1998. St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality. Edited by John Meyendorff and Adele Fiske. Crestwood ny: St. Vladimir’s Press. Pecukonis, Edward. 1990. “A Cognitive/affective Empathy Training Program as a Function of Ego Development in Aggressive Adolescent Females.” Adolescence 25 (97): 59–76. Shapiro, Johana, Elizabeth H. Morrison, and John R. Boker. 2004. “Teaching Empathy to First-Year Medical Students: Evaluation of an Elective Literature and Medicine Course.” Education for Health 17: 73–84. Stern, Daniel. 2000. The Interpersonal World of the Infant: A View from Psychoanalysis and Development. New York: Basic Books. Warneken, Felix, and Michael Tomasello. 2009. “The Roots of Human Altruism.” British Journal of Psychology 100 (3): 455–71.

chapter 12

Science, Humility, and the Galileo Affair Craig A. Boyd Introduction In his landmark work, After Virtue,1 Alasdair MacIntyre argues that the virtues must be socially located since practical rationality requires the communication of habits of excellence from the expert to the novice. He elaborates on this idea of the transmission of virtues in a later volume, Dependent Rational Animals: Why Humans Need the Virtues, with the introduction of “virtues of acknowledged dependence” where he argues that in a community of any kind we must come to the realization that our achievements are never truly our own but depend on the gracious activity of others.2 These others instruct, guide, and develop us in ways we could not achieve by our individual efforts alone. Participation in a community means not only that at some point all of us are learners but also that we can become teachers and mentors as well. This is a truth that applies to those virtues that sustain communities of all sorts. The idea of a virtue, of course, is wider in scope than the traditional moral virtues such as prudence, justice, courage, and temperance. In addition to the moral virtues, Aristotle held there were also intellectual virtues such as wisdom, understanding, and science which “perfected” the mind, or the intellect. In the centuries since Aristotle, the moral virtues and the epistemic virtues parted company until only recently when such “virtue epistemologists” as Ernst Sosa, John Greco, and Linda Zagzebski began to reconsider the connection between the intellectual and the moral virtues. According to DePaul and Zagzebski, Virtue epistemologists understandably concentrate on the ways the idea of virtue can help resolve epistemological questions and leave the conceptual work of explaining value to ethics. Clearly, then, virtue epistemology needs virtue ethics. But … virtue ethics also has something important to learn from virtue epistemology. Perhaps due to historical accident, virtue ethicists have had little to say about intellectual virtue. 1 MacIntyre 1981. 2 MacIntyre 1999.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


They generally take for granted that the moral and intellectual virtues are not only distinct, but relatively independent.3 But work by virtue epistemologists has reinvigorated the discussion concerning the relationship between an individual’s character (at least in some minimal sense) and her ability to perceive adequately.4 And although some virtue epistemologists do not make an explicit appeal to Aristotle or Aquinas, the work of these two influential philosophers remains significant for contemporary discussions on the virtues. One of the traditional Aristotelian intellectual virtues is science, and it functions in a similar way to ethics since both have truth as their telos5 and require specific habits of the mind without which the practitioner cannot achieve her goal. Science so construed, therefore, represents an arena in which the acquisition of the intellectual virtues can and should play a critical role.6 Chief among these is the virtue of humility. Unless those practicing science develop the virtue of humility they will fail to consider plausible options and alternatives to their own views and may simply remain intellectually incorrigible. But how might humility—and its related virtues—help us down this path? I think a reconsideration of the work of Thomas Aquinas provides fruitful resources for this; and so in this chapter, I begin by considering the role of right reason in Aquinas’s thought and how it shapes his account of the virtues of science, prudence, and humility. I then appeal to MacIntyre’s idea of “virtues of acknowledged dependence” as a way of illuminating how humility depends on the work of others. I conclude with a discussion of Galileo and how his own work could have benefitted from the development of intellectual humility.

Aquinas on Right Reason and the Virtues

In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle considers 5 intellectual virtues: wisdom, understanding, science, prudence, and art.7 The first three are virtues of the 3 DePaul and Zagzebski 2003, 2. 4 See for example, Zagzebski 1996; Roberts and Wood 2007. 5 For Aquinas, science is concerned with truth as known while prudence is concerned with truth as an operation in the sense of “doing the truth” by pursuing goodness. 6 In this chapter I am only interested in a wider understanding of science as an empirical inquiry into nature and am merely using Aquinas to illustrate the importance of humility to any kind of investigation whatsoever. I obviously do not intend a return to medieval “science.” 7 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, Book vi, 1141a19–1141b25.



speculative intellect and the last two are virtues of the practical intellect. It is science that concerns discursive thought: how we move from one truth to another. This early philosophical understanding of science was later developed by Aquinas who employed it in a variety of contexts. More specifically, for Aquinas, science meant an ability to infer specific truths from both universal and particular truths. Science operated according to an Aristotelian syllogism where the middle term contained the particular. There is, therefore, a deductive structure to scientific reasoning. But an important element—and one that is central to the nature of Aristotelian science—is that the various forms of knowledge have to do with identifying causes.8 In scientific reasoning the middle term makes known the various causes at work. The one who possesses knowledge, therefore, knows the causes of things and also possess the means by which to reason about the causes. Science, for Aquinas, is therefore a kind of mediated knowledge. That is, it concerns truth that is “understood by the intellect, not at once, but by means of reason’s inquiry.”9 The virtue of science does not grasp truth immediately— as is the case with the virtue of understanding—but by means of a discursive process which employs the syllogism. And this is the reason why science, if it is to be a virtue, is right reasoning about things known. Unless the reasoning process is reliable, correct, and actually conforms to reality, it cannot be considered a virtue. This last point merits further thought. Science always regards the truth about the natural world, but it is a practice. And we do well to remember that science is a habit – that is, it is a perfection of the intellect that aims at the truth. Science is a kind of intellectual habit that must be shaped and trained so that the intellect operates with ease and accuracy in its attainment of truth. Aquinas makes a clear connection between science and prudence when he defines them with reference to the Latin phrase recta ratio. This term can be translated roughly as “right reason” but it also expresses the notion of “right relationship” or “correct deliberation.” Scientia is defined as recta ratio scibilium—right reasoning about things known, while prudentia is defined as recta ratio agibilium—right reasoning about things to be done.10

8 9 10

And here there is a distinction between science and wisdom. Wisdom is the science of “resolving” effects back to their ultimate cause, God. Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, IaIIae. 57. All translations from Aquinas are the author’s. IaIIae. 57.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


Prudence occupies a privileged place in Aquinas’s account of the virtues; it is both an intellectual virtue as well as the most important of the moral ­virtues.11 He claims that there can be “no moral virtue apart from prudence.”12 The reason for this claim is the following. Prudence is a virtue that perfects the intellect with how one ought to act. All of the other moral virtues— justice, courage, and temperance—concern activities of some kind. Justice concerns our actions towards others. Courage concerns our actions concerning fear and anger (i.e. the irascible appetites) and temperance regulates our actions concerning food, drink, and sex (i.e., the concupiscible appetite). By evaluating the various issues at hand, thinking through them carefully, and acting on the right judgment prudence is able to bridge the intellectual and moral virtues. In fact, Aquinas says that there are three component parts of prudence: deliberation, judgment, and choice. All three are necessary. The first two concern the operation of the intellect and the last is an act of the will. Deliberation can be seen in a parallel manner to what Aquinas calls “moral science.” Moral science is a practical science in the sense that it is knowledge about what should be done and is the process of right reasoning concerning what we should do here and now. It culminates in a judgment concerning action. Consider the following: I know that I should always respect my parents. This person here is my parent. And so I conclude that she should be respected here and now. If knowledge were merely a sufficient condition for virtue the process would be complete. However, it is not. One must not only know what one should do but also be able to perform the act in question. It is possible that I can reason to the right judgment and still not act on it. And so we see that choice—the ability to command the act—is also required. The agent needs not only right reasoning but also a right affective disposition; and this is why prudence is both an intellectual virtue as well as a moral virtue. A similar attitude informs Aquinas’s views on humility. All people have a desire for excellence and for achieving great things. One virtue— magnanimity—encourages that desire while another virtue— humility—tempers it. He says, Humility restrains the appetite from aiming at great things against right reason: while magnanimity urges the mind to great things in accord

11 12

For an excellent treatment of prudence in Aquinas see Wood 2014. IaIIae. 58.



with right reason. Hence it is clear that magnanimity is not opposed to humility: indeed they concur in this, that each is according to right reason.13 Like prudence, humility has both an intellectual and moral element. It is right reason that determines what should and should not be desired. He elaborates and says, It belongs properly to humility, that a person restrain himself from being borne towards that which is above him. For this purpose he must know his disproportion to that which surpasses his capacity. Hence knowledge of one’s own deficiency belongs to humility, as a rule guiding the appetite.14 The idea here of “disproportion” is significant as it suggests there are real relationships that can and should regulate our behaviors. Humility, therefore, requires both knowledge and the regulation of our desires. If a person is to acquire humility she must have knowledge of herself, her abilities, and her context. Suppose, for example, that Elizabeth wants to become a dentist. Does she have the scientific and mathematical aptitude for such a career? Can she accurately judge how long the course of study will take and can she commit to years of study and application? Is she comfortable being in close proximity to other people’s mouths? And can she afford the ­tuition? These questions, among others, help to assess Elizabeth’s capacity to fulfil her vocational desires. In addition to these cognitive self-assessments, there is also an affective element to humility in that it restrains our desire for excellence. There are some people for whom their desire exceeds their grasp. These individuals lack the knowledge of themselves and their abilities necessary to regulate their desires. Humility does the work of tempering the desires in such a way that we can desire that which we should. Suppose instead of desiring to become a dentist, Elizabeth desires to subjugate all of North America to her control. Even if she accurately assessed that she could, in fact, accomplish this task, despotism is an inordinate desire for pre-eminence and is, therefore, a seriously corrupt desire. It is humility, as guided by right reason that helps to correct and guide our desires in the right directions. Yet, this guidance requires learning from others and practicing the other requisite virtues in community.

13 14

IIaIIae. 161, 1, ad 3. IIaIIae. 161, 2.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


MacIntyre’s Virtues of Acknowledged Dependence

Our necessary limitations demonstrate to us, in MacIntyre’s language, that we are “dependent rational animals.”15 That is, we are creatures that require not only development of our own powers and abilities as individuals in order to flourish but we also require the assistance of others. We must develop not only virtues of “independence” but also those of “acknowledged dependence.” His argument runs along the following lines. There are goods that we can achieve only by cooperation with others: these are called “common goods” and they resist categorization as either “yours” or “mine.” Peace is one such good that we share in as a community but so too is knowledge. One person is incapable of mastering and practicing science completely on his own. It requires a community of practitioners. We see that there are some virtues that enable us to become independent practical reasoners. Prudence, for example, assists us in daily activities wherein we need not consult experts continually. Yet, there are also other virtues that acknowledge our dependence on others. But in order to acknowledge that we need one another requires that we value and understand our place in that community of vulnerable individuals. We receive from parents and other family elders, from teachers and those to whom we are apprenticed, and from those who care for us when we are sick, injured, weakened by aging, or otherwise incapacitated. Later on others, children, students, those who are in various ways incapacitated, and others in gross and urgent need have to rely on us to give. Sometimes those others who rely on us are the same individuals from whom we ourselves received. But often enough it is from one set of individuals that we receive and to and by another that we are called to give. So understood, the relationships from which the independent practical reasoner emerges and through which she or he continues to be sustained are such that from the outset she or he is in debt. Moreover the repayment of the debts in question is not and cannot be a matter of strict reciprocity, and not only because those to whom one is called upon to give are very often not the same individuals as those from whom one received.16 The recognition that we are vulnerable and need assistance in a variety of contexts is merely an acknowledgement of our place in the larger scheme of things. The agent who possesses right reason grasps this. And it is this capacity that enables us to see these relationships and act accordingly. 15 16

What follows in this sections draws upon my earlier work. Cf. Boyd 2014. MacIntyre 1999, 99–100.



But it is at this point that the virtue of humility helps shape our desire for our own excellence. Since we recognize that we are not self-sufficient and since there are a host of goods that we cannot achieve on our own, we require humility. That is, humility enables us to value ourselves as members of a community where no one person possesses independent, god-like status. We realize we constantly need the “good” that others help us achieve. In a community of other-dependent, rational creatures we come to appreciate the fact that each of us owes our well-being to others: to parents, teachers, friends, siblings, and counselors. In order to receive any skill, habit, or ability we need the instruction and guidance of others. The insights, perceptions, and competencies of others develop our own skills in significant ways. And so we must be open to the good that others offer us since we know it is a good we do not possess. Whether the virtue in question is an intellectual virtue such as scientia or a practical virtue such as ars, the habit can only be attained through the instruction of others in the community. For example, if I wish to practice astronomy I need to find an instructor who knows the principles of astronomy, who knows how to calibrate and operate a telescope, and who understands the movement of the stars and other celestial objects. This idea that we should acknowledge our own receptivity stands in stark contrast to Aristotle’s megalopsychos who, “is the sort of person who does good but is ashamed when he receives it; for doing good is proper to the superior person, and receiving it to the inferior … Magnanimous people seem to remember the good they do, but not what they receive, since the recipient is inferior to the giver, and the magnanimous person wishes to be superior.”17 The repeated emphasis on denying receptivity here is striking. For Aristotle, the truly magnanimous person wants neither (1) to receive the good from another, nor (2) to acknowledge that the good has come from another. This refusal to accept the good from another and to downplay its own importance to our well-being stands in stark contrast to an adequate account of humility. “Reception,” at least in the sense of developing virtue, involves at least three elements: (1) a valuing the other as possessing a quality of excellence (2) an understanding my own lack of excellence, and (3) a sense of gratitude for the good 17 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1124b10–15.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


I must start with valuing the expertise of my astronomy instructor. I must grasp the fact that she knows and I do not know. This basic recognition demonstrates a lack that I have that she does not have. If I presume to know what I do not know then my future as an astronomer will not be successful. A basic appreciation and openness is necessary in any science or field of inquiry. This openness is what Thomas Aquinas calls “docility.” I must be teachable. In order to be docile I must value the excellence my mentor possesses and be open to receive these habits myself. The term “docility” has recently been seen as a bad thing (in ways analogous to humility). In this more recent understanding it means a kind of passivity wherein the possessor is easily led about without having any sense of character of her own. A richer understanding is that the docile person is able to be taught by others but not uncritically. That is, docility means a kind of openness to being taught—but not just by anyone. And this is where prudence comes into play. A prudent person has an understanding of real relationships that exist among and between people. The prudent learner will be guided by her astronomy instructor in matters pertaining to astronomy but probably not in music (unless the astronomer is also a virtuoso of some kind). So prudence helps us determine which persons should be listened to most carefully and which persons will have a less informed perspective on the matters at hand. Aquinas argues that docility is a “component part” of prudence in that the prudent person must be open to learning from others rather than trying to discover everything by herself. Aquinas says. [P]rudence is concerned with particular matters of action, and since such matters are of infinite variety, no one person can consider them all sufficiently; nor can this be done quickly, for it requires length of time. Thus in matters of prudence a person stands in very great need of being taught by others, especially by older people who have acquired a sane understanding of the ends in practical matters … Now it is a mark of docility to be ready to be taught: and consequently docility is fittingly considered a part of prudence.18 When prudence informs humility, I recognize my own lack of training. In looking to my instructor I must be able to see the difference between her ability to locate Jupiter with very little difficulty and my own fumbling attempts with the telescope. This recognition of my own inadequacy, however, should not 18

IIaIIae. 49, 3.



lead to despair. My instructor must be able to encourage even my most minor successes and victories. My reception of praise and, more importantly, of training elicits a response of gratitude. I realize that I could never develop as an astronomer on my own without the attentive instruction of my mentor. I can affirm not only the good that I have received but also the source of that goodness. In a similar way, humility involves “receptivity.” Humility—as appropriate self-assessment—will first value the gifts and the abilities of the other. It would seem that this affirmation of excellence is the starting place for receptivity because without affirming the good of the other and the good that the other offers to us, we cannot break free from the illusion of self-sufficiency that grips the person who thinks she is completely self-sufficient. This illusion of self-sufficiency is captured in Aristotle’s megalopsychos—the individual who seems to possess complete excellence and has achieved it “on his own” so to speak.19 In contrast, I must be open to receive the good that the other offers. Secondly, I must recognize my own lack of the good and that I cannot achieve it on my own. MacIntyre says, “each of us achieves our good only if and insofar as others make our good their good by helping us through periods of disability to become ourselves the kind of human being—through acquisition and exercise of the virtues—who makes the good of others her or his good.”20 In recognizing my own lack of the good in question, I realize that I necessarily need assistance in the pursuit of the good. The common good is a common pursuit of those in a community who recognize that no one of them alone can achieve it on their own. Finally, I must have a sense of gratitude for the good. Gratitude signals the response I have when I am aware of my own lack of self-sufficiency in achieving the good and my affirmation of the help of others. Humility – when linked to magnanimity – as guided by right reason will determine that if I am the teacher of a novice that I can, and should, be the instructor in the relationship as it is my responsibility to train and educate the student. A person must appreciate the value of others in community. In a sense, a humble person is also a grateful person since gratitude recognizes and 19 Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, 1124b10–25. “He is the sort of person who does good but is ashamed when he receives it; for doing good is proper to the superior person, and receiving it to the inferior … Magnanimous people seem to remember the good they do, but not what they receive, since the recipient is inferior to the giver, and the magnanimous person wishes to be superior. And they seem to find pleasure in hearing of the good they do, and none in the hearing what they receive.” Philippa Foote (2002, 90) suggests an interesting similarity between Aristotle’s megalopsychos and Nietzsche’s approach to ethics. 20 MacIntyre 1999, 108.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


prizes the work that another does and who the other is. This work is such that one could not accomplish it on one’s own. Consider the athlete who wins a most valuable player award and gives the traditional acceptance speech. She thanks her parents for the sacrifices they made on her behalf. She thanks the coaches for their insights and instruction, and she thanks her teammates for their support. In the humble person we see a convergence of receptivity, gratitude, and awareness of her abilities. That is, the humble athlete is open to instruction because she values the abilities and insights of others. As a novice – and as one who constantly strives to improve  – she is able to see the “gap” between her current ability and her potential. But as she improves she understands that her athletic excellence cannot be attributed solely to her own natural ability. That is, she understands that she owes a great deal of her own success to others who have sacrificed, instructed, and supported her all along the way. And so, gratitude will be an integral element of humility.

The Galileo Affair as a Case Study

The historical example of Galileo demonstrates how humility might function in a helpful way with regard to successful scientific inquiry. Although his work represents a watershed in the development of cosmology, he is also unfortunately the standard case study for the conflict between religion and science. And this conflict reveals some important things about Galileo’s methods and practices in “doing science.” One of the remarkable things is that if he had possessed more intellectual humility his ideas might have been more widely accepted than they were. I do not argue that the Church was right and Galileo was wrong. On the contrary, Galileo’s brilliance was unmatched and his innovations were the mark of a genius. Nor do I intend to argue that Galileo should have adopted a servility that was beneath him. Rather, I argue that the possession of humility—when rightly conceived—could have benefitted him considerably during his illustrious academic career. In this section, I consider two issues in his life: the larger problem of Copernicanism and the problem of the tides.21 The “Galileo Affair,” as it has come to be known did not start with Galileo but with another Italian natural philosopher at the time, Paulo Foscarini,


I was inspired to develop the idea of Galileo as a case study from Roberts’s and Woods’s brief mention of him in their Intellectual Virtues (2007, 254).



who decided to publish a treatise defending the Copernican cosmology against the competing Tychonic and Ptolemaic views. The idea here was that the Copernican view was obviously true and that he was simply making it easier for the Church to make the transition to the newer, more accurate heliocentrist approach. Foscarini, of course, knew Galileo’s work and believed there was ­sufficient support in the scientific and religious communities. Furthermore, Galileo set out to demonstrate that the newer model was true and that the older model, although intuitively more plausible, was wrong.22 Galileo had good reasons for believing the earth orbited the Sun. Even though the earth did not appear to move, with the use of a telescope one could see moons orbiting the planet Jupiter. And the planet Venus seemed to go through phases like the moon. Additionally, there were sunspots and the moon did not appear to be a perfect sphere. These discoveries seemed to show that the earth was not the center of the universe. But even though he could show that specific beliefs that were central to the Ptolemaic system were false, he could not show that his own were true. Falsification of the Ptolemaic cosmology did not entail a verification of Copernicanism. It was Foscarini’s work the prompted the first Trial in 1615. Foscarini received a response from Cardinal Robert Bellarmine indicating that Copernicanism was not consistent with the Catholic faith. The Cardinal listed three reasons: (1) it violated the Scriptures, (2) it ran contrary to the teachings of the Church Fathers, and (3) it irritated the philosophers.23 The trial of 1615 ended with the decision that Copernicanism could be held hypothetically but not really. That is, it could be used as a helpful tool for the determination of the seasons and location of the various heavenly bodies but it was not meant to be used as a model for how the cosmos truly operated. But in 1624 Maffeo Barbarini, a friend of Galileo’s was elected Pope. And things changed – or so Galileo thought. He believed that if he wanted to publish on Copernicanism again that it would be safe. So he bided his time and began work on a dialogue. Galileo published the Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican in 1632, and it was this work that precipitated the more famous trial. This work is a dialogue among three characters: Simplicio, Sagredo, and Salviati. Simplicio, whose name means “simpleton,” defends the widely held and theologically approved Ptolemaic perspective. Sagredo is the wise defender of the Copernican model. And Salviati is an impartial lay person who listens

22 23

For an overview of the Galileo Affair see Blackwell 1991, 2006. An English translation of Bellarmine’s letter can be found in Blackwell 1991.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


to both sides. In the end, most readers agree that Sagredo wins the argument. But this rhetorical victory is what clearly caused Galileo’s series of unfortunate events. Galileo chose Simplicio to represent Urban viii’s own views on cosmology. Urban appealed to what is known as a divine omnipotence argument. On this view, since God was all-powerful, God could make the phenomena appear one way while the true nature of things could be different. That is, no natural philosopher, such as Galileo, could be certain that his own theories were correct and that God had to create accordingly. There were at least two issues here. The first was that a valid demonstration of Galileo’s view would have to show clearly that the theory not only refuted Ptolemy but confirmed Copernicanism. The second problem was that the argument from divine omnipotence could be used to trump almost any theory Galileo could offer. With regard to the first problem, the standard for “demonstration” in the 17th century was a different notion. A demonstration required more than merely falsifying the competing views. A demonstration required a syllogism that could be resolved with necessity and by an appeal to one of the four causes.24 And since Galileo could provide no causal nexus for his Copernicanism, no demonstration could be provided. The second problem was a theological problem. Although Galileo had shown some theological acumen in his Letter to the Grand Duchess Christina years earlier in his argument for the separation of science and theology, this argument from omnipotence was another matter altogether. If God’s omnipotence means God could do anything whatsoever, then it could be the case that what appears to us may not be the way things truly are. And in one sense this is an epistemological problem. However, when divine omnipotence is invoked the ground for the argument changes radically. No longer do we have an argument based upon the best empirical explanation of the phenomena. Rather, we are engaged in a question of divine action in the world and in the process of knowledge. Although these arguments do not merit what we would now call scientific investigation, they do show Galileo’s willingness to ridicule the opinion of the most powerful person in the region. The commission that examined Galileo’s dialogue determined that he had placed the Pope’s own opinion “in the mouth of a fool and in a place where it can only be found with difficulty, and then he had it approved coldly by the other speaker, by merely mentioning but not elaborating the positive things he


For a detailed account of medieval and early renaissance understandings of Aristotelian demonstration see Wallace 1991.



seems to utter against his will.”25 This provocation, whether intentional or not, certainly lacked both prudence and humility. Yet, this unwise approach reflected a character trait that had been there throughout. His brilliance at perfecting the telescope, at observing the Jovian satellites, and the phases of Venus did not necessarily translate into working collegially with others. Early on, when the Copernican controversy began, Orazio Grassi – a well-known natural philosopher himself – observed that, “Galileo caused his own ruin by thinking too highly of himself and despising others. You should not be surprised if everybody plots against him.”26 In 1618 astronomers had observed three comets in the skies. Grassi published lectures on these events with reference to the movement, location, and composition of the comets. The lectures were published anonymously and Galileo read them and was provoked. Richard Blackwell observes that, “Although it contained nothing that directly challenged Galileo, nevertheless, Galileo decided to answer it in an essay published under the name of his associate Mario Guiducci.”27 Moreover, Galileo goes out of his way to insult and ridicule another Jesuit, Christopher Schreiner, and calls Schreiner’s work at best, “mediocre,” even though the Jesuit’s work was significant in the discovery of sunspots.28 Instead of valuing and respecting Schreiner’s work, it was dismissed and instead seen as a threat. This attitude of responding to others in an unprovoked fashion was not atypical. But Galileo, if he had taken the time to read Kepler, would have gained support for his own views. Even though he was aware of the computational problems with Copernicanism, he still retained the circular orbits of the planets around the sun. Kepler’s now famous three laws show that the earth orbits the sun in an elliptical orbit and it is this discovery that fits. Yet, from what we know, Galileo never consulted Kepler. Shea and Artigas contend that: To the end of his life, Galileo held to a simplified version of the Copernican system in which all the planets move in perfect circles. Although he preached open-mindedness, he never lent an ear to Kepler’s arguments about elliptical paths.29 25

26 27 28 29

Finocchiaro 1989, 221. From the perspective of the commission, however, a possibly more egregious act was their perception of his hubris as they claim “He wrongly asserts and declares a certain equality between the human and divine intellect in the understanding of geometrical matters,” 222. Shea and Artigas 2003, 73–74. Blackwell 1991, 154. Blackwell 2006, 82. Shea and Artigas 2003, 26.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


But his issues with Kepler did not end there. In the time between the two trials, Galileo spent a great deal of time working on the problem of the tides. The work, On the Tides, became part of the 4th Day in the more famous Dialogue on the Two Chief World Systems. In this shorter work, he theorizes that the movement of the tides are caused by the motion of the earth as it orbits the sun. The water of the oceans is contained, therefore, in a moving vessel. Variations in the tides are explained by the relative depth and localities. In his zeal to provide a definitive explanation, he discounted the influence of the moon, which others had posited.30 He makes the claim that the moon doesn’t have “anything to do with oceans and with the waters.”31 He contemptuously discounts Kepler by saying that, “Though he had at his fingertips the motions attributed to the earth … has nevertheless leant his assent to the moon’s dominion over the waters.”32 In fact he goes so far as to argue that those who disagree with him are guilty of simply postulating vain imaginings. He says: These are so far from being actual or possible causes of the tides that the very contrary is true. The tides are the cause of them; that is, make them occur to mentalities better equipped for loquacity and ostentation than for reflections upon and investigations into the most hidden works of nature. Rather than being reduced to offering those wise, clever and modest words, “I do not know,” they hasten to wag their tongues and even their pens in the wildest absurdities.33 Although Kepler had been right about two of the most important scientific issues Galileo had grappled with, he let his own vanity prevent him from being receptive to the ideas of another truly brilliant scientist of his own era. Conclusion In the 21st century it is almost certainly anachronistic to think about science as a virtue. Yet, if we consider empirical method as a kind of excellence it becomes more plausible. But there is still a conceptual gulf that lies between these kinds of excellences and what we might consider moral virtue since there are both: (1) moral people who are bad scientists, and (2) very good scientists who lack

30 31 32 33

Cf. J.L. Heilbron 2010, 260–261. Galileo 1953, 454. Ibid., 462. Ibid., 460.



moral character. Having acknowledged this disconnect, however, there does seem to be some overlap in terms of what we might call minimal moral qualities that might lead to helpful scientific innovations or discoveries. Intellectual humility might be one of those areas of overlap. The development of any kind of excellence requires a community of practitioners who can instruct us and guide us in the disciplines we wish to acquire. The acquisition of a practice requires being receptive to the instruction by the teacher. It also requires understanding the nature of the relationships that operate and how to make the best use of those relationships. In Galileo’s context, although he had benefitted greatly from the instruction and expertise of others, he failed to consider the importance of the works of others and seemed to court controversy when it wasn’t needed. The genuine valuing of others and their opinions could have benefitted his own research even though it may not ever have convinced the Church authorities of the truth of Copernicanism. References Aristotle. 1985. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by Irwin Terence. Indianapolis in: Hackett. Blackwell, Richard J. 1991. Galileo, Bellarmine, and the Bible. Notre Dame in: University of Notre Dame Press. Blackwell, Richard J. 2006. Behind the Scenes at Galileo’s Trial. Notre Dame in: University of Notre Dame Press. Boyd, Craig A. 2014. “Pride and Humility: Tempering the Desire for Excellence.” In Virtues and Their Vices, edited by Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd. New York: Oxford University Press. DePaul, Michael, and Linda Zagzebski, eds. 2003. Intellectual Virtue: Perspectives from Ethics and Epistemology. New York: Oxford University Press. Finocchiaro, Maurice A., ed. 1989. The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History. Translated by Maurice A. Finocchiaro. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Foot, Philippa. 1978. Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. Galilei, Galileo. 1953. Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems: Ptolemaic and Copernican. Translated by Stillman Drake. New York: Modern Library. Heilbron, J.L. 2010. Galileo. New York: Oxford University Press. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1981. After Virtue. Notre Dame, in: University of Notre Dame. Roberts, Robert C., and W. Jay Wood. 2007. Intellectual Virtues: An Essay in Regulative Epistemology. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Science, Humility, And The Galileo Affair


Shea, William, and Mario Artigas. 2003. Galileo in Rome. New York: Oxford University Press. Wallace, William. 1991. Galileo and His Sources. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Wood, W. Jay. 2014. “Prudence.” In, edited by Kevin Timpe and Craig A. Boyd, 37–58. New York: Oxford University Press. Zagzebski, Linda Trinkhaus. 1996. Virtues of the Mind. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

chapter 13

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition: Increasing Moral Behavior and Personal Well-being Joseph Bankard Introduction In late August 2005, Hurricane Katrina slammed into the gulf coast causing an estimated 81 billion dollars in damages, killing over 1800 people, and displacing thousands more. As Tanya and Tracey Thornbury watched the news coverage from their safe suburban home in Montevideo Minnesota, they felt compelled to help in some way. After much thought and discussion, the couple decided to open their home to a displaced family and emailed an invitation to a Louisiana shelter. Soon they got a response from Nicole Singleton, a 30year-old-woman from Baton Rouge who needed housing for herself, her six children (ages ranging from 3 to 16) and her 52 year-old mother Dot. The Thornburys agreed to house all 8 of the Singletons, and soon Nicole, her mother, and her 6 children made the 1300 mile journey north and joined Tonya and Tracey and their 3 children (ages ranging from 5–12) in Montevideo. At first things went well. The Thornburys picked the Singletons up from the airport with signs of welcome and gifts. The Singleton children registered for school and Nicole and Dot started looking for work. As news of the Singletons spread throughout the community, people started stopping by to donate money (over $5000 total), clothes, and toys. A local Methodist pastor developed a relationship with the Singletons and even invited them to come share their story after Sunday morning services. The two sets of children really seemed to get along well, and the Thornburys felt like they had made the right decision. Unfortunately, the good times did not last long. Soon conflicts arose on several fronts. First, Nicole and Dot were frustrated that Tanya and Tracey wanted to use some of the donated money to help pay for the rapidly increasing costs of having 8 new people living in their home. For instance, the gas bill went from $100 to $211 and the electric bill rose from $35 to $100. The Singletons were living with the Thornburys for free, so it seemed reasonable to Tanya and Tracey to use some of the incoming cash to help offset these rising costs. The Singleton’s saw things differently. There were also arguments about tv ­programs,

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


movies and music. For instance, the Thornburys were upset with Dot because she continued let her grandchildren watch scary rated R movies in the presence of the Thornbury children. This went against the “rules” of the house, but Dot didn’t seem to care. But the biggest area of conflict revolved around Nicole’s boyfriend who was incarcerated back in Louisiana. Both Tanya and Tracey asked Nicole to cut off contact with her boyfriend because they feared he might come looking for her, but Nicole refused. Furthering their fears was Nicole’s refusal to give the reason for his incarceration saying only that he had “been a bad boy.” One day Tanya saw letters from “Riverbend Detention Center” in Louisiana. She opened them and discovered that not only was Nicole’s boyfriend up for parole, he had also been informed of Nicole’s new address. The confrontation that ensued led to Nicole moving out of the Thornburys home and into a motel. The rest of the Singleton family soon followed after an argument between Tracey and Dot ended with Dot’s 16year-old granddaughter slapping Tracey on the arms, torso, and face. Just six weeks after relocating to Minnesota, the entire Singleton family had moved out of the Thornbury home. After the ordeal Tracey summed up how she felt saying “We busted our asses. I won’t help anyone for the rest of my life. I won’t put my family through it.”1 Any number of reasons can be given for the fallout between these two families. Imagine how difficult it would be to lose your home in a hurricane, to relocate 1300 miles to a foreign place and to live in an unfamiliar home with new rules and expectations. This loss of autonomy must have been incredibly difficult for the Singletons. And in the midst of this tough transition they began to view their new hosts as rigid and controlling. But from the Thornburys perspective, the heart of the problem was quite different. It seemed to Tanya and Tracey that the Singletons failed to appreciate the kindness, love, and sacrifice extended on their behalf. In short, the primary reason for the fallout was a severe lack of gratitude. The Thornburys opened their home, they sacrificed their comfort, they exposed their children, and they extended themselves financially, but in the end they felt like these sacrifices were taken for granted. Instead of gratitude, the Singletons demonstrated an attitude of entitlement. This story highlights the importance of gratitude both as a moral emotion and as a Christian virtue. Gratitude is at the heart of giving and receiving. This includes the giving and receiving of affection, time, gifts, talents, and financial assistance. Gratitude motivates reciprocity and facilitates trust and caring. 1 Gray, 2005, A1.



The feeling of genuine gratitude increases moral behavior because receiving a gift gratefully often leads to future giving. The more grateful I am, the more likely I am to pay the gift forward. In short, gratitude is the social glue that helps hold relationships and social structures together. As Robert Emmons writes in his book Gratitude Works, Gratitude takes us outside our scope so we see ourselves as part of a larger, intricate network of sustaining relationships, relationships that are mutually reciprocal. In this sense, similar to other social emotions, it functions to help regulate relationships, solidifying and strengthening them. Herein lies the energizing and motivating quality of gratitude. It is a positive state of mind that gives rise to the passing on of the gift through positive action. As such, gratitude serves as a key link in the dynamic between receiving and giving. It is not only a response to kindness received but it also motivates the recipient’s future benevolent actions.2 Unfortunately, the importance of gratitude is often downplayed or completely ignored. In response, this chapter seeks to highlight four important features of gratitude. First, some clarity is needed. Is gratitude a feeling, a moral duty, a virtue, or some combination of these? What distinguishes gratitude as a moral emotion from gratitude as a Christian virtue? Second, the paper will show how Christian theology can help illuminate the importance of gratitude. Specifically, how can the doctrines of creation and Christian grace help foster gratitude? Third, the paper will unpack some of the recent science surrounding gratitude. How does gratitude impact relationships? Does gratitude really increase human well-being? Can it help foster moral behavior? Finally, the paper will explore several important practices for cultivating the virtue of gratitude. Cultivating virtue requires practice and habituation. In a Christian context this process demands participation in spiritual disciplines. In the case of gratitude, journaling, letter writing, and prayer will be explored.

What is Gratitude?

For many, gratitude is considered a moral emotion.3 Like all emotions, gratitude is a naturally occurring human experience. Typically, the feeling of ­gratitude

2 Emmons 2013, vii–viii. 3 See Haidt 2003; Leffel, Fritz, Stephens 2008.

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arises automatically given certain eliciting circumstances. For instance, imagine the prospect of unloading the back of a heavy truck singlehandedly. It is clear that there are too many pieces to lift on your own. So you call a friend to come and help. Your friend arrives and the two of you promptly unload the heavy truck. An experience like this will, one would hope, generate the feeling of gratitude. But you will not consciously or intentionally choose to feel grateful for the help. Rather, this feeling will arise naturally, automatically, below the level of conscious thought. Thus, gratitude is a naturally occurring response to a perceived gift, in this case the time and labor of a friend. Gratitude is considered a moral emotion because the experience of gratitude often motivates moral behavior. Specifically, feeling grateful motivates generosity, kindness and reciprocation. In many respects, gratitude facilitates giving and receiving gifts in ways that bolster trust and intimacy within relationships. To help solidify this point, imagine the likely response to your friend when he arrives to help you move and after the job is finished. If you’re truly grateful, then it will show on your face, in your words, and in your body language. Gratitude motivates behavior. In this case, it helps you receive the gift with grace and humility. Similarly, how would you respond if in two months’ time your benevolent friend calls for a favor? Suppose he needs to borrow your truck to pick up some lumber for a project he’s working on. Do you loan him your truck? If you’re like most people, you feel an obligation to reciprocate. Given your friend’s past kindness and your own feelings of gratitude, you will most likely loan him your truck. In this way, the experience of gratitude motivates reciprocity. According to Robert Emmons, there are two important stages to gratitude. First, one must become aware of life’s goodness. In the situation above, one might recognize and be grateful for good friends, for the material abundance that requires moving in the first place, for the health to lift heavy objects, for trucks that run, and the like. Life really is filled with goodness. The second stage acknowledges that the good things in life are partially or completely outside of one’s control. That is, one did not bring them about on one’s own. They are, in a very real sense, gifts. Thus, gratitude is experienced when one acknowledges life’s goodness is the result of circumstances outside of one’s control. This is why gratitude requires humility. No one is solely responsible for the good things in life. We all rely on others and circumstances outside of our control for the goodness, kindness, and happiness we experience. Because of this, we must learn to receive the good gifts in our lives with humility. This is the cornerstone of gratitude. At this point in the argument a fundamental question arises. If gratitude is a naturally occurring human experience given certain eliciting circumstances,



then it seems to be outside of human control. I don’t know about you, but I can’t control the way I feel. In fact, it usually makes me more upset when someone tells me to “cheer up,” “stop being sad,” or “calm down.” If I could choose to feel happy and free of anxiety at all times, I would certainly make that choice. But emotions seem to be outside of human control. This poses a serious problem for moral emotions like gratitude because gratitude motivates important behaviors like kindness, generosity, and reciprocity. Feelings come and go. They arise, spur us to action, and then leave just as quickly. If I can’t control how I feel, then I can’t entirely control how I act because the two are so intimately linked. But shouldn’t traits like generosity and reciprocation be more stable and more predictable than human emotion? Are we really doomed to act inconsistently based on the fluctuations of feeling and emotion? There is good data to suggest that human behavior is fickle and largely motivated by emotion.4 But there is hope. Gratitude is a moral emotion, but it is also a virtue. In the 1st century bc Roman philosopher Cicero argued that “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others”5 because gratitude helps facilitate and maintain other virtues like kindness, self-sacrifice and generosity. As a virtue, gratitude is related to emotion, but it cannot be reduced to emotion. Here I’m defining virtue as a positive character trait or disposition deemed morally good by a particular community, culture, or religious tradition. Unlike emotions, character traits and dispositions are stable over time. A cowardly person may display courage from time to time. But a person who possesses a courageous character is inclined to act courageously in consistent ways spanning many different contexts. Virtues foster consistency because they help shape the whole person. Virtues not only impact behavior, they also help shape how a person thinks, feels, and perceives. As Aristotle argued, virtue means hitting the target, in the right way, at the right time, in the right amount, and for the right reason.6 Thus, courage is the blending of reason with an emotion like fear, so that one learns to respond appropriately. In some contexts this may mean running away, in others it may call for one to stand fast, in others to fight. In this way, a courageous person feels fear much like a coward. The difference is the courageous person feels fear in light of the way they perceive themselves, their priorities, their responsibilities, their community, and the like. This allows the courageous person to feel fear without responding in a cowardly fashion. 4 Haidt 2002. 5 Quote from Cicero found in Emmons 2007, 15. 6 Aristotle 2004, II.9.

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It should be noted that moral virtues like courage are not naturally occurring human traits.7 We are not born with them. Instead, moral virtues are cultivated through habituation and practice. Much the same way a person learns a skill like dribbling a basketball or playing the guitar, moral virtues are developed through hard work and repetition. Thus, the more one practices small acts of courage, the better equipped one will be to act courageously in consistent ways as the situation dictates. Here it might help to think of the military training a new cadet undergoes to be courageous in the midst of battle. Getting ready for the battlefield takes extensive drilling. In short it requires practice and repetition. Developing virtue is no different. Applying the qualities of moral virtue to gratitude reveals several things. First the virtue of gratitude creates consistent behavior over time. Every person exhibits genuine gratitude occasionally. But the person who develops the virtue of gratitude will experience gratitude consistently over time and across a wide range of circumstances. This helps highlight the distinction between what Nathaniel Lambert and Frank Fincham call benefit-triggered gratitude8 and what Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough call a grateful disposition.9 Benefit-triggered gratitude is the feeling experienced when a beneficiary receives a gift from a benefactor (i.e. a friend helps you move). In contrast, a grateful disposition (character trait) is “a generalized tendency to recognize and respond with grateful emotion to the roles of other people’s benevolence in the positive experiences and outcomes that one obtains.”10 Simply put, the person who cultivates a grateful disposition will feel grateful predictably and consistently over a wide range of experiences. In a very real sense, these individuals have trained themselves to think, feel, and perceive the world through a lens of gratitude. If gratitude motivates moral behavior, then a grateful disposition will help increase acts of kindness, generosity, and reciprocity. Gratitude is a moral emotion that motivates moral behavior. Thus, cultivating the virtue of gratitude requires one to train emotion in order to increase the frequency and predictability of such behavior. It demands that a person develop a particular way of thinking, feeling, and perceiving that is c­ haracterized by 7

8 9 10

Ibid. Aristotle makes a distinction between moral virtues and intellectual virtues. Moral virtues like courage, temperance, and prudence, are not natural endowments. They are cultivated through habituation. Intellectual virtues like wisdom and intelligence are considered more natural, but can be fostered through instruction. For a variety of reasons, Aristotle did not include gratitude in his list of moral virtues. But if gratitude is a virtue, it best fits as a moral virtue. Lambert and Fincham 2011. Emmons, McCullough, Tsang 2002. Ibid, 112.



a grateful disposition. The good news is this kind of moral training is possible. Section four will highlight several practices and spiritual disciplines that, when done consistently, cultivate the virtue of gratitude. But the process of developing such a virtue starts by changing one’s perspective. In order to experience gratitude, one must perceive the world in a particular way. To this end, the next section will explore the theological roots of gratitude. How can Christian theology help foster a grateful disposition?

The Theology of Gratitude

For centuries, Christian theology has considered gratitude a vital moral virtue. From St. Thomas Aquinas (13th century) to early church fathers such as St. John Chrysostom (4th century), the Christian faith consistently places gratitude and thanksgiving at the center of the Christian life.11 This can be seen throughout the liturgy. Worship services are filled with prayers and songs of thanksgiving. The call to tithe asks parishioners to gratefully and humbly give back a portion of the good gifts bestowed upon them by God. And the worship service typically ends with the Eucharist, which, when translated from the Greek, literally means “thanksgiving.” At the communion table, Christians give thanks to God for the grace given in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Martin Luther called gratitude “the basic Christian attitude” and “the heart of the gospel.”12 John Wesley wrote that “True religion is right tempers toward God and right tempers toward man. It is, in two words, gratitude and benevolence – gratitude to our Creator… and benevolence to our fellow creatures.”13 It’s clear that gratitude is a significant component of the Christian faith, but why? Why is gratitude so vital? Why focus so much time and energy on the virtue of gratitude? In order to address these questions adequately, it is necessary to unpack the theological roots of gratitude. What core Christian doctrines inspire gratitude on the part of the worshiper?

The Doctrine of Creation

“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”14 So starts the Biblical account of creation. Several important features of divine creation stand out 11 12 13 14

See Aquinas 1920, second part of the second part, question 106; Cyprian 2003. Martin Luther quote cited in Emmons and Kneezel 2005, 140. Wesley, 2016b. Genesis 1:1.

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in Genesis 1. First, there is a clear valuation of creation. Genesis 1 makes it clear that God is pleased with the created order. Several times the author informs us that God looks at creation and “saw that it was good.” This is no accident. The physical universe, created by God, is indeed good. This point is highlighted with the incarnation. In the person of Jesus Christ, God becomes part of the created order. God takes on flesh and bone. Is there a better way to affirm the value and goodness of creation, than becoming a part of it? Living and dying in human form? Second, orthodox Christianity15 affirms creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This view holds that in the beginning nothing existed outside of God. Because of God’s kenotic (self-giving) nature, God chose to create. This choice was not forced or compelled. Nothing in God’s nature required God to create. Instead, God freely and lovingly chose to create.16 As John Polkinghorne writes, “Nothing else existed either to prompt or to constrain the divine creative act. The divine will alone is the source of created being.”17 The logic of creation ex nihilo argues that the entire created order is utterly dependent, now and always, on God for its beginning and continued existence. Without God freely choosing to create and sustain the physical universe, nothing would exist. Creation ex nihilo draws support from other Biblical passages, such as John 1.18 If God freely chose to create out of nothing, then creation must be seen as a gift from God. And not just any gift, but a good and loving gift. God literally brought all things out of non-being into being. It should now be clear why the doctrine of creation is especially important for the cultivation of gratitude. Remember, gratitude is intimately related to the giving, receiving, and exchanging of gifts. When a person receives a gift, the feeling of gratitude is usually the result. In turn, this feeling often prompts generosity and reciprocation. How much gratitude should be given to God who both creates and sustains the entire created order? One of the biggest obstacles to gratitude is the desire for self-sufficiency. For many it is unsettling to rely or depend on others. It makes people feel weak. Whether pride or low self-esteem motives the desire for independence, 15

16 17 18

By orthodox I mean the view held by most of the Church fathers (patristics) and the view most commonly held by Christian theologians today. It should be noted that some Christians disagree with creation ex nihilo. For instance, many process theologians argue that God creates out of chaos, not nothing. God’s very nature is creative. That is, God cannot help but create. The surplus of God’s love, goodness, and creativity gives rise to creation. See Cobb and David Griffin 1976, 65; Oord 2009, 38–53. Bishop, n. d. Polkinghorne, 2010, 107. See also 1 Corinthians 8:6, Colossians 1:16, Hebrews 11:3 and Revelation 4:11.



nothing hinders gratitude more frequently. The logic is straightforward. If I can solve my financial, relational, and job-related problems on my own, then I don’t need to give credit or thanks to others. As Bart Simpson once famously prayed, “Dear God, we paid for this food ourselves, so thanks for nothing.” But the doctrine of creation argues that everything that exists does so because of God. By revealing our utter dependence on God, the doctrine of creation destroys the illusion of self-sufficiency and illuminates the path toward gratitude. The Christian narrative begins with God as divine gift giver. This should prompt extreme gratitude from those who affirm the Christian faith. It would be a sin to take such an incredible gift for granted. At the very least, such ingratitude reveals a lack of Christian character. Virtue, on the other hand, prompts one to think, feel, and act the right way, for the right reason, and in the right amount. Receiving a gift appropriately entails nothing less than feeling grateful and responding in kind. The doctrine of creation reminds Christians to reciprocate by giving God praise and worship. This is why the liturgy asks believers to sing the doxology each week.19 Such an incredible gift (creation) deserves our praise and thanksgiving. So far we’ve been discussing, what I call, “general creation.” This refers to existence as a whole. But Christians also give thanks to God for specific elements of creation. For instance, God freely and purposefully created human beings. Not only that, God also created humanity in “the image of God.”20 It is not altogether clear what this means, but it certainly places humanity close to God’s heart. God desires a relationship with each one of us. God provided the first humans with a garden, a partner, safety, and love. It seems that humans are a big part of God’s purpose for creating in the first place. Furthermore, God has endowed humanity with reason, moral awareness, free-will, creativity, and with a desire for relationship. The most important aspects of our lives are derived from these very qualities. So God not only created humanity, God endowed humanity with vital skills and attributes. Few doubt that these represent good gifts indeed. As the great church father St. Basil Caesarea (4th century) proclaimed, He (God) brought us from non-being into being; He dignified us with reason; He provided us with crafts to help sustain our lives; He causes food to spring up from the earth… For our sake there is rain, for our sake there is the sun; the hills and plains have been adorned for our benefit, affording 19


The doxology is a way for Christians to express praise and thanksgiving for the good gifts of God. One example is “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly host; Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Amen.” Genesis 1:27.

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us refuge from the peaks of the mountains… and the whole of creation is offered as a gift to us, on account of the rich and abundant Grace of our Benefactor towards us.21 Recognizing reason, free-will, love and creativity as good gifts from God should not only generate feelings of gratitude, but it should also prompt grateful behavior. This entails praise and thanksgiving, but it should also include reciprocation. Once a Christian recognizes that the talents they possess are actually gifts from God, they will be much more inclined to give these gifts in service to God. If a person is gifted at teaching or cooking or in the arts and this person realizes that these gifts come from God, then they are motivated to use these gifts to further God’s kingdom. In many respects, these gifts are not really ours. They were given by God and we are merely stewards. It is the same with financial resources. If every good gift comes from God, then when a person tithes they are not giving 10% of their resources, they are keeping 90% of the resources God has given. Reframing our lives in this way, increases feelings of gratitude and motivates generosity and reciprocity. In this way, the doctrine of creation helps us see the entirety of our lives as a gift. This includes our time, our talents, our treasure, and our families. We did not earn these good gifts. We do not deserve them. This should create a radical change in perspective. I’ve been richly blessed. But these blessings are not for my own benefit. I’ve been blessed that I might be a blessing to others. The real question is how can we use these good gifts to both love God and our neighbor. …I must now round off the benefits of gratitude with their crowning point: love for God and love for one’s neighbor. The Saints teach—and our own experience confirms it—that gratitude brings us closer to God, and thereby our love for the Lord becomes exceedingly fervent… At the same time that love for God in our hearts increases through gratitude, love for our neighbor also increases.22

The Doctrine of Divine Grace

Karl Barth once remarked that “grace and gratitude go together like heaven and earth; grace evokes gratitude like the voice and echo.”23 Grace, by definition,

21 22 23

St. Basil as quoted in Cyprian 2003, 20–21. Ibid, 18–19. Karl Barth quoted in Emmons and Kneezel 2005, 140.



is an undeserved gift. In Christian theology grace has been defined as “the love and mercy given to us by God because God wants us to have it, not because of anything we have done to earn it.”24 This grace is expressed in the incarnation, whereby God freely chose to become flesh and bone. There are several reasons for this decision, but most of them come down to God’s love. “God so loved the world, that God sent God’s only son…”25 Because of this love, God wanted to show humanity that we are not alone. God really is with us. Because of this love, God provided an example of what it means to be fully human in the person of Jesus Christ. And because of this love, God allowed Christ to be crucified to show us the extent to which God will go for humanity’s salvation. But this gift of forgiveness and salvation is not something that one earns. It is a gift. It is grace. Such a wonderful gift cries out for a response. And it should lead the believer to incredible gratitude. In Wesleyan theology26 three types of divine grace are highlighted. The first is prevenient grace which argues that God acts first, and engages all people, creatures, and creation. This is the grace that literally “comes before.” Prevenient grace represents God’s activity in every event that has occurred, is occurring, or will occur across the known universe. This is the grace calling for the renewal of all creation. This is the grace that pulls a person’s heart to love, to give, and to serve. This grace does not control. Rather, it calls and persuades. Salvation begins with what is usually termed… “preventing grace”; including the first wish to please God, the first dawn of light concerning his will, and the first slight, transient conviction of having sinned against him. All these imply some tendency toward life, some degree of salvation, the beginning of a deliverance from a blind, unfeeling heart, quite insensible of God and the things of God.27 In a very real sense, prevenient grace is divine activity that equips humanity with free-will, with reason, and with the strength to love and to serve. No person can get to God on his or her own. God must come to the person first. Prevenient grace maintains that God comes to all of creation calling and empowering it to respond. If a person experiences God’s call and responds in faith, prevenient grace gives way to justifying grace. This is the grace that realigns a person’s heart, 24 25 26 27

United Methodist Church 2016. John 3:16. Wesleyan theology is exemplified in the Anglican Church, in the Methodist Church, and in the church of the Nazarene. Wesley 2016a; cited in “On Working Out Our Own Salvation,” as quoted in Runyon 1998, 31.

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restoring it to the relationship it was created for. Accepting God’s love and forgiveness is the beginning of a loving relationship with God. In light of this response, God is faithful to move in the life of the new believer. Many Christians refer to this as being “born again” or as the moment of salvation. The new Christian is now empowered by God to love in new and more radical ways. Justifying grace cleanses the heart and purifies the soul. The third stage is sanctifying grace. John Wesley uses a house metaphor to describe the three stages of grace. A person is called from the “porch” of prevenient grace. Answering the call leads to the “door” of justifying grace. And finally, we enter the welcoming “rooms” of sanctifying grace.28 Prevenient grace is God’s call; justifying grace is our salvation; but salvation is the beginning of the Christian journey, not the end. After a person enters a right relationship with God, the next step is to work toward holiness or “Christian perfection.” This is the work of sanctifying grace. The journey of sanctification is a lifelong pursuit whereby a believer strives to perfect the image of God and to extend this new image into every aspect of human existence. This cannot be done without the love, strength, and presence of God in the life of the believer. The various stages of grace are good gifts from God. As such, they demand a response. An appropriate response starts with a grateful heart. But it must extend far beyond this. Our lives are no longer our own. We belong to God. We are God’s children. This should motivate us to give our lives back to God in service to the church and to our neighbors. Divine grace should evoke gratitude. And gratitude should blossom into acts of kindness, generosity, and thanksgiving. It is also imperative to highlight the depth of Christian gratitude. Christians are not just called to give thanks and praise during good times. Rather, Christians should rejoice in times of struggle and strife as well. Gratitude should not be limited to specific benefits. Gratitude should be a disposition of Christian character. As such, it will reveal itself in all of life’s circumstances. It should be noted that Paul was no stranger to suffering. He spent most of his ministry traveling during a time when travel was very difficult. When he wasn’t on the road, he was being flogged by the Roman establishment, ship wrecked, or imprisoned. He offended many Jewish leaders and he didn’t have a good relationship with the Roman authorities. The Bible doesn’t indicate how Paul died, but Christian tradition holds that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero during the 1st century A.D. Paul did not have an easy life, to say the least. Yet, he continues to give God thanks and praise. Paul had worked hard to cultivate a disposition of gratitude. This enabled him to be grateful during incredibly difficult circumstances. 28

Wesley 1872, 472.



A necessary element to dispositional gratitude (capital G) is perception. How does a person see his or her life? Is life a gift? Is life a burden? Are life’s circumstances within our control? Should we give credit to others for the good things in life? Perceptions are very powerful. And Christian theology can make a significant contribution in this arena because it helps shape our perceptions of ourselves and our world. It does this by answering important questions like “Why should I be grateful?” “Who should I be grateful to?” And “What should I be grateful for?” At its best, Christian theology informs a person’s sense of identity, morality, place, priorities, relationships, responsibilities, practices, and the like. In short, Christian theology helps construct a worldview. This is vital because perceptions trigger emotions, and emotions motivate behavior. If Christian theology can help one see life as a gift, then it will increase feelings of gratitude. In turn, the experience of gratitude will increase acts of kindness, generosity and reciprocation. Thus, changing how one perceives a particular situation will inevitably impact how one feels and acts. If the Christian doctrines of creation and grace can shape perceptions in ways that increase feelings of giftedness and gratitude, then Christian theology will also shape moral behavior. The key is to cultivate a grateful disposition. This process starts with a change in perception, but it demands much more. Perception must lead to action. In the Section 3, evidence will be given to show that the experience of gratitude in fact motivates moral behavior.

The Science of Gratitude

Research has shown that gratitude produces a myriad of positive outcomes. Those experiencing gratitude regularly, often display lower blood pressure, a higher functioning immune system, have healthier relationships, report higher levels of happiness and personal well-being, and are less likely to exhibit symptoms of depression.29 But for the purposes of this article, the focus will be on the ways gratitude impacts moral behavior. In the previous section, I argued that perceptions influence feelings such as gratitude. In this section, I intend to argue that the experience of gratitude motivates moral behavior. This is a key premise. If gratitude motivates moral behavior, then the more grateful one feels, the more one will exhibit acts of kindness, generosity, and reciprocation. But is there any evidence supporting this claim? Is there any reason to believe that gratitude actually motivates moral behavior? 29

See Emmons 2013; Emmons 2007; Wood, Froh, Geraghty 2010.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


Study 1

In 2006 Monica Bartlett and David DeSteno decided to test this hypothesis.30 To do this, one hundred and five individuals (70 female) were recruited to take part in a study. None of the participants were aware that the study was designed to measure the effects of gratitude. Each participant was brought to a computer station where they were asked to work with another participant to complete a series of cognitive tests. However, the partners in the study were really confederates31 pretending to be regular participants. The pair (one real participant and one confederate) was then asked to take a series of tests designed to be tedious and cognitively taxing. Although each worked individually on a separate computer, participants believed that they would receive a cumulative score with their partners. The researchers then placed participants into one of three possible “emotionally-induced conditions.” Some participants were placed in the “amusement” condition, others a “neutral” condition and the rest were placed in the “gratitude” condition. No participant was aware of these differing emotional conditions. The reason for using three emotional states was to measure the impact gratitude would have on “helping” behavior. Participants in the neutral group simply took the various tests with little or no manipulation. The confederate engaged the participant in shallow conversation, but no other manipulation was used. Participants in the amusement group took the same tests, but before leaving they were shown a funny clip from Saturday Night Live. The purpose of this condition was to test the effects of gratitude when compared to other positive moods. The confederate laughed and talked about the clip with the participant in an attempt to form a connection, but nothing deep or relevant was discussed. Finally, participants in the gratitude group took the same tedious tests, but when it was time to get the final results, the participant’s computer monitor would go dead. Unbeknownst to the participant, the confederate would unplug the monitor from the power strip. This set of circumstances typically caused participants to experience elevated levels of stress. At this time, the confederate would begin to pack up their belongings. As the confederate turns to leave they would take notice of the distressed participant. In order to appear helpful, the confederate stops and tries to problem-solve with the participant. 30 31

Bartlett and DeSteno 2006. A confederate is a person who appears to be a research participant, but in actuality is not part of the research. In this case, the confederate was used to create 3 distinct “emotional” conditions. However, the confederate was not aware of the purpose of the study.



After a few minutes, the researcher comes into the room and informs the participant that they will need to take the exams again. Because of the computer failure, none of the scores were recorded. The confederate is allowed to leave because their computer registered the results. This usually creates a negative mood on the part of the participant because of the time wasted on difficult cognitive tests with no results. The confederate stays to help for a few more minutes and eventually points out that the monitor is unplugged. Once the monitor is plugged back in, the score is recovered and the participant does not have to retake the exams. This scenario is used to generate the feeling of gratitude in the participant. The confederate’s willingness to stop and help has saved the participant a lot of time and mental strain. It’s reasonable to think that this experience generates gratitude. The data supports this as well. Each participant is asked to fill out an exit survey that includes questions about gratitude. For instance, “how grateful do you feel toward your partner (the confederate)?” “How appreciative do you feel toward your partner?” and the like. It should come as no surprise that participants in the gratitude condition experienced more gratitude than the neutral or amusement conditions. But would these increased feelings of gratitude lead to increased helping behavior? After the tests and exit survey were completed, all participants from the three conditions were approached by the confederate for help. The confederate explained that she (all confederates were women) was collecting surveys for her work-study advisor. She needed as many people to fill out the surveys as possible and she was hoping that participants would take the time to fill them out. The confederate explained that the surveys were tedious and cognitively taxing, requiring 20 – 30minutes to complete. She explained that it was ok for the participants to stop before completing the entire survey, but the more questions answered the better. How would each emotion condition respond? As predicted, those in the gratitude group were much more likely to fill out the survey. They also answered more questions and spent much more time (on average) filling out the confederate’s survey when compared to participants in the neutral and amusement conditions.32 After a long day of taking tests, many of the participants in the gratitude group were still willing to stop and fill out a taxing survey for the confederates. This provides strong data supporting the claim that the feeling of gratitude motivates helping behavior. These findings provide strong initial evidence that gratitude shapes prosocial responding by increasing the likelihood that one will engage in effortful helping behavior. 32 Ibid.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


Moreover, these findings clearly distinguish the effect of gratitude from that of a general positive state.33

Study 2

Bartlett and DeSteno also predicted that those in the gratitude condition would show increased helping behavior toward strangers as well. To test this, they recreated the same study with ninety-seven new individuals (70 female). The conditions were exactly the same with one significant change. Half the participants in the various conditions (neutral and gratitude) were approached by the confederate for help on the surveys. The other participants were approached by a “stranger” (second confederate) asking for help. Remember, these participants have just spent a lot of time taking cognitively draining tests. How would participants in the various conditions respond? As Bartlett and DeStento predicted, those in the gratitude condition were more likely to help and to help for a longer period of time when asked by the confederate. But those in the gratitude condition were also more willing to help when approached by the stranger than those in control groups. Thus, it seems that the feeling of gratitude not only increases helping behavior for the benefactor (confederate), it increases for unrelated individuals as well. This suggests that gratitude motivates more than mere reciprocity.34 Those who feel grateful are in an emotional state that prompts them to help others, even unrelated others, in need.

Study 3

In 2010 Bartlett and DeSteno conducted a third study to measure the motivational effects of gratitude on generosity and economic exchange.35 To do this, the same study was conducted with confederates unplugging power cords. Participants were placed in one of two condition groups: control group or gratitude group. Just like the previous studies, the control group worked with a confederate during the wave of tests making small talk but nothing more. However, participants in the gratitude group received help from the confederate when the computer appeared to crash. One final test was implemented at

33 Ibid, 322. 34 Ibid. 35 DeSteno, Bartlett, Baumann, Williams, Dickens 2010.



the end of this study to see how the two groups would respond to economic exchange. After the cognitive tests were completed, participants were taken to a room to play the “give some dilemma game” (gsdg). In this game, participants play with one partner via computer. Each participant is alone. All exchanges are done on-line. Each participant is given 4 tokens. The tokens are worth $1 to participants, but $2 to the playing partners (this is real money to be cashed in at the end of the study). Each participant is instructed to make one decision. How many tokens will you give to your playing partner? Participants believe that their playing partners are facing the same decision. The participants are told that this is a one-time decision. There will be only one round. This informs participants that there is no fear of retribution or retaliation. Thus, the game pits self-interest against communal interest. Selfishly, participants should keep all 4 tokens guaranteeing them at least $4. If the playing partner gives away tokens, then that would add more money to the participant’s pocket. If the partner gives all 4 token away, the participant walks away with $12. With no future interactions, there is no fear of retaliation. Before beginning the gsdg, half the participants are told that their playing partner is the confederate from the earlier cognitive tests (benefactor condition). The other half are told that they are playing with a partner they have never met (stranger condition). How many tokens would each participant give? The results showed that those in the gratitude condition gave more tokens on average (2.5 tokens) than those in the control group (2 tokens). Even though the game is set up to provide an advantage to selfish players, those in the gratitude condition consistently gave over half their tokens. This helps the communal good, but it hurts individual self-interest. Thus, gratitude seems to facilitate cooperation and the communal good. Furthermore, those in the gratitude condition gave comparatively more whether playing with the confederate (2.5 tokens on average vs. 2 tokens) or the stranger (2.7 tokens on average vs. 2.2 tokens). These findings strongly suggest that gratitude produces more than mere reciprocity (you scratch my back so I’ll scratch yours). Gratitude seems to motivate generous behavior more broadly.36

Study 4

In 2006 Jo-Ann Tsang recruited 40 undergraduate psychology students (all female) from Baylor University to participate in a study also designed to measure 36 Ibid.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


the effects of gratitude on generosity.37 The college participants, unaware of the purpose behind the study, were brought into a room and placed in an isolated cubicle. They were told that they would be playing an online game with another participant. In reality, there was no other participant. The researchers fabricated the actions and responses of the fictitious playing partners. The game involved giving and receiving real money during 3 distinct rounds. The participants were informed that they could cash out at the end of the study and receive real money based on the amount received during the three rounds of play. In round 1 all participants received a computer message indicating that they had received $3 by chance, while their partners (fictitious) had received $7. This was designed to create a “negative” mood in participants. At this point, participants were assigned to one of two condition groups: the “chance” condition or the “favor” condition. During the second round, those in the chance condition were told that they received $9 by chance, while their fabricated playing partner received only $1 by chance. Most participants in the chance condition reported feeling “positive emotions” because of the $9. In the favor condition, however, participants were told that their playing partners had been given $10 to distribute. They were then informed that the playing partner had decided to give $9 to the participant and only keep $1 for herself. A note was also delivered to participants from the playing partner saying “I saw that you didn’t get a lot in the first round—that must’ve been a bummer.” These actions were intended to create the feeling of gratitude for those in the favor condition. In the final round (3), participants were given $10 and instructed to distribute the funds any way they wanted. The hypothesis was that those who experienced gratitude in the favor condition would give more money to their playing partners than participants in the chance condition. As predicted, those in the gratitude group gave more during round 3 ($7.38 on average) than did the chance group ($5.84 on average). When participants were asked why they gave the amount they did, those in the favor condition were much more likely to mark the response “to express appreciation.” Conversely, those in the chance condition answered that they were more motivated “to get money.” These results strongly suggest that gratitude motivates increased generosity when compared to positive mood more generally.38

37 Tsang 2006. 38 Ibid.



Study 5

There is strong research showing that the experience of gratitude increases helping behavior both for benefactors and for strangers. But very little is known about the psychological mechanisms of gratitude. Why does gratitude produce helping behavior? In 2010 Adam Grant and Francesca Gino created a series of studies to help answer this very question.39 The first study included 69 participants recruited to assist with writing skills via feedback. These participants were given $10 to help college students with job application cover letters. Each participant was asked to read, review, and provide feedback on one letter. After completing this task, participants were placed in one of two conditions: control group or gratitude group. A few days after providing feedback, participants in the control group received an email from the student who wrote the cover letter asking for help on an additional job application. This email did not include any expression of thanks. It was very polite, but it did not express any gratitude for the help received on the first cover letter. Those in the gratitude group also received an email from the student a few days after sending the feedback, but this letter included two short sentences of gratitude as well: Thank you so much! I am really grateful40 How would these 8 words of gratitude impact the helping behavior of the participants? As with the other studies, participants in the gratitude group were much more likely to give feedback on the second cover letter (66%) than participants in the control group (only 32%). Even though it was only two short lines in an email, the students who expressed gratitude for the help were much more likely to receive additional feedback from participants. But this study is somewhat different from the others. In this research, participants do not receive a gift or benefit. Instead, participants were asked to help a stranger write a cover letter. Where does the experience of gratitude enter the picture? Part of the study included an exit survey. Participants were asked a series of questions related to their experiences and how they felt about the student, the experience, themselves, and the like. Those in the gratitude group felt a greater sense of self-efficacy than participants in the control group. What is more, those in the gratitude group felt significantly more socially valued than those in the control group. A simple thank you really did go a long way. It helped participants feel more helpful and more socially valuable. It seems that feelings of gratitude played a strong role increasing helping behavior.

39 40

Grant and Gino 2010. Ibid, 948.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


Gratitude is a social emotion. It is impossible to feel gratitude in isolation. It is usually experienced when one receives help or a gift from another. Gratitude bonds us together and it helps foster generosity and reciprocation (social behaviors). In the study above, participants provided a service to students needing help on a cover letter. This increases agency and self-esteem because it makes participants feel capable and competent. But these feelings did not cause an increase in helping behavior as evidenced by the control group. What increased helping behavior was a few lines of gratitude in a follow up email. Receiving a note of thanks caused participants to feel connected and valued by others. This social connection increased helping behavior. We all want our efforts to be recognized and appreciated. When they are, it creates social bonds that impact future behavior. It seems that gratitude not only decreases depression and increases wellbeing, gratitude also increases moral behavior. Study after study shows that the experience of gratitude is positively correlated to an increase in helping behavior, increased generosity, and increased reciprocity. This often stems from a sense of connection and communal worth that accompanies gratitude. This research reveals the importance of cultivating gratitude as a virtue. It’s not enough to respond to feelings of gratitude. Instead, we should work to develop a grateful disposition increasing the stability and predictability of the moral behavior that results. The final section will highlight several practices to help cultivate a grateful disposition.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition

Experiencing momentary flashes of gratitude is easy. It requires no work. As we discussed in Section  1, feeling grateful is a natural (automatic) response to certain eliciting situations. Cultivating the virtue of gratitude, on the other hand, is very hard work. A grateful disposition is much more than the fleeting feeling one gets after receiving help or a gift. The virtue of gratitude represents a character trait. As such, those who possess it see, feel, and act in consistent and predictable ways that are informed by a grateful disposition. This allows gratitude to be expressed regardless of the circumstances. But is capital “G” Gratitude really possible? Can one overcome the fickle nature of emotion and act in consistent ways motived by gratitude? If a person is not grateful by nature, can they ever learn to be grateful? For those who hope the answer to these questions is “yes,” there is good news. This section will highlight several practices that are proven to help cultivate gratitude. There is a lot of new data coming from the social and natural sciences related to m ­ oral



emotions such as gratitude. This data strongly suggests that emotions like gratitude can be effectively trained. Furthermore, the data shows that cultivating a disposition of gratitude plays a major role in human happiness. Far from a burden or moral obligation, cultivating gratitude is incredibly beneficial to those who practice it. In many respects, it equips one to live into the abundant life described in the Gospels.

Gratitude Journaling

The most common practice for developing a grateful disposition is gratitude journaling. Journaling can take many forms, but the basic task is to take time each week to remember, savor, and write down the good things in one’s life. These may be little gifts like the smell of concrete after it rains. These may include big gifts like physical or relational health. The key is to perceive life as a gift. There are good things in our lives. We need to take time to dwell upon these things and to give thanks for them. Refocusing our lives on the things we do have, the gifts we have received, makes it difficult to continue focusing on the things we lack. This change in focus also changes our perspective. Journaling is a powerful tool because it is a self-guided exercise that enables a person to generate feelings of gratitude on a daily basis. Thus, gratitude journaling is a powerful way to cultivate virtuous behavior. The data supporting this claim is simply overwhelming, and it continues to grow. In the late 1990’s Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough conducted several studies centered on gratitude journaling.41 The participants were primarily college students at a large public university, though one study recruited participants with neuromuscular disease. The participants were typically broken into one of 4 distinct groups: hassles group, events group, comparison group or gratitude group. Each group had a unique set of tasks. In the hassles group, participants were required to briefly list 5 things they found frustrating. Those in the events group were asked to list 5 things that had happened to them in the recent past. The comparison group listed several ways in which they were better off than others. Finally, the gratitude group was asked to write down 5 things they were grateful for. Some of the studies lasted 10 weeks and asked participants to generate lists once a week. Other studies lasted only 3weeks, but participants were asked to report every day. In the end, all four studies showed similar results. Participants in the gratitude group reported feeling happier, more joyful, and experienced more positive emotions overall when 41

Emmons and McCullough 2003.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


compared to the other three groups. For instance, those in the gratitude group reported feeling more enthusiastic, interested, attentive, energetic, excited, determined and stronger when compared to control groups. Gratitude was also negatively correlated to depression and negative emotions like jealousy and low self-esteem.42 Because it is impossible to feel grateful and negative at the same time, gratitude helps fight anger, envy, and selfishness. Participants in the gratitude group also experienced better physical health. This manifested itself in several ways. First, those in the gratitude group missed fewer days of class due to illness. Second, those in the gratitude group spent 30% more time exercising when compared to the other two groups. Because physical exercise is connected to a myriad of health benefits (lower stress, healthy heart, etc.), it represents an important advantage for the gratitude group. A separate study by Emmons and McCullough also showed that those who keep a regular gratitude journal get more sleep, on average, than those in control groups.43 The results were quite striking and garnered considerable media attention after they were published… Participants in the gratitude condition felt better about their life as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than participants in either of the other control conditions. To put it into numbers, they were a full 25 percent happier than the other p­ articipants. Those in the gratitude condition reported fewer health complaints and even spent more time exercising than control participants did. They spent a whopping 30 percent more time exercising. Thus, something as simple as counting blessing once a week resulted in significant emotional and health benefits.44 Further research also shows that practices used to increase feelings of appreciation result in significant increases in levels of immunoglobulin A, the first line of defense against viruses found in the nose and mouth. Similar research shows that participating in these same practices for a month leads to a reduction in the stress hormone cortisol and a huge increase in the hormone dhea, which reflects physiological states of relaxation.45

42 43 44 45

See also Grim, Kolts, Watkins 2004. Emmons and McCullough, 385–386. Robert Emmons referring to the series of studies conducted with Michael McCullough in his book Emmons 2013, 24. Atkinson, Carrios-Choplin, McCraty, Rozman, Watkins 1998.



Those in the gratitude group were also more likely to participate in helping behaviors when compared to control groups. This included providing others with emotional support, help with a personal problem, and the like. This suggests that gratitude journaling increases positive traits such as compassion and generosity.46 Even more impressive than the participant self-reports were the data collected from the observer reports. Participants were asked to fill out questionnaires during the studies to get a sense of their emotional, physical, spiritual, and relational health. But questionnaires were also given to significant individuals in the participants’ lives. These people included spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, close friends, or family members. These observer reports confirmed the information gathered from the participants themselves. Those close to the participants in the gratitude group noticed the marked difference gratitude journaling had made on the emotional and relational life of the participants. This was put in stark contrast when compared to those in the control groups. This data indicates that the benefits of gratitude journaling, in comparison to control groups, transcends mere self-perception and are evident to observers as well.47 The follow up surveys were powerful as well. According to Emmons and McCullough, participants in the gratitude group were still experiencing benefits six months later. This is significant because it shows the long term impact of gratitude journaling. Contemplating the good things in one’s life on a regular basis not only increases feelings of gratitude in the short term. This practice begins to cultivate a grateful disposition in the long term as well. Thus, practices like gratitude journaling can help foster Gratitude with a capital G (virtue). The impact of gratitude journaling is clear. Consistent time spent focusing on the good things in life increases health, happiness and helping behavior. As such, gratitude journaling is a powerful tool for cultivating gratitude. For many the idea of starting a gratitude journal is compelling. But what should a gratitude journal look like? What should one write about? In his book Gratitude Works, Robert Emmons lists several helpful tips for effective gratitude journaling. All forms of gratitude journaling can be helpful, but research shows some methods are more powerful than others. The first suggestion is be specific. The human tendency is to be very general and vague. It is easier and requires less time. For instance, it’s much easier to write “I’m grateful for my children.” It’s much more difficult to stop and think of the specific things I’m grateful for. It takes time to remember those elements about my children that 46 47

Emmons and McCullough 2003. Ibid, 386.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


I’m most thankful for. But it’s important to take this time. Gratitude increases when we journal with specificity and detail. Instead of writing “I’m grateful for my children,” one could write “I’m grateful for my son’s amazing sense of humor. The other day he made a joke at dinner and it got the entire family laughing really hard. I had a particularly stressful day and laughing as a family was such a blessing.” Being specific in these ways makes a big difference. Emmons cites a study showing that specificity and depth matter. In the  study participants were broken into one of three groups. The first group was asked to write down five sentences for one blessing. The second group was asked to write one sentence about five different blessings. And the third group was asked to think about three ways their lives compared favorably to others (comparison group). The results showed that the participants who were asked to write five sentences about one blessing (depth and specificity) showed less gratitude fatigue, less sadness, and less lethargy overall. This group also reported feeling more excited, elated, and happy compared to the other two groups.48 Again, specificity and depth matter when journaling. The second suggestion for gratitude journaling is to change it up. Try to keep it new and fresh. Our human tendency is to fall into predictable patterns in our jobs, in our relationships, in our daily habits, and in our journaling. But once gratitude becomes predictable, even boring, it loses much of its impact. To fight this Emmons suggests approaching gratitude from different angles. Sometimes journaling should be focused on “blessings.” But other days the journal prompt should look for “surprising” blessings. These may be big events in our lives that were not anticipated, but they may be very small blessings that often go unnoticed. It’s important to take the time to give thanks for those small surprising moments or encounters that brighten our day or change the course of our lives. On other days the focus should be on “scarcity.” Many good things are fleeting. Whether it’s a sunset or a particularly good stretch in a marriage, things change over time. Sunsets end and marriages go through ups and downs. It’s important to give thanks for the finite things in our lives. On other days the journal should focus on “fragile” blessings. Many good things in life are the result of factors outside of our control. Without some good fortune, many of these things would cease to exist. Life is fragile. This realization increases gratitude. Many of the most important things in my life could easily be different had a particular situation been slightly altered. For instance, the night I met my wife, I almost stayed home to do homework. Thank goodness a friend invited me to the basketball game that would eventually change the trajectory of my 48

Iyer and Carter 2009.



life forever. Seeing how life sits on a razors edge heightens the experience of gratitude. Changing gratitude strategies is important because novelty generates a heightened emotional experience. Routine can become mundane and often leads to gratitude fatigue. This is strongly supported by the scientific data. Neuroscience related to gratitude is still in its infancy, but preliminary data suggests that the chemical dopamine is fundamental to the experience of gratitude. Dopamine helps regulate emotion, motivation, and the experience of reward and pleasure. All of these are significant for gratitude. Dopaminergic activity in the frontal lobes very likely influences levels of gratitude or at least the capacity to feel grateful. Dopamine juices the joy we experience when we celebrate goodness from reflecting on what is in our gratitude journals. This neurotransmitter increases the probability that a person will feel gratitude by noticing gratitude-inspiring events.49 Recent data reveals that reward centers of the brain respond more strongly to rewards that are unexpected.50 In order to heighten the experience of gratitude, it’s important to change journaling strategies to increase novelty and avoid dull routine.

Gratitude Letters

In addition to journaling, gratitude letters are an effective practice for cultivating a grateful disposition. Gratitude letters differ from journaling in that letter writing is directed toward a particular individual. The aim is to write a letter of thanks to a person who has enriched one’s life. This person could be someone close like a spouse or a parent. But this person might also be someone from the past like a teacher or youth pastor. It’s so important to express gratitude to those who have blessed and continue to bless our lives. And the act of letter writing is powerful for both author and recipient. Recent research shows the effectiveness of letter writing as a means of fostering personal well-being and the experience of gratitude. Steven Toefer and Kathleen Walker conducted several studies in an attempt to measure the impact of gratitude letters on the author. To do this they took undergraduate students from three separate classes and had them write 3 separate letters of 49 50

Ibid, 44. Ashby, Isen, Turken, 1999.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


gratitude to people who had contributed to their lives in significant ways. They then created a control group using students from three additional classes. All students completed the same questionnaires, but only the gratitude group wrote letters. At the end of the study, those students who wrote gratitude letters showed higher levels of subjective well-being, personal happiness, life satisfaction, and gratitude.51 A subsequent study conducted by Toepfer showed that gratitude letters not only increased happiness and personal satisfaction, but they were also negatively correlated to symptoms of depression and other mental disorders.52 The effects were so significant that 75% of the students involved with the study said they planned to continue writing letters after the study was complete. In this way, gratitude is self-sustaining. The benefits are perceived by the participants in such a way that it provides its own motivation. And while both gratitude journaling and letter writing produce positive outcomes for the author, writing letters provided more powerful benefits overall.53 Much of the research being cited shows how these gratitude practices increases overall well-being for the participant. But section three showed that these increased positive emotions lead directly to increases in moral behavior such as generosity and reciprocation. Taken together, the data shows that as the experience of gratitude grows, so does one’s overall happiness. And as happiness increases, so does moral behavior. It’s clear that letter writing and journaling can be a powerful means of fostering the experience of gratitude. But to make the move from merely feeling grateful to a grateful disposition, these practices must become regular parts of our lives. It’s not enough to journal once a month or to write one letter a year. Virtue requires practice and habituation. If a person wants to learn a musical instrument or a new athletic skill, it would not be enough to practice once a month or a handful of times a year. No, in order to learn such skills requires weekly practice. This same habituation is needed to cultivate virtue. Thus, if a grateful disposition is the goal, journaling and letter writing must become weekly habits.

Spiritual Disciplines

Another strategy for cultivating a grateful disposition is the regular practice of spiritual disciplines. Dallas Willard, an expert on spiritual practices, defines 51 52 53

Toepfer and Walker 2009. Toepfer, Cichy, Peters 2012. Watkins, Woodward, Stone, Koltz 2003.



a “discipline” as an activity “within our power—something we can do—that brings us to a point where we can do what we at present cannot do by direct effort.”54 For instance, at present, it is not within my power to run a marathon. With the shape I’m in, I’d be lucky to make it to the half-way mark. So I can’t run 26 miles through sheer will power or direct effort. If I want to run a marathon, I need to train. I need to do little things every day to build stamina and strength. Thus, if I decide to start practicing the discipline of running and athletic training, over time I’ll be able to run 5 miles. If I continue, I’ll make it to 10 miles. Eventually, the habit of running each week will equip me to run the entire marathon. This is how spiritual disciplines work as well. The thought of having a grateful disposition might feel like running a marathon. At this stage you might not be equipped to do it. But through practices like journaling, letter writing, and spiritual disciplines, a grateful disposition is possible. The real question is do we have the strength and the commitment to practice gratitude on a regular basis? Are we willing to put in the work to cultivate the virtue of gratitude? Prayer The first spiritual discipline beneficial for gratitude is prayer. And prayer can take many forms. The content of a given prayer can range from petition, to assistance, to adoration, to thanksgiving. But consistent prayers of thanksgiving are the most effective for cultivating gratitude. To say a prayer of thanks is to acknowledge God’s goodness. What’s more, it requires one to see the good things in life as a gift from God. To say thank you is to receive a gift with grace and gratitude. Thus, the process of acknowledging the gift as well as the gift giver is central to a grateful disposition. And current research supports the connection between prayer and gratitude. In a 2009 article, a group of researchers conducted 4 studies to determine the impact prayer has on gratitude.55 The studies were conducted on undergraduate students at a public university in the Southeastern United States. The goal was to determine the strength and direction of the relationship between prayer and gratitude. All 4 studies confirmed that students who prayed more frequently also displayed higher levels of gratitude. These studies also ruled out the possibility that a grateful disposition led to increased prayer.

54 55

Willard, 1998, 102. Lambert, Fincham, Braithwaite, Graham, Beach 2009.

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The causal connection seems to be a one-way street from prayer to gratitude. Thus, prayer increases gratitude, but a grateful disposition does not necessarily lead to a more active prayer life. What is more, prayer frequency predicted levels of gratitude 6 weeks later, even when controlling for base levels of gratitude and religious participation! This strongly suggests that prayer not only impacts feelings of gratitude in the immediate future, it helps cultivate a grateful disposition long term as well. In a separate study, prayers of thanksgiving were positively correlated to physical health and a heightened sense of subjective well-being in patients with osteoarthritis.56 Patients who prayed showed fewer physical health concerns and indicated less stress and worry regarding their osteoarthritis. Those who prayed regularly also reported fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. Again, prayer is positively correlated to gratitude and negatively correlated to physical and psychological illness. Simplicity Another spiritual discipline to help cultivate gratitude is simplicity. It’s a fact that the average household income in the u.s. has drastically increased over the past 60years. Since 1950, living standards have almost doubled even after inflation is taken into account. And yet, self-reported happiness has not increased over this same period of time.57 It appears that in the u.s. people are much richer, but no happier. Why? Shouldn’t more money lead to more happiness? This is certainly the view of many. If I can just make a little more money, then I’ll be happy. If I can just get that new car, new house, bigger t.v., or faster computer, then I’ll be happy. But the mounting data in the social sciences reveals this to be a lie. It’s a lie fueled by advertisers and digested by a large percentage of the American public. We now have enough information to say with some degree of certainty that more stuff does not equal more happiness.58 One reason for this is a phenomenon called hedonic adaptation.59 In layman’s terms, hedonic adaptation states that people get used to a particular 56 57 58


Laird, Snyder, Rapoff, Green 2004. Layard, 2005. More money does equal more happiness to a point. For instance, if a person can’t pay for food or for housing, then more money does increase happiness for this individual. But this ceases to be true very quickly. Once basic needs are accounted for, more money does not lead to more happiness. Lyubomirsky and Ross 1997.



standard of living quite quickly. Once this occurs, the experience is no longer as gratifying. Over time, one’s circumstances fail to increase happiness at all. For instance, people who win the lottery have a huge boost in overall happiness. Many can purchase a home or a car for the first time. Often this is “the house of their dreams.” But after a few months, the new cloths, the new house, the nice dinners lose their novelty. The new found wealth increases expectations. The steak dinner is no longer seen as a rare gift to be relished. Instead, the steak is an expectation. This often leads to discontent if the food arrives late or isn’t cooked to certain specifications. Thus, the person who, a few months earlier, would have been happy eating any steak dinner is no longer satisfied. This is true for the house, the car, the vacations, and the like. We have all experienced this to some degree. I remember driving a 1978 Mercury Zephyr in college. It was a horrible car that only ran half the time. But I loved it because I was so grateful to have a car that ran, at least some of the time. Today I wouldn’t be caught dead in a car like that. My income, lifestyle, and expectations have grown exponentially since then. I’ve adapted to my new set of circumstances. I need a newer car in order to maintain my current level of life satisfaction. Another lie we often believe is that there is some cutoff, some magical number when hedonic adaptation will no longer be true. For instance, I often think to myself, “if I only made a few hundred thousand dollars a year, then I wouldn’t worry about money anymore. I’d be able to buy the things I want and I wouldn’t need to stress out about finances.” And yet, I have several friends who do make this much money per year and all of them still worry about finances. All of them still wish they made more money. We see this with millionaires and billionaires as well. There is no cutoff to hedonic adaptation. The change will not come from increased wealth. The change must be a conscious decision. We must choose to want and be thankful for the life and the things that we do have, rather than wanting the things we don’t have. In this way, gratitude helps fight against hedonic adaptation. The more I think about and give thanks for the things in my life, the less likely I am to take them for granted. Another piece of the problem is our tendency toward social comparison. It’s not enough to look at my own finances and lifestyle. I can’t help but compare this with my closest peers. What do my colleagues make? What kind of home do my friends live in? This kind of comparison is natural and detrimental to personal well-being. Several recent studies have shown that social comparisons like these lead to heightened negative affect and increased feelings of envy, depression and resentment.60 This is true of relationships as well. 60

Clark and Osward 1996; Smith 2000.

Cultivating a Grateful Disposition


A famous study published in 1989, showed that men who viewed photographs of ­attractive ­females in Playboy magazine found their current relationship partners to be less attractive, were less satisfied with their relationships, and showed less commitment than men in a control group.61 Once unrealistic upward comparisons were made in these relationships, the men found their current situations to be much less appealing. This data highlights the extreme importance of gratitude. Gratitude forces us to look at the good gifts in our lives. It beckons us to say thank you for them. Gratitude helps us remember how good our lives really are. Thus, gratitude is a good defense against consumerism, greed, dissatisfaction and unhealthy comparisons. Gratitude reminds us to be thankful for what we have, not dissatisfied because of the things that we don’t have. To help cultivate a sense of gratitude, Robert Emmons suggests living simply. If my set of “needs” is small and I’m grateful for them, my level of happiness will increase. However, the more complex my life becomes, the larger my set of “needs” becomes, the less happy I become. Learning to be happy and grateful for the things in life is a difficult challenge. But it’s so vital to human flourishing. Part of this is cutting back the material abundance in our lives. Debt, financial stress, busy schedules, and social comparisons threaten our well-being. Simplifying our finances, our schedules, and our pursuits is one strategy for combatting the current culture of consumerism. Cutting the unnecessary elements from our lives frees up time and resources that can be used to foster relationships and personal growth which are so vital for human contentment. Part of this simplicity is cultivating a strong sense of gratitude for the good things in life. Conclusion Throughout this paper I’ve argued that gratitude is more than a moral emotion, it’s a vital Christian virtue as well. In order to cultivate a grateful disposition, one must habituate gratitude through regular participation in the practices listed in section four. Research shows that such participation increases personal well-being as well as moral behavior such as generosity and reciprocation. But these are not the only reasons to develop a grateful heart. In a very real sense, gratitude accurately describes the human condition. Life is a wonderful gift from God. We are blessed in so many ways both big and small. As such,


Goldberg, Gutierres, and Kenrick, 1989.



we should strive to live in a consistent state of gratitude. But this doesn’t come naturally to most. It requires intentionality and hard work. But in the end this effort equips us to live grateful, happy and moral lives. References Aquinas, Thomas. 1920. Summa Theologica. Translated by Fathers of the English Dominican Province, 2nd edition. Accessed November 1, 2014. http://www.newadvent .org/summa/ 3106.htm. Aristotle. 2004. Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by F.H. Peters. New York: Barnes and Noble. Ashby, Gregory, Alice Isen, and U. Turken. 1999. “A Neuropsychological Theory of Positive Affect and Its Influence Cognition.” Psychological Review 106: 529–50. Atkinson, M., B. Carrios-Choplin, R. McCraty, D. Rozman, and A.D. Watkins. 1998. “The Impact of a New Emotional Self-Management Program on Stress, Emotions, Heart Rate Variability, dhea, and Cortisol.” Integrative Physiological and Behavioral Science 33 (2): 151–70. Bartlett, Monica Y. and David DeStento. 2006. “Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior.” Psychological Science 17 (4): 319–25. Bishop, Robert C. “Recovering the Doctrine of Creation: A Theological View of Science.” Accessed November 1, 2014. https://biologos.org/uploads/static-content/ bishop_white_paper.pdf. Clark, A.E. and A. Osward. 1996. “Satisfaction and Comparison Income.” Journal of Public Economics 61: 359–81. Cobb, John B. and David R. Griffin. 1976. Process Theology: An Introductory Exposition. Louisville: Westminster Press. 65. Cyprian, Archimandrite. 2003. “Christian Gratitude: A Fundamental Hallmark of Orthodox Spirituality.” Orthodox Tradition 20 (2): 13–25. DeSteno, David, Monica T. Bartlett, Jolie Baumann, Lisa A. Williams, and Leah Dickens. 2010. “Gratitude as Moral Sentiment: Emotion-Guided Cooperation in Economic Exchange.” Emotion 10 (2): 289–93. Doris, John M. 2002. Lack of Character. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Emmons, Robert. 2007. Thanks!: How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company. Emmons, Robert. 2013. Gratitude Works! San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Emmons, Robert and Joanna Hill. 2001. Words of Gratitude for Mind, Body, and Soul. Pennsylvania: Templeton Foundation Press. Emmons, Robert and Teresa T. Kneezel. 2005. “Giving Gratitude: Spiritual and ­Religious Correlates of Gratitude.” Journal of Psychology and Christianity 24 (2): 140–8.

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Emmons, Robert and Michael McCullogh. 2003. “Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 84 (2): 377–89. Emmons, Robert, Michael E. McCullough, and Jo-Ann Tsang. 2002. “The Grateful Disposition: A Conceptual and Empirical Topography.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 82 (1): 112–27. Goldberg, L.L., S.E. Guterres, and D.T. Kenrick. 1989. “Influence of Popular Erotica on Judgments of Strangers and Mates.” Journal of Experimental Social Psychology 25 (2): 159–67. Grant, Adam M. and Francesca Gino. 2010. “A Little Thanks Goes a Long Way: Explaining Why Gratitude Expressions Motivate Prosocial Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 98 (6): 946–55. Gray, Steven. 2005. “A Katrina Family Tries to Start Over in Minnesota Town.” Wall Street Journal November 11, 2005. Grim, D.L., R. Kolts, and P.C. Watkins. 2004. “Counting Your Blessings: Positive Memories Among Grateful Persons.” Current Psychology: Developmental Learning, Personality, Social, 23: 52–67. Haidt, Jonathan. 2002. The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion. New York: Pantheon Books. Haidt, Jonathan. 2003. “The Moral Emotions.” In Handbook of Affective Sciences, edited by R.J. Davidson, K.R. Scherer, & H.H. Goldsmith, 852–70. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Iyer, Ravi and Carlyn Carter. 2009. “Exploring the Optimal Gratitude Practice: Depth, Quantity, and Personalization.” Unpublished manuscript, University of Southern California. Laird, Steven, C.R. Snyder, Michael Rapoff, and Sam Green. 2004. “Measuring Private Prayer: Development, Validation, and Clinical Application of the Multidimensional Prayer Inventory.” The International Journal for the Psychology of Religion 14 (4): 251–72. Lambert, Nathaniel M. and Frand D. Fincham. 2011. “Expressing Gratitude to a Partner Leads to More Relationship Maintenance Behavior.” Emotion 11 (1): 52–60. Lambert, Nathaniel, Frank Fincham, Scott Braithwaite, Steven Graham, and Steven Beach. 2009. “Can Prayer Increase Gratitude.” Psychology of Religion and Spirituality 1 (3): 129–49. Layard, Richard. 2005. Happiness: Lessons from the New Science. Penguin Books. Leffel, G. Michael, Malerie E. Fritz, and Michelle R. Stephens. 2008. “Who Cares? Generativity and the Moral Emotions, Part 3. A Social Intuitionist ‘Ecology of Virtue.’” Journal of Psychology and Theology 36 (3): 202–21. Lyubomirsky, S. and L. Ross. 1997. “Hedonic Consequences of Social Comparison: A Contrast of Happy and Unhappy People.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 73: 1141–57.



Oord, Thomas Jay. 2009. “An Open Theology Doctrine of Creation and Solution to the Problem of Evil.” In Creation Made Free: Open Theology Engaging Science. Edited by Thomas J. Oord. Eugene or: Pickwick: 28–53. Polkinghorne, John. 2010. The Polkinghorne Reader, edited by Thomas Jay Oord. ­London: Templeton Press. Runyon, Theodore. 1998. The New Creation: John Wesley’s Theology Today. Nashville: Abingdon press. Smith, Richard. 2000. “Assimilative and Contrastive Emotional Reactions to Upward and Downward Social Comparisons.” The Handbook of Social Comparisons: Theory and Research. Amsterdam: Kluwer Academic Publishers: 173–200. Toepfer, Steven, Kelly Cichy, and Patti Peters. 2012. “Letters of Gratitude: Further Evidence for Author Benefits.” Journal of Happiness Studies 13: 187–201. Toepfer, Steven, and Kathleen Walker. 2009. “Letters of Gratitude: Improving Well-­ Being Through Expressive Writing.” Journal of Happiness Studies 13: 187–201. Tsang, Jo-Ann. 2006. “Gratitude and Prosocial Behavior: An Experimental Test of Gratitude.” Cognition and Emotion 20 (1): 138–48. United Methodist Church. 2016. “Our Wesleyan Heritage.” Accessed June 23. http:// www.umc.org/what-we-believe/our-wesleyan-heritage. Watkins, Philip, Kathrine Woodward, Tamara Stone, and Russell Koltz. 2003. “Gratitude and Happiness: Development of a Measure of Gratitude and Relationships with Subjective Well-Being.” Social Behavior and Personality 31: 431–52. Wesley, John. 1872. “The Principles of a Methodist Farther Explained.” The Words of the Rev. John Wesley, edited by Thomas Jackson. London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room. Wesley, John. 2016a. “Sermon 85 (1872 Edition).” The Wesley Center    Online. Accessed June 23.  http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872 -edition/. Wesley, John. 2016b. “Sermon 114 (1872 Edition).” The Wesley Center Online.  Accessed June 23.http://wesley.nnu.edu/john-wesley/the-sermons-of-john-wesley-1872-edition/ sermon-114-the-unity-of-the-divine-being/. Willard, Dallas. 1998. “Spiritual Disciplines, Spiritual Formation, and the Restoration of the Soul.” Journal of Psychology and Theology 26: 101–109. Wood, Alex M., Jeffrey Froh, and Adam W.A. Geraghty. 2010. “Gratitude and Well-Being: A Review and Theoretical Integration.” Clinical Psychology Review 30 (7): 890–905.

chapter 14

Habits, Tendencies, and Habitus: The Embodied Soul’s Dispositions of Mind, Body, and Person Mark Graves Introduction In a classic understanding of habit, one could presume a static foundation of soul and reality within which habits could form. Given modern cosmology and evolution, no static substrate exists upon which habits can take place. Instead, layers of developmental, historical, evolutionary, and cosmological changes proceed at different rates, with slower changes providing relative stability for quicker dynamic processes and the formation of repetitive patterns. One interprets those layered dynamic processes and emerging patterns within the humanities and natural and social sciences using various, historically situated philosophical assumptions. Those assumptions usually vary between disciplines and are frequently incompatible in their perspective on stability and change. One may presume a timeless subject interpreting an ultimately unknowable dynamic world, possibly through defining social processes, or presume a stable foundation to reality, occasionally with mathematical precision, which one asymptotically understands. Rather than disparate combinations of relative perspectives and/or absolute foundations for self, world, and reality, I argue that interconnected habits model the relative stability of human dynamic processes sufficient for the socially situated science and grounded scholarship without requiring a static substrate. In other words, habits build upon habits all the way down. A turn toward habit as the primary construct for modeling reality may reach practical limits, but the dispositional approach nevertheless demonstrates fruitful resonances across mental habits examined in psychology and education, dynamic tendencies of the body studied by physical and biological scientists, and habitus of the whole person examined through the social sciences and moral psychology. Over the past couple of millennia, philosophers and psychologists have characterized the habits of humans, and over the past few centuries in the West, and perhaps longer in the East, philosophers have attempted to use ­human habits as a metaphor for describing nature’s dispositions. ­Cosmologically,



­ ature would have developed general tendencies first, and humans would have n evolved to function in a world with those tendencies and thus acquired the capacity to form habits. In this chapter, I examine a variety of habits and  other dispositions and propensities that manifest themselves in the world, and make philosophical distinctions between them based on the perspective of human mind, body, and person. These distinctions, based on mental, natural, and socio-cultural dispositional effects, lead to greater insight into the dispositional nature of the human world. As a convention, I use habit as inclinations acquired by an embodied mind (generally human), tendency as a disposition of nature, and habitus as propensities of a person towards certain ends, and I use disposition to refer to any general inclination or propensity. In this chapter, I examine habit, tendency, and habitus in turn before considering applications of their distinctions to understanding virtue and describe virtue as spanning a broad range of human existence.

Human Habits

When one learns a skill, such as reading, the activity can become automatic. One’s inclination to identify strokes on a page as letters and words is strong enough that if some of the strokes were in different colors, and one is asked to name the color of the stroke, having the word “red” in green ink would interfere with one’s speed and accuracy in the task.1 With practice, many tasks can become automatic: reading, writing, riding a bicycle, driving a car, flying an airplane, solving a mathematics problem, hitting a baseball, simultaneous translation between spoken languages, negotiating a corporate merger, summarizing a philosophical position, surgically replacing a heart, preparing a sermon, or climbing a rock wall. These automatic processes, or habits, develop over time and dispose a person to respond in certain ways to specific stimuli and situations under a range of conditions. When one sees strokes on a page, the processes in the visual and left temporal cortex of one’s brain combine the strokes into letters and words, and additional cortical areas associate the words with meaning. Part of the process occurs regardless of whether one knows the language—and likely results from written scripts evolving over the past 5000 years to only depend upon the specific visual capacities shared by all humans. Other aspects of the reading process depend upon whether one has learned a language that 1 MacLeod, 1991.

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a­ ssociates a particular written word with meaning, e.g., “die” as English end of life or as German feminine definite.2 Humans also have latent habits that result from the interaction of other habits, such as when the color of ink interferes with reading a word referring to a different color, called the Stroop effect. Neuropsychologically intact adults who have learned a written language demonstrate the Stroop effect, even though no child realizes they are acquiring the effect while learning to read. Most likely, no one even knew the effect existed until J. Ridley Stroop and others discovered the effect in the early twentieth century. Now, that latent habit has led to other human individual and cultural dispositions, such as the habit of neuropsychologists to administer a Stroop test as a diagnostic for certain medical and psychiatric disorders. Habits also extend beyond learned automatic processes of an individual. Greetings, rituals, and other social customs extend habits to societies. An individual acquires habits in learning to read a language, and in a real way, the language itself acquires habits of idiom, written form, and meaning over its time of development. Habits are real: They have causal power and afford the possessor otherwise unavailable possibilities. The habit of reading English causes a person to interpret strokes on a page a certain way—even if ink, letters, or proper spelling or grammar were missing. Although one could fly a single-engine Cessna airplane with careful instruction and safe weather conditions without any previous flying experience, taking off and landing a large multi-engine Boeing jet aircraft requires numerous previously learned habits that otherwise make the process impossible. Most young children can eventually ride a bicycle or hit a gently tossed ball with a bat, but most adults cannot even see, much less hit, a major league fastball while standing at home plate. The philosopher of mind Thomas Nagel argues in his classic paper “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” that one’s subjective experience cannot be reduced to physical phenomena and processes.3 Nagel argues there are aspects of subjective awareness that a human cannot experience even if imagining flying by sonar or eating bugs. A bat has certain habits of awareness based upon its sensory and motor activity that humans cannot acquire. A bat cannot however read about a child hitting a bat with a ball while flying on an airplane. However, most native English speakers can disambiguate the prior (presumably novel) sentence, at least to one or two interpretations. A native or fluent speaker would likely automatically disambiguate the “hitting a bat with a ball,” which would have made no sense earlier in the paragraph in 2 Dehaene, 2009; Dehaene and Laurent, 2011. 3 Nagel, 1974.



the (unstated) context of a child learning to play baseball. Depending upon how much one travels via airplane, and whether one flies more frequently with children or for work, one might have briefly imagined a child throwing a ball down the aisle of a passenger jet to hit a flying bat or imagined a bat sitting in an airplane seat reading a children’s story about a child throwing a ball at a bat. Or, if one were quickly skimming, one’s mind might have automatically switched the words “bat” and “ball” in the sentence to make the sentence semantically valid in the more common American context of baseball, causing a momentary confusion, but not sufficient attention to immediately stop the reading process. Regardless of one’s eventual interpretation of the sentence, numerous habits formed over time combined in that reading to cause one’s interpretation. Those habits included development of English (i.e., linguistic evolution), cultural familiarity with baseball, “scripts” of commercial airline travel, occurrence of bats in one’s environment, and scholarly philosophical discourse. To characterize the relationships between human processes, and especially to explain their causal relationships, one must identify the habits disposing the processes to affect each other in particular ways. The habit of flying an airplane enables one not only to fly a commercial jet for which one is trained and rated but also to hold certain jobs in an industry dependent upon those habits. Habits of reading scholarly texts enable additional possibilities, such as employment in humanities scholarship, and, in this chapter, I describe the fruitful habit of learning to view the world in terms of habits. Habits of mind depend upon processes spanning developmental, historical, evolutionary, and cosmological time scales. The human species has acquired tendencies of visual perception through biological evolution that enables humans to differentiate complex shapes, such as objects, faces, and letters and to learn the habit of reading. While reading, there are temporary cascades of neural activations triggered by combinations of photons striking proteins in the retina of one’s eye, and the evolution of the human brain enables one to learn to read. In addition, the effects (and meaning) of those rapid molecular transitions in the brain that occur while reading depend upon habituations spanning evolutionary and historical time scales embedded in the visual cortex and the written text, respectively. Even the physical and chemical laws characterizing the interaction between photons and molecules bound to the retinal protein rhodopsin characterize dispositional responses developed over cosmological time. Within the brain, historical and developmental human mental habits depend upon the cosmological and evolutionary tendencies of nature. By considering mental and neurobiological processes dispositionally,

Habits, Tendencies, and Habitus


one can clarify relationships between mind and brain, which are difficult to understand from a Cartesian perspective.

Habits of Mind & Tendencies of Brain

Two areas in which psychologists examine habit formation are automaticity and addiction. Automaticity refers to the ability for learned and practiced activities to become efficient in their use of attentional resources and to occur outside of awareness without necessary intention or control.4 Examples include walking, reading, riding a bicycle, or driving a car. Highly automatic processes that depend upon coordinated timing, such as swinging a baseball bat or golf club, actually deteriorate when one draws attention to those tasks. In addiction, rather than learn a habit, one’s neurological substrate becomes co-opted by the compulsive engagement with an activity or substance, and one looses the ability to control one’s behavior and respond to adverse consequences. Considering habit formation in terms of neurobiological tendencies explains psychological phenomena such as automaticity, addiction, and learning to read without postulating a separate “mind” in which those processes must occur. One can examine the human process of acquiring habits in terms of learning in the brain. The best-studied cells relevant to mental activity are called neurons and interconnect with each other and respond to stimulation by stimulating other neurons. Some neurons are stimulated by sensory inputs; others elicit a response by stimulating motor activity; and many neurons in the brain interconnect as a substrate for mental processing. Neurons connect to each other through the very small gaps between them called synapses. The gaps between neurons are very small and were only discovered a century ago. In nineteenth-century neuroscience, scientists presumed that nerve fibers were fused together in a net-like arrangement (reticulum).5 The theory now called the neuron doctrine defines nerve cells as independent units with cell bodies and dendrites providing receptor surfaces and the axon serving as the output of the nerve cell. The dendrites typically spread out like tree branches to receive input from the axon of other neurons. Although most neuron cell bodies remain in the brain, the axons of neurons in the motor cortex, for example, extend down the spine to muscles throughout the body. The axon 4 Bargh, 1994. 5 Glickstein, 2006.



of one neuron and dendrites of another neuron connect at the synapse. The communication involves chemicals flowing across the gap from the axon of one neuron to the dendritic input of another neuron. Some of the chemicals, such as potassium, sodium and calcium ions, are positively charged, and when received by the downstream neuron’s dendrite, may trigger that neuron to fire depending upon certain thresholds. Other ions, such as chloride, have a negative charge and can inhibit, or reduce, the likelihood that the downstream neuron will fire. In addition to electrical transmission through ions, other chemicals, called neurotransmitters, may modulate and control the electrical firing. Although the neuron doctrine was eventually thoroughly demonstrated, the neuron doctrine met significant resistance for several decades. The debate occurred in concert with other scientific findings that challenged the uniqueness of humans in relationship to other organisms, such as evolution (which claimed a historical relationship between humans and other animals) and cell theory (which claimed a common structure for plants and animals). As neuroscientist RW Guillery describes, these findings “provided an entry into a reductionist analysis of areas that were long regarded as the province of theologians, unknowable to science. That is, there was a controversy between a reductionist view of the brain on the one hand and a holistic, often mystical view, on the other.”6 Biology has not undermined theology as much as the scientists and others ascribing to the reticular view of the brain may have feared, but the failure to discover a holistic “reticular” network with which a dualistic soul might interact does require theologians to revisit and refine their theories of rationality and how habits, such as underlie virtue, may be learned. During learning and memory formation, changes in the brain depend upon biological processes of synaptic plasticity, or adaptability in the synapses where connections between neurons form or dissipate. One of the biological processes of synaptic plasticity that appears significant for learning and memory is called long-term potentiation.7 In long-term potentiation, learning occurs by strengthening, or making more potent, the synaptic connections between neurons. Neuroscientists consider long-term potentiation as the mechanism by which one’s memories becomes permanent. In typical brain activity, neurons activate each other through a variety of ion and neurotransmitter signals. When neurons signal each other, concurrent biochemical processes within a neuron prepare the connection so that neurons that fire at the same time may have their connections reinforced if the signal is salient. For instance, 6 Guillery, 2005, 1283. 7 The retention of new neurons created during neurogenesis and other neurobiological processes also appear significant to learning and memory.

Habits, Tendencies, and Habitus


connections can be reinforced by repeated firings or by additional chemical markers released in emotionally charged situations. Or, as neuroscientists say, “neurons that fire together wire together.” In the process of long-term potentiation, neurons that accidentally fire together in novel sensation, associations, or behavior will strengthen their connections to each other and will more likely trigger the other in subsequent situations that previously would have only triggered one of the neurons. “Long-term depression” (not related at all to the clinical psychological condition) causes unused connections to slowly dissipate. Long-term potentiation and depression implement synaptic plasticity and form a neurobiological platform for learning and memory. The biological processes of synaptic plasticity integrate the functional and structural changes that implement learning and memory and enable the organism to adapt to its environment.8 Long-term potentiation has several effects depending upon the brain region in which it occurs. Long-term potentiation in the hippocampus is an essential component of memory formation, and long-term potentiation in the areas of the mesocorticolimbic pathway is implicated in addiction. Substance dependence generally requires activation of the dopaminergic “reward” pathway, which strongly reinforces drug-seeking behaviors through mechanisms underlying long-term potentiation and operant conditioning types of learning. Learning habits of mind appears to depend upon the process of long-term potentiation. When something happens in one’s experience to activate a particular (perhaps novel) network of neurons, new synaptic connections are formed. Just as a significant social experience may change, reinforce, or initiate new connections in one’s social network, the embodiment of that salient experience affects the connections between neurons involved in one’s experience. Modifying a synapse during a particular experience can change how other similar experiences will be stored, retrieved, interpreted, and generalized. The brain appears tuned to form habits that help the organism to act in the world (and presumably to survive). An understanding of how humans acquire habits in terms of learning and synaptic plasticity in the brain can serve as a model for understanding other natural tendencies.

Tendencies of Nature

Tendencies are a very general way of viewing patterns of cause and effect and describe how nature actively brings about certain types of events and actions. 8 LeDoux, 2002; Kandel 2006; Lamprecht and Joseph, 2004.



In Theology for a Scientific Age, the scientist–theologian Arthur Peacocke argues against taking a static view of the world because almost all entities and relationships are subject to change—though on widely disparate time scales.9 Alfred North Whitehead traces the debate between “being” versus “becoming” back to ancient debates between Parmenides and Heraclitus.10 Although Peacocke does not subscribe to the metaphysical shift from entities to “events” that Whitehead’s process philosophy provides, Peacocke does believe that the world can be described in terms of the changes to entities and relationships over time. Science can reliably attribute causality only when “some underlying relationships of an intelligible kind, between the successive forms of the entities have been discovered.”11 For Peacocke, history is a seamless web of continuity and the relationships of the natural world have a dynamic character, and one cannot separate the observed structures of the world from how they came to be that way. For Peacocke, “the ‘being’ of the world is always also a ‘becoming.’”12 The eighteenth century Puritan minister and philosophical theologian Jonathan Edwards developed what may be the first understanding of the world as tendencies. Edwards attempted to redefine the Aristotelian conception of habitus to incorporate the demand of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century science: to see the world in terms of power and motion rather than in terms of substance and form. Edwards replaced substance metaphysics with a dynamic and relational conception of being and reinterpreted habitus as an active causal power he called tendency, which combines the dynamic with the permanent. For Edwards, tendencies prescribe that if certain conditions are given, a certain type of action would certainly result. In Edwards’s conception of reality, the universe consists of a network of tendencies. His conception defines existence as essentially relational, and his tendencies define solidity as a process of resisting annihilation. In other words, the ability of individuals to resist annihilation or decomposition into their constituents defines their existence. Anything that exists requires a tendency to continue its own existence, otherwise any other tendency toward disorder or toward an alternate configuration of the world would cause its annihilation. By defining the structure of existence as tendencies, Edwards presents a relational conception of being where one cannot separate the structure or essence of an individual entity from its

9 10 11 12

Peacocke, 1993. Whitehead, 1978. Peacocke, 1993, 44–45. Ibid., 61–62.

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habitual relations. Tendencies thus define one’s essence as dispositional rather than as an Aristotelian act forming a substance.13 Much as the synapses strengthen in long-term potentiation, the relationships become stronger in Edwards conception of existence. Just as memory forms in one’s mind and becomes permanent, existence forms within reality and resists annihilation. The way humans remember the world and learn to participate in it mimics the way reality “remembers” each person’s existence and forms the tendencies by which activity takes place. The analogy between mind and nature could be coincidental, but the analogy may go even deeper. In the nineteenth century, Charles Sanders Peirce saw advances in geology and biology, which described a very old, geologically changing planet and evolving species, as challenging not only assumptions about human history, but also our understanding of reality. He organized his understanding of reality to account for fundamental change in nature, arguing that reality requires one to consider the practical effects of what one hopes to understand rather than to speculate on abstract essences. Sometimes considered America’s only completely novel school of philosophy, Peirce’s pragmatic philosophy influenced his followers to apply his thought to numerous areas, as was the case with Peirce’s close friend and benefactor William James’s popularization of pragmatic philosophy and psychology, Josiah Royce’s continued exploration of Peirce’s logic and development of an ethics and philosophy of religion, and with Royce’s student George Herbert Mead foundational work in sociology.14 John Dewey also continued the development of pragmatic philosophy and applied his ideas to education reform. Similarly, I draw upon Peirce’s understanding of tendency to reinterpret habit, habitus, and virtue. Peirce characterizes his metaphysics as “objective idealism,” which asserts that reality resembles a “mind.” A tree cannot exist simply as an actualized quality of treeness in an evolutionary universe as it could in Aristotle’s static world. The essence of a tree does not depend upon a preexistent quality but on the relationships in which it could possibly participate. The meaning of a tree is the possible effects a tree could have within its network of relationships. A tree responds within its network of relationships and those dispositions of possible responses (and effects) are its tendencies. The essence (meaning) of a tree depends upon its existence in relation to respond in certain ways. (What the physicist and neuroscientist Donald MacKay would later call a conditional readiness to reckon.15) 13 14 15

Lee, 2000. Scheffler 1974. MacKay 1991.



Tendencies are similar to scientific laws, which abstract away variations in context to obtain certainty, but tendencies are not deterministic and rigid, as one typically interprets laws. Peirce writes, Five minutes of our waking life will hardly pass without our making some kind of prediction; and in the majority of cases these predictions are fulfilled in the event. Yet a prediction is essentially of a general nature, and cannot ever be completely fulfilled. To say that a prediction has a decided tendency to be fulfilled, is to say that the future events are in a measure really governed by a law. If a pair of dice turns up sixes five times running, that is a mere uniformity. The dice might happen fortuitously to turn up sixes a thousand times running. But that would not afford the slightest security for a prediction that they would turn up sixes the next time. If the prediction has a tendency to be fulfilled, it must be that future events have a tendency to conform to a general rule. “Oh,” but say the nominalists, “this general rule is nothing but a mere word or couple of words!” I reply, “Nobody ever dreamed of denying that what is general is of the nature of a general sign; but the question is whether future events will conform to it or not. If they will, your adjective ‘mere’ seems to be ill-placed.” A rule to which future events have a tendency to conform is ipso facto an important thing, an important element in the happening of those events.16 Edwards grasped existence as a tendency to resist annihilation, but Peirce clarifies that what actually exists must first become a possibility. A person’s existence is defined as much by the unfolding possibilities of their world as by his or her present spatio-temporal actuality. Possibility refers to something being what it is regardless of anything else. When a woman gives birth to a child, the child has the possibility of becoming an adult human regardless of what happens to the child. If the child dies young, it still had the possibility of adulthood, but the child never had the possibility of becoming a bird or tree. Possibility captures the aspect of reality that things are intrinsically constrained into certain ways of existence. Although unreflectively obvious to most adults, recall that young children do not know people cannot turn into trees nor flowers into butterflies. Historically, a­ lchemists believed one could manipulate the possibilities of lead and turn it into gold. A combination of tendencies gives rise to new possibilities, and those possibilities may themselves become subsequently habituated. Learning to read 16

Peirce, C.P. 1.26.

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enables the possibility of learning through reading a book, the Stroop effect, and eventually a career in academia. Learning to fly a small plane or to hit a baseball enables learning to fly a multi-engine jet or to play baseball competitively, respectively. Tendencies spread by enabling possibilities, which can form new tendencies and enable new possibilities. The creation of new possibilities is key to the possibility of creating new habits or tendencies. Longterm potentiation requires that neurons accidentally activate each other before their synapse can strengthen and underlie a habit. One effective means to train an animal is to wait until the animal accidentally behaves in a way that could lead to the desired task and then reward the animal to incline it to repeat the behavior. The tendencies of genetic transcription processes to transcribe nucleotides enable the possibility of novel proteins and phenotypic expression to result from genetic mutation. Tendencies are not a new substance with an essence but a generalization of particular relationships and their possible effects. One identifies tendencies by examining collections of relationships and the effects they collectively might have. Molecular biology depends upon relationship between proteins and other organic and biologically active molecules. Understanding human habits depends upon complex neural structures, and those structures form through genetic and neurobiological tendencies, and those tendencies depend upon the tendencies of how chemicals interact, developed over cosmological timeframes. The regularity of chemical bonds enables the regularity of biological processes, which enable the regularity of learning, memory, and habit formation in mental processes, which enables the development of social processes. The accidental regularities occurring in the natural and social world enable new possibilities, which then habituate and provide a stable substrate with new general processes and causal activity, upon which new possibilities may emerge. The alignment between habitual dispositions of the mind and tendencies of nature could be coincidental, but more likely, the alignment results from evolution, because a brain whose operation is compatible with how the world works would have a significant survival advantage over brains who operate differently. Considering human habits in a natural world of tendencies enables considering the whole person’s dispositions.

Human Habitus

Many, but not all, aspects of human’s dispositional nature are shared with other animals. Humans have an embodied, dispositional nature dependent upon



habits and tendencies, and animals share the underlying biological substrate with humans and acquire habits similarly - though the kinds of habits differ depending upon their particular senses, body, and neurological organization. Habitus not only characterizes the embodied nature of animal cognition, but also captures influences beyond what is generally shared with all animals. Humans are social and have the capacity to empathize and to reason about other’s thoughts, intentions, and motivations. Humans use symbolic language that enables abstract concepts, mathematics, science, and the arts.17 Human social and linguistic capacities combine to enable social institutions, civilizations, laws, and economies. Humans can conceptualize the individual within a society in a way that includes one’s self.18 The ability to consider one’s self as a potential other, and especially the ability to consider one’s self as other for another, enables the development of morality, ethics, systems of justice, and social contracts. Humans also can overgeneralize the concept of person and ascribe human characteristics to physical objects, other animals, and gods, leading to the development of religion and questions about the desires of god and our purpose in life.19 The human dispositions of prosocial relationality, symbolic abstraction, civil organization, self-awareness, and transcendence combine into dispositions of the whole person. The particular combination of human dispositions generally drives us to consider the purpose or ends of human behavior, and thus habitus also incorporates a teleological component.20 Regardless of whether the end is intended or accidental, humans tend to interpret a person’s dispositions as toward some end (and that includes the dispositions of one’s self). The philosophical category of habitus expands the automatic psychological behavior of habit by considering the whole person as having a telos or end. Historically, habitus refers to the active state of moral or intellectual character inclining the person toward certain actions and emotions (passions). Aristotle wrote of hexis as a state of character, and Thomas Aquinas and Latin translators used habitus in a similar way, which includes the feelings, desires, or purposes for developing virtue and happiness. Within contemporary ethics, Alasdair MacIntyre reappropriated virtue (as habitus) in a contemporary context.21 In Aristotle’s metaphysics and in Thomistic thought, habitus functions as a dynamic principle that perfects the operations and powers of human 17 18 19 20 21

Deacon, 1997. Mead, 1934. Barrett, 2004; Bellah 2011. Malle, 2004. MacIntyre, 1984.

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­beings. Habitus disposes one toward (or away from) some behavior. For Aristotle, habitus (or hexis) meant primarily an acquired propensity toward a determinate type of behavior, and as he writes in Metaphysics, “Habit[us] means a disposition according to which that which is disposed is well or ill disposed.”22 Habitus emerges as a novel type of disposition because of the unique combination of human characteristics. No other species on the planet has this particular type of disposition. Although every animal has some claim to uniqueness, of relevance to the current discourse, human uniqueness includes a quality of being able to study itself that enables a new kind of investigation in the world. The study of habitus also yields a general knowledge of the kind of dispositions that nature as a whole might allow. With only tendencies and habits, one might not consider the possible end or purpose of dispositions in the universe or the social nature those dispositions might take. Habitus enables the interpretation of putative ends with respect to other ends. Aristotle and Aquinas could presume universals that would orient the Good toward some Absolute. Substance served as a substrate for habits, and one could identify the ends. However, Edward’s and Peirce’s understanding of reality undercuts substance as universal, and Edwards defines existence as resisting annihilation. Within the dispositional worldview, humans gain the dispositional and existential capacity to “become” but appear to lose the essential capacity to “be.” Within the new worldview, the time scales of very long-lasting cosmological tendencies support the evolutionary tendencies leading to species, populations, and individuals. Human social and cognitive tendencies lead to the construction of historical societies that last longer than individual lives; and the linguistic cultures that they develop support the broad education of religious dispositions. Habitus depends upon social, linguistic, and persistent self-reflective capacities dispositionally enculturated in a person’s embodied mind. Rather than Aristotelian, short-lived habits of substance aspiring to eternal ends, one has progressively extended social, evolutionary, and cosmological tendencies that support the formation of human habitus. However, one can also speculate on the tendencies of such a dispositional world and whether those dispositions have purposes and ends.23 Much as humans unintentionally acquired the Stroop effect while learning to read, societies may have acquired latent dispositions embedded in culture. Developing common prohibitions against murder, assault, and robbery formed a foundation for civil legal systems and respect for human life, safety, and property, respectively. Those latent social dispositions then interacted to create new 22 Aristotle, Metaphysics, Book v, Part 20. 23 Deacon, 2011.



possibilities for the abolition of slavery and civil rights movements. Latent within habitus are culturally acquired values that orient the person in certain, possibly contradictory, directions. Moral development refines those latent dispositions, and ethical discourse makes them explicit within the culture. Virtue requires the acquiring of new habits to help one discern among embodied tendencies and enculturated habitus. The latent and explicit ends may orient one’s discernment, and structure the constellation of embodied, personal, and social dispositions toward some latent or self-reflected end. Every dimension of a person’s existence is needed to identify the ends or purposes to which one wishes to characterize as Good and possibly to habituate, and the habitus one forms may impact others for generations.

Application to Virtue

Three applications of considering virtue as habitus in a dispositional worldview are the acquisition of resilience in mental habits, clarification of purpose in nature’s tendencies, and identification of a stable substrate for habitus. A collection of habits or tendencies may be somewhat conflicted and unsustainable or may organize into a constellation that supports its own existence. When a constellation becomes self-supportive, it begins resisting its own annihilation. When embodied in the whole person and oriented in some direction or with a particular goal, the constellation contributes resilience to habitus. The organization of habits and tendencies orient the person toward some direction or goal and resists annihilation of the constellation’s and person’s structural integrity. Resilience characterizes the relationships of habitus that supports virtue’s resisting annihilation and maintains its orientation toward some good. The purpose of tendencies depends upon the context in which it occurs. Systems theorists and others categorize the purpose of systems into three types of ends depending upon whether the result of the system occurs (1) with a final state or goal, (2) with a direction but no goal, (3) statically with neither a goal or a direction.24 A system with a teleological end has true purpose that seeks a goal (a telos), and Aristotle’s final cause refers to bringing about such a telos. A system with a teleonomic end has an apparent direction but no specific goal or explicit purpose. Evolution leads to biological systems staying alive, eating, and reproducing, as only those organisms doing so will propagate, but evolution lacks explicit teleological goals. A system with a teleomatic end has a final 24

Mayr, 1982, 47–51; Bertalanffy 1950.

Habits, Tendencies, and Habitus


state, which occurs as a consequence of its potentials, but no explicit direction that it maintains. Physically, thermodynamics, gravity, quantum decay, and other fundamental relationships change physical systems toward a final state, but not in any specific direction. The “accidental” constraints of a teleomatic system determine the particularities of that final state, rather than something essential to or maintained by its nature setting a direction. Constellations of dispositions can represent any of the three kinds of ends. If one practices the skill of reading, hitting a baseball, playing chess, or responding honestly to another person, one may have an explicit goal. Developmentally, as those skills become habituated, one may shift from an explicit goal, such as pleasing a parent or teacher, to a self-maintained structure of dispositions that orient the shift in a certain teleonomic direction but without a fixed end. As the constellation of habits and tendencies strengthen, additional secondary dispositions may result from the interaction, e.g., the Stroop effect, which are not actively maintained but persist as a secondary effect of the constellation’s resistance of annihilation. (In evolutionary biology, the accidental and unrequired secondary features accidentally maintained by selected phenotypes are called spandrels.) Nevertheless, these accidental, teleomatic results create new possibilities that can become habituated, such as using the Stroop effect for neuropsychological evaluation (or a redundant protein variant contributing to an unrelated enzymatic process.) The network of teleonomic, teleomatic, and teleological tendencies, habits, and habitus maintains complex dispositional relationships. Of central relevance to understanding virtue is the relationship between teleological habitus embodying a Good, teleonomic habits that maintain orientation toward the Good, and teleomatic tendencies that create new possibilities for expressing the Good in novel situations. In Aristotelian philosophy, substantial form defines the platform for habitus, but the revised dispositional perspective builds the platform for habitus from habits and tendencies. If needed, one can reclaim some aspects of form within a constellation of tendencies using a contemporary understanding of information. Information (like Aristotelian form) has no substance outside of the potential for existence, and thus only has meaning in the context of materialized systems. One can view form not as a static “idea” (in the Platonic sense) but as a configuration of tendencies to respond in certain ways within all possible environments. The information content of tendencies includes not only how tendencies respond in a particular environment (after Edwards) but also how they would respond in all possible environments (after Peirce). The information contained by neural networks consists not only in which pairs of neurons connect at a specific strength but also in how the embodied, enculturated brain would respond to myriad possible phenomena.



The large collection of networks in a person’s nervous system comprises the ­neurobiological platform for that person’s habits, regardless of how frequently or even if those networks become activated. Those networks define a system, namely the person’s nervous system. The form (or information content) of the nervous system’s mostly dormant networks consists of its responses under all possible conditions. Thus, the nervous system defines a collection of habits and tendencies, and that system has a form, perhaps identified as mind or rational powers of the soul. The permanence of a person ascribed to form can only exist as tendencies with respect to the possible conditions in which they may act, not in its actuality or particularity. As information has permanence extending beyond the material manifestation of its tendencies at a particular time and place, the contemporary category of information closely reinterprets the ancient category of form. Aquinas defines the soul as the form of the body, and one can reinterpret form as information and define the soul as a constellation of tendencies.25 The soul characterizes how the person would conceivably respond in any possible environment. Rather than view the soul as act in Aristotelian or Thomistic metaphysics; in Peirce’s system, soul would prescind the possibilities of a person. The soul is not material, because it exists in the realm of possibility, but the soul exists only as constrained possibility that incorporates the person’s constellation of tendencies, rather than unconstrained pure potential. Peirce called real possibility the possibility constrained by the tendencies (and the  actual materialized manifestation of possibilities and tendencies), and the constellation of tendencies for the whole person defines the real possibility of whom that person may become. The real possibility of a person characterizes the decisions a person might make (including both an intentional and Shannon meaning of decision) and thus constitutes the information content of a person’s tendencies. Those tendencies include constituents of the whole person’s mental habits, and one can consider virtue in the context of the possible decisions and behaviors.26 One can thus identify a person’s habits and tendencies, and their information content, as contributing to virtue. Virtue has contributions from the physical and biological tendencies of a person’s body as studied by the natural sciences, the mental habits examined by psychology and education, and the habitus of the whole person as investigated by the social sciences and moral philosophy. Those dispositions have a relative permanence, which d­ epends 25 26

Peacocke 1993; Stoeger 2002; Graves 2008. Virtue thus orients habits of the soul in a direction that other habits and tendencies identify as a Good. Graves 2009.

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upon ­underlying dispositions, and persist through a process of resisting ­annihilation, which for the whole person one can identify as resilience of habitus. Rather than accidental dispositions of a person’s essence, every aspect of a person’s embodied soul may aspire to contribute to virtue. Conclusion One can differentiate human dispositions of body, mind, and whole person as tendencies, habits, and habitus, respectively. These dispositions depend upon slower changing cosmological, evolutionary, historical, and developmental dispositions for relative stability. Tendencies of the brain may have evolved due to an underlying dispositional structure to nature and reality, and investigations of learning and synaptic plasticity in the brain support the relevance of Peirce’s emphasis on possibility in the growth and spreading of tendencies in his understanding of reality. The constellation of tendencies includes those that underlie mental habits, and together they may persist through resisting annihilation and constitute the whole person. One can examine the habitus of the whole person in a social and enculturated context, including the possible ends, and model the habituated possibilities of a person’s soul as information. Theologically, the soul comprises the real possibility of a person constituted by their constellation of tendencies, and an examination of virtue identifies the orientations of a person’s embodied soul. References Bargh, J.A. 1994. “The Four Horsemen of Automaticity: Awareness, Intention, Efficiency, and Control in Social Cognition.” In Handbook of Social Cognition, ed. R.S. Wyer and T.K. Srull, 1–40. Hillsdale: Erlbaum. Barrett, Justin L. 2004. Why Would Anyone Believe in God? Cognitive science of religion series. Walnut Creek, ca: AltaMira Press. Bellah, Robert Neelly. 2011. Religion in Human Evolution: From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. Bertalanffy, Ludwig von. 1950. “An Outline of General Systems Theory.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 1 (2): 134–165. Deacon, Terrence W. 1997. The Symbolic Species: The Co-evolution of Language and the Brain. New York: W.W. Norton. Deacon, Terrence W. 2011. Incomplete Nature: How Mind Emerged from Matter. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.



Dehaene, Stanislas. 2009. Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. New York: Penguin. Dehaene, Stanislas and Laurent Cohen. 2011. “The Unique Role of the Visual Word Form Area in reading.” Trends in Cognitive Sciences 15 (6): 254–262. Glickstein, Mitch. 2006. “Golgi and Cajal: The Neuron Doctrine and the 100th Anniversary of the 1906 Nobel Prize.” Current Biology 16 (5): R147–51. Graves, Mark. 2008. Mind, Brain, and the Elusive Soul: Human Systems of Cognitive Science and Religion. Aldershot, Hants, England; Burlington, vt: Ashgate. Graves, Mark. 2009. “The Emergence of Transcendental Norms in Human Systems.” Zygon 44 (3): 501–532. Guillery, R.W. 2005. “Observations of Synaptic Structures: Origins of the Neuron Doctrine and its Current Status.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 360 (1458): 1281–1307. Kandel, Eric R. 2006. In Search of Memory: The Emergence of a New Science of Mind. New York: W.W. Norton & Company. Lamprecht, Raphael and Joseph LeDoux. 2004. “Structural Plasticity and Memory.” Nature Reviews Neuroscience 5 (1): 45–54. LeDoux, Joseph E. 2002. Synaptic Self: How Our Brains Become Who We Are. New York: Viking. Lee, Sang Hyun. 2000. The Philosophical Theology of Jonathan Edwards. Princeton, n.j.: Princeton University Press. MacIntyre, Alasdair C. 1984. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory. Notre Dame, in: University of Notre Dame Press. MacKay, Donald MacCrimmon and Valerie MacKay. 1991. Behind the Eye. Gifford lectures. Oxford, uk; Cambridge, Mass., usa: B. Blackwell. MacLeod, Colin M. 1991. “Half a Century of Research on the Stroop Effect: An Integrative Review.” Psychological Bulletin 109 (2): 163. Malle, Bertram F. 2004. How the Mind Explains Behavior: Folk Explanations, Meaning, and Social Interaction. Cambridge, Mass.: mit Press. Mayr, Ernst. 1982. The Growth of Biological Thought: Diversity, Evolution, and Inheritance. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap. Mead, George Herbert. 1934. Mind, Self, & Society: From the Standpoint of a Social Behaviorist. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Nagel, Thomas. 1974. “What Is It Like to Be a Bat?” The Philosophical Review 83 (4): 435–450. Peacocke, Arthur Robert. 1993. Theology for a Scientific Age: Being and Becoming-Natural, Divine, and Human. Minneapolis: Fortress Press. Scheffler, Israel. 1974. Four Pragmatists: A Critical Introduction to Peirce, James, Mead, and Dewey. International library of philosophy and scientific method. New York: Humanities Press.

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Stoeger, William R. 2002. “The Mind-Brain Problem, the Laws of Nature, and Constitutive Relationships.” In Neuroscience and the Person: Scientific Perspectives on Divine Action. Ed. Robert J Russell, Nancey Murphy, Theo C Meyering, and Michael A Arbib. Berkeley: Vatican Observatory Foundation; Center for Theology and the Natural Sciences. Whitehead, Alfred North. 1978. Process and Reality: An Essay in Cosmology. Corrected ed. New York: Free Press.

Index Agape 215–223, 226–229 Altruism 226–228 Annas, Julia 7, 169 Appiah, Anthony Kwame 37–38 Aquinas, Thomas 8–10, 17, 25–26, 28–39, 41–46, 121–123, 206, 217–219, 221, 233–235, 239, 254, 292–293, 296 Aristotle 4–6, 24–33, 37–38, 41–42, 47, 50, 52, 54, 63, 79–80, 92–93, 104, 111, 121–123, 136, 153, 163n20, 168–172, 208, 232–234, 238, 240, 252–253, 289, 292–296 Attention 33n39, 98–99, 104, 106–109, 176–178, 181, 183–190, 285 Augustine 41, 61n12, 63n13, 216–217, 221 Automaticity 4, 6, 98, 105, 107, 175, 182–185, 190, 207–208, 229, 251, 267, 282–285, 292 Autonomy 25, 105, 125, 217, 249 Autopoiesis 101 Averroes 41 Baars, Bernard 178, 183 Barth, Karl 257 Basil of Caesarea 217, 256 Batson, Daniel 37, 154, 156, 160–163, 166, 226 Baumeister, Roy 179, 221 Bonhoeffer, Dietrich 42n6, 117–122 Boyle, Greg 117–119, 121–122 Brain 33n39, 36n57, 58–59, 69n32, 71, 75, 91, 93–99, 102–104, 106, 108–109, 111–112, 121, 123, 133, 141, 176–183, 185, 189, 224–225, 272, 282, 284–287, 291, 295, 297 Buddhism 8–9, 19, 186 Caritas 121, 215–220, 222–223, 226–229 Causality 26n8, 31n28, 34n44, 35n51, 59–61, 68–71, 101, 134–135, 141–142, 144–145, 175, 179–182, 190, 197, 203, 219, 222, 224, 234, 243, 275, 283–284, 287–288, 291, 294 Compassion 96, 99, 105, 107, 117–120, 129, 134, 172, 215, 221, 224–228, 270 Conditioning 3, 91–92, 136, 287

Confucianism 8 Consciousness 16, 69n32, 167, 176–178, 181–184, 187 creation ex nihilo 255 Deacon, Terence 44, 51n37 Deborah Kelemen 10, 48–49 Deontology 7, 38, 59n5, 70n35, 217 Descartes, René 11, 50, 206 Desert Fathers 77, 80–87 Determinism 49, 101, 163–164, 290 Dijksterhuis, Ap 181, 184–185 Dopamine 141, 272, 287 Dual-process model 3–5, 8, 12, 36, 156, 167, 175–178 Duns Scotus 62n13–14 Edelman, Gerald 178 Edwards, Jonathan 18, 288–290, 293, 295 Empathy 100, 104, 109, 221, 223–226 Energon 93, 226–227 Epigenesis 102 Evagrius Ponticus 77–78, 80–87 Evolution 48, 95, 101, 110, 112, 131n9, 142, 156n13, 281, 284, 286, 289, 291, 293–295, 297 Exemplar 7–8, 14–16, 43, 58–59, 105, 118, 126, 141, 155, 157, 168, 170–173, 215, 228 Expertise 92, 105–108, 111, 130, 133–135, 141–142, 144, 157, 169–171, 173, 232, 237, 239, 246 Faith 31, 34, 117–121, 215, 218–219, 228, 258 Flanagan, Owen 37, 154, 163 Free will 42, 49, 162, 164, 175–179, 196–211, 256–258 Galileo 233, 241–246 Gould, Stephen Jay 101 Grace 34n44, 35, 46, 59–64, 71–73, 121–122, 215, 217–219, 227–228, 250, 254, 257–260, 274 Gratitude 78, 204, 238, 240–241, 249–278 Gregory Palamas 227 Gregory the Great 82

302 Grit 129–134 Guilt 138–139, 183 Habituation 5, 18, 25, 27–36, 118–124, 172, 201n19, 203, 209–10, 250, 253, 273, 284 Habitus 4–19, 41–47, 52, 54, 118–119, 121–124, 216, 222, 228–229, 281–282, 288–289, 292–297 Hadot, Pierre 77–81 Haidt, Jonathan 12–13, 154, 156 Hauerwas, Stanley 121–122 Heinz’s dilemma 188 Herdt, Jennifer 27–28, 30, 121–123, 125 Hexis 4–5, 92–93, 168, 292–293 Hilary Putnam 67–68, 75 Holy Spirit 35, 218, 226 Homeboy Industries 117–118 Humility 85, 220, 233, 235–236, 238–241, 244, 246, 251 Hursthouse, Rosalind 7, 122 Imitation 7, 27–28, 43, 50n34, 118, 120, 130, 133, 135, 138n28, 139, 141, 168 James, William 14, 33n39, 122, 130, 289 Jefferson, Thomas 220 Jesus Christ 43, 50n34, 52n38, 215–216, 219, 228, 254–255, 258 Justice 34, 36, 46, 60, 118, 171, 216, 218, 221, 232, 235, 292 Kant, Immanuel 3, 6, 11–12, 24, 31n28, 217 Kepler, Johannes 244–245 Lactantius 215 Libet, Benjamin 180–181 Luther, Martin 59, 61–64, 71–73, 119n4, 121, 154n5, 254 MacIntyre, Alasdair 7, 25, 30n26, 31n31, 43, 232–233, 237–240, 292 MacLean, Paul 94–95 Markov Decision Process 125, 137 Marxism 44, 53 Maximus the Confessor 217 Meditation 78, 80, 82 Meditation, Compassion, 224–225 Meditation, Mindfulness 107–109, 186–188

Index Mentoring 104, 130, 140–147, 232, 239–240 Metacognition 135, 141 Milbank, John 31n28, 35 Milgram, Stanley 154–160, 164–166 Mindfulness see Meditation, Mindfulness Model-Free Learning 124–125, 136–139 Natural law 42, 44–45, 47–48, 51, 54 Neuroscience 36, 58, 71, 91–95, 175, 184, 272, 285 Nussbaum, Martha 7, 32n36 Panpsychism 44, 53 Passions 3, 30–32, 34n45, 78–79, 82, 84, 87, 199, 206–207, 209–210, 292 Paul 153–154, 216, 220, 226–227, 259 Peirce, C.S. 289–297 Pelagianism 61, 217 Persistence 128–135, 138–144, 146–147 Personality 99, 131, 133n16, 162–163, 168, 186–187, 204, 216 Phronesis 5, 59n6, 93, 170 Plasticity 94, 102, 104, 286–287, 297 Play 46–47, 97–98, 100, 109–111, 125, 145, 169, 222, 224, 253, 284, 291, 295 Porphyry 78–79 Prayer 77n1, 80–82, 85–87, 250, 254, 274–275 Prefrontal cortex 96–97, 134, 180, 185–186, 189 Pride 46, 82, 130, 138–143, 145, 216, 255 Prosociality 96–97, 104–105, 109, 129–130, 132, 135–136, 138–139, 141–145, 147, 292 Prudence 34, 36, 93, 216, 218, 222–223, 232–237, 239, 244, 253n7 Reformation 59, 64, 73 Reinforcement 3, 12–13, 124, 130, 136, 138–141 Resilience 109, 133, 172, 294, 297 Ricard, Matthieu 94, 107 Righteousness 60–64, 71 Royce, Josiah 289 Shame 138–139, 238, 240n19 Situationism 154–157, 163–164, 167, 172, 204n32 Skinner, B.F. 3, 11 Stamina 131, 141–146, 274 Stroop effect 283, 291, 293, 295 Supervenience 59, 65–71, 74–75


Index Teleology 30n26, 43–44, 47–54, 196–197, 200, 208–209, 292, 294–295 Teleonomy 47–50, 294–295 Thomism 42–43, 45, 53–54, 61, 292, 296 Trinity 81–82, 227–228 Van Inwagen, Peter 201–203, 210 Vice 29, 44–47, 59–60, 65, 83–85, 92, 112, 153, 204, 221 Virtue Infused virtue 34–35, 125, 215, 218–219, 223, 226, 228–229 Intellectual virtues 79–80, 170, 232–233, 235, 238, 253n7

Weil, Simone 184, 188 Well-being 51, 91–92, 95–96, 110–112, 121, 238, 250, 260, 272–273, 275, 277 Wesley, John 254, 258–259 William of Ockham 50, 62n13, 63 Wittgenstein, Ludwig 25, 30n25, 36n57 World of Warcraft 46 Zagzebski, Linda 118, 126, 232 Zen 187