Félix Ravaisson, Of Habit

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Félix Ravaisson, Of Habit

Marie-Eve Morin 

Quote:Ravaisson’s first section is a metaphysical meditation on living and non-living beings, time, change, unity, and the emergence of habit.  In it Ravaisson ventures his first definition of habit as “a disposition relative to change, which is engendered in a being by the continuity or the repetition of this very same change.” (25)  In the case of living beings “if the change does not destroy it, it is always less and less altered by that change.” (31)  Or, if the change is brought about by the organism, then the change becomes its own and the organism’s receptivity to the natural world is decreased, demonstrating that the living being is able to be more spontaneous with respect to the natural world.  This is how living beings come to have habits.  Habits develop along with nature and in concert with the instincts of a living being.  He writes: “If, therefore, the characteristic of nature, which constitutes life, is the predominance of spontaneity over receptivity, then habit does not simply presuppose nature, but develops in the very direction of nature, and concurs with it.” (31)  Because living beings are both able to undergo and initiate change, there inheres in them a “double law of habit”: since the more an impression is used to navigate the world, the more frequently it is produced and since the frequency at which an impression is produced renders us less receptive to the world around us, movement becomes initiated more and more spontaneously from within the living being and less and less as a result of any impression. In her preface, Malabou refers to this as the “reversibility of energies.”  She continues: “Habit is at first an effect, a way of being that results from change, but it gradually becomes a cause of change itself, as it initiates and maintains repetition.” (ix)  Because the connection between action and reaction is then being weakened, there is a need to posit an organizing “center with the capacity to measure and dispense force.” (37)  This “center” is the capacity for judgement, the soul, and the “first light of freedom.” (37)

Quote:In the third section, Ravaisson explains how Will and Nature relate in the phenomenon of habit. The transfer of actions from will to habit (and often from habit back to will) is in direct contrast with the idea that habits have no intellectual activity, or that habits are blind mechanism. (57) This is because habitual action retains the form of the intelligence that instructs it. In one of many Thomistic turns, he claims that our movements become fused with the willed activity that brought them about and this particular fusion creates a necessity or “law of the limbs,” which is also at the same time a “law of grace.” (57) How is this different from instinct? Ravaisson’s answer is that it is a matter of degree. Instinct is more reliable and more bound by necessity, while habit is the dividing line, the “infinitesimal differential, or, the dynamic fluxion from Will to Nature.” (59) He then goes on to explain how a Will can arise if nature dominates the instincts by way of necessity.
'Historically, we may regard materialism as a system of dogma set up to combat orthodox dogma...Accordingly we find that, as ancient orthodoxies disintegrate, materialism more and more gives way to scepticism.'

- Bertrand Russell

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