Talk by Carissa Véliz (U. of Oxford): “In defence of habits”

Date and time: Monday Dec. 15th. 11.00 am.
Location: Carlos Santamaría Building, Room B14
Speaker: Carissa Véliz (U. of Oxford)
It is tempting to think that habitual behaviour is undesirable when it comes to morality and politics. When we think of an ideal moral agent and citizen, we tend to imagine someone whose behaviour is the result of careful rational deliberation and not habitual impulses. Kant, for example, believed that “As a rule all habits are reprehensible.” (2006, §9, 149). Habits seem particularly threatening for projects seeking social change, for habits enable people to go through their day-to-day life without conscious questioning of what they do, and partly constitute a basic resistance to doing things differently.
I argue that habits are an inevitable part of moral and political life, and that this is not necessarily negative; although habits are often instrumental to maintaining the status quo, they can also be tools for social change. I will first present five features of habitual action. I will then differentiate between habits, dispositions, and practices, and argue for the conceptual advantages of talking of habits in moral and political philosophy. Finally, I will argue against views of habits as obstacles to responsible moral and political behaviour leading to social transformation.