Habits in action : a corrective to the neglect of habits in contemporary philosophy of action
I propose that if we pay proper attention to habits, we can correct distortions in prevailing accounts of action, and make progress in a number of contemporary debates. First I describe the everyday phenomenon of habit, and sketch the context as we find it within contemporary analytic philosophy. I then develop a notion of habit which has its origins in Wittgenstein, Ryle and Aristotie. The generic notion upon which all three thinkers draw is that of a kind of behaviour which is repeated; automatic, in the sense that it does not involve deliberation or trying; and responsible, since it is under the agent's control. I call such behaviour habitual action. Third, I reject the widely held view that the class of rational actions and the class of actions which we perform "for reasons" are equivalent. This view, made popular by Davidson, distorts our conception of rational actions by taking deliberated actions to be the sole paradigm. I suggest that this is an "intellectualist" error, which gives too prominent a place to our deliberative capacity in our picture of rational actions. 1 argue, against this, that on many of the occasions that we act habitually, we do not act for reasons, although we do act rationally, in ways that 1 spell out. Fourth and finally I outline how broadening our conception of rational actions to include many of those we perform habitually allows us to make progress in contemporary debates. I focus on the debate in meta-ethics between Humean (Smith, Blackburn) and anti-Fiumean (McDowell) accounts of moral motivation. I argue that properly understood, habits form a crucial part of the anti-Flumean argument - one which has hitherto been obscure in McDowell. I suggest other debates to which an understanding of habits could contribute, such as the project of "naturalising" rational action.