I’ve finally got around to posting this– apols for delay…
From: T.Chappell [email@example.com]
Sent: 06 December 2011 13:45
Subject: Habituation responses
Some weeks ago I posted a query about habituation on this forum. I got so many so useful responses that I haven’t had time to post a digest of them till now. And even now, I don’t have time to do a tidy edit of them. I think I’ve removed anything irrelevant in the personal messages I got back, but if not, please ignore anything that my correspondents plainly just addressed to me.
Here, then, are most of the responses I got back, in no order whatever. (Not all of the responses, because some people sent me attachments which I am very grateful for, but can’t put into this post.)
> So far as I can see, it’s a necessary condition of the viability of
> Aristotelian virtue ethics that the following thesis should be true:
> (H) Virtues of character are acquired by habituation.
> (Virtues of intellect we can discuss too, but they perhaps pose different
> problems which are less central to Aristotle’s *ethics*.)
> Now I confess to some puzzlement about how, in general, Aristotle thinks
> virtue-acquisition via habituation is supposed to work, but that’s a big
> A smaller question, which is the one I want to ask here, is this: Has
> any empirical work been done to assess what evidence there might be for or
> against (H)?
> I know about the Harman/ Doris/ alii literature on fixity of character; I’m
> wondering whether there’s a parallel literature in ex-phi/ ethics/
> cog.psy. on character-development.
> All tips and hints gratefully received.
> Best wishes
> Timothy Chappell
I would start by taking a look at applications of social identity theory to moral agency starting with Gary Weaver’s (now somewhat out of date) lit review: Weaver, G. (2006). Virtue in Organizations: Moral Identity as a Foundation for Moral Agency Organization Studies 27: 341-368.
Kelvin and I have something coming out in Business Ethics Quarterly in April (word version attached) which discusses the influence of job design on the opportunities to learn about virtue in the workplace – it doesn’t do what you want Tim but some of the evidence it draws on is suggestive.
I am currently working on this very topic. I think there is plenty of evidence that character traits are formed by habituation, and rationally guided habituation at that, but in order to argue this I also need to argue for understanding character in terms of a particular research tradition in psychology.
The latest version of my paper is the attached handout. Hope you find it interesting. I aim to write up a proper version in the next few weeks.
Meanwhile, might I ask whether you got any other useful replies to your question?
All the best,
I came across some relevant psychological literature on this, in preparation for my talk on sport and character development at the Royal Institute of Philosophy where I see you will be presenting later on this year.
Here are some resources, mostly focusing on self-control:
Mark Muraven, Roy Baumeister, and Dianne Tice, “Longitudinal Improvement of Self-Regulation Through Practice: Building Self-Control Strength Through Repeated Exercise,” The Journal of Social Psychology 139 (1999): 446-457.
Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, “Longitudinal Gains in Self-Regulation from Regular Physical Exercise,” British Journal of Health Psychology 11 (2006): 717-733.
Roy Baumeister and John Tierney, Willpower (New York: The Penguin Press, 2011).
Carwyn Jones and Mike McNamee, “Moral Development and Sport: Character and Cognitive Developmentalism Contrasted,” Sports Ethics, Jan Boxill, ed. (Malden, MA: Blackwell, 2003), pp. 40-52.
David Light Shields and Brenda Light Bredemeier, True Competition (Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics, 2009).
Dear Timothy Chappell,
I am really interested in the question you posed in your email. Unfortunately I do not have a final answer to that. But I’d suggest you a book and a web page:
The Book: SNOW, N., Virtue as Social Intelligence. An Empirically Grounded Theory, (2010) (here) –> The author argues against the philosophical situationist’s (Harman, Doris, etc.) criticism to virtue ethics.
The Web page: The Study of Character
You may also be interested in STAGEIRA — Aristotelian Studies of Practical Philosophy (University of Barcelona) web page: www.ub.edu/stageira
Bob Plant [firstname.lastname@example.org]
Sent: 08 November 2011 09:07
I think you might find something in Leiter & Sinhababu (eds), Nietzsche and Morality (Oxford UP) – esp piece by Knobe and Leiter, but there may be other things too.
It’s an important question. I think it is a more general matter not particularly related to Aristotle. I think it is connected to the overestimation of the power of the intellect alone to determine people’s beliefs and attitudes (and therefore their actions). Something that was characteristic of the Enlightenment. We think we are a lot more rational than we are. When people do wrong, they often know they have done wrong – but the mere intellectual grasping of this is not enough to stop them doing it. All sorts of non-rational causes impinge upon determining our beliefs and attitudes (and hence our behaviour). Hume would I think have been sympathetic to the idea that it is habit, for good or ill, that determines much of what we believe and our attitudes. How to change our habits? Essentially by building up in ourselves new habits. One starts off by consciously employing some reaction to a situation (say being in a large crowd being addressed by a fine orator, where everyone is expect to believe one thing), and counter it. Keep doing this until it becomes a natural habit – and then it kicks in when needed. Do something often enough and it becomes a habit. Becoming virtuous is like learning to play the cello. Practice.
You’ll find some discussion of this kind of thing in the last chapter of my book Arguing Well (Routledge, 2000). The chapter is titled ‘Understanding Reason is Not Enough’.
As a PhD student who is writing a thesis about Aristotelian moral education and development, I hope I can be of help to you.
To my knowledge, there is (unfortunately) no empirical research on the development of virtue, and not that much empirical research on the effectiviness of character education either.
However, these largely conceptual studies are worth reading:
*Kristjansson, K. (2007). Aristotelian moral development (chapter 2). In: Aristotle, emotions, and education. Ashgate, pp. 15-30.
*Steutel, J.W. and B. Spiecker (2004). Cultivating Sentimental Dispositions Through Aristotelian Habituation. Journal of Philosophy of Education 38(4): p. 531-0549.
*Spiecker, B. (1999). Habituation and training in early moral upbringing. In: D. Carr & J. Steutel (eds.). Virtue ethics and moral education. Routledge, pp. 210-223.
*Tobin, B. (1989). An Aristotelian Theory of moral development. Journal of Philosophy of Education 23(2): 195-211.
Dear Prof. Chappell,
This is a more a response to your big question than to the small one,
but I think it is worth mentioning. And, for what it’s worth, I think
that something like this view is probably correct:
Joseph Butler–who was so deeply influenced by Aristotle’s moral
psychology that one commentator called him “Aristotle, clad in a
diaphanous shroud of Christianity”–developed a theory of virtue
acquisition via habituation in his _Analogy of Religion_ (1736: Pt. I,
Ch. V). For a helpful discussion, see J.P. Wright (1994) “Butler and
Hume on Habit and Moral Character,” in _Hume and Hume’s Connexions_,
M.A. Steward & J.P. Wright (eds.) Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, pp.
I hope this is helpful. I’ll be sure to send along any relevant
empirical work I encounter.
All the best,
I just saw Jonathan Webber cite the following paper as providing evidence for habituation (though I haven’t read the piece and so have no idea how helpful it is): Mischel, W. & Y. Shoda. 1995. ‘A Cognitive-Affective System Theory of Personality’. _Psychological Review_. 102.
I am not sure all of this will be of interest to you, but some might be relevant:
The following are personality psychologists who reject the fundamental attribution error and argue that
1. Behaviour is general and stable at the aggregate level Epstein S. and O’Brien E.J., “The Person-Situation Debate in Historical and Current Perspective”, Psychological Bulletin, 1985, vol98, no3
2. Personality characteristics shape behaviour over time Darley J.M. and Batson C.D., “‘From Jerusalem to Jericho’: a study of situational and dispositional variables in helping behavior”, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1973, vol.27, no1
Specific advice on character development:
1. To instil honesty you need good role models, good habits and a grasp of honour, Hartshorne H. and May M.A., Studies in the nature of character, Vol. 1, Studies in deceit, (New York: Macmillan, 1928
I am sure there must be some more recent examples, I tend to be familiar with these because they are usually cited ‘on the other side of the fence’ in the situationist debate.
I don’t know if you would find this paper useful:
I’d be interested to know what other responses you get.
From: Rögnvaldur Ingthorsson
Sent: 07 November 2011 14:44
Subject: RE: Aristotelian habituation: empirical evidence?
The psychologist Kohlberg describes the initial phases of the development of what could be called a virtuous character, basically learning what is considered good or bad, through habituation, i.e. through reward and punishment. Although this is a long time ago now, then I remember having been taught that this is how Aristotle describes it. Surprisingly, the views of Aristotle, Hume and Kohlberg coincide regarding the early development of morality. Late the child acquires a respect for what is good and bad, and then for general rules and regulations on the basis of a reward and punishment basis, but then the philosophical mind moves on to consider whether these rules and regulations can be rationally justified.
Kohlbergs account is tied to Piaget´s theory of the cognitive development of children, basically that they initially only have the ability to relate to the concrete, this is good, this is bad (and the corresponding rewards/punishments), then they gradually grasp abstract or general rules, and finally they develop a critical ability to consider whether the ways acquired through habituation are really as good or bas as they are believed to be.
I believe there is empiricial research into this matter, but can’t tell you where, but there is also the Kohlberg-Gilligan controversy. Kohlberg thought that the ability to undstand abstract/general principles and to follow, and reason on that level, was the highest level of a virtuous character and thought that empirical evidence suggested that men were better at this than women. Kohlberg presented men and women with a dilemma, a man needed drugs from a pharmacist to save the life of his wife, but couldn’t afford them so he stole them. The question was: was he right? The men to a greater extent answered immediately that the right to life trumps right to property while the women (to Kohlbergs exasperation) sought alternative solutions, say a negotiation with the pharmacists. Carol Gilligan criticised Kohlberg idea that the latter was some kind of lesser form of thinking (more concrete thinking: echoing Russau), successfully I think. She argued that the men regarded moral dilemmas—at least when presented on a piece of paper—as some kind of mathematical calculus (right to live trumps right to property), while the women regarded them as real life situations where there are many possible situations. She argued that the women therefore revealed a greater acuity for what moral dilemmas are really like.
Two things, quickly. One, I’d think something weaker than H is what Aristotelian VE is committed to; surely it’s committed to the idea that virtue is something we can do to acquire, but whether Aristotle gets the details of what we can do correct is another matter. But that’s to say that H isn’t really the issue. The issue is whether there’s empirical support for the idea that we can do something about how virtuous we are, and (second) whether there’s such support for Aristotle’s habituation account (as in NE 2.4). It’s clear that we come to early adulthood with all sorts of dispositions & traits, & it seems clear that we can do something to aspire to improve; whether we do so just as Aristotle describes is less clear.
So, two, I think there is some empirical literature bearing on the idea that we can do things to become virtuous; this depends, of course, on what sort of thing a virtue is, and whether there’s support for that way of thinking about virtue. I review some of this literature in chap. 10 of Practical Intelligence & the Virtues; see also Nancy Snow’s book. That said, I do think there’s much more work to be done here. And turning to Aristotle’s specific account, I think it’s wide open whether there’s empirical support (I agree with Doris about that), and I’m not aware of empirical literature on that question, much less of any that might lend support to it. Here, too, there’s just a lot more work to be done, as far as I can see.
OK, maybe not *too* quickly.
you may have been right in saying that we share some interests.
I think the attached papers might be of interest to you. – Plus, if you like to read what Kant and Hume thought about character and character-development, I might point you to ch. 7 (and a bit of of my Kant book. It was a central concept of K’s anthropology. If you do not read German, I can also send them to you in English (I’m working on a translation of the book).
In current psychology, the issue has been discussed without referring much to talk of character or virtues. One group of key terms to look for are “self-development” or “action perspectives on human development” or “lifespan psychology” – the latter being a term most popular at the influential Berlin Max Planck Institute for Human Development, look for Ulman Lindenberger’s research group. Look also at:
Brandtstädter, J. (1998): „Action Perspectives on Human Development.“ Theoretical Models of Human Development. Hg. von R. M. Lerner. New York, 807-863
Brandtstädter, J. & Lerner, R. M. (Hg.) (1999): Action and Self-Development: Theory and Research Through the Life-Span. Thousand Oaks.
One problem with research in this area is that, if one follows usual methodological standards in psychology, studying character development is a difficult issue because it requires long-term studies (literally, decades). Doctoral students, for instance, can’t do that.
Do you know the book by Kupperman? Though it’s mostly conceptual, it also contains some stuff on development.
Best, Thomas Sturm
Dear Timothy Chappell, if I may,
I share your interests in issues about whether or how virtues can be acquired, at least in part, through ‘habituation’. We need to be careful not to read ‘habituation’ too narrowly or reductively, so that we wind up contrasting habituation with normal parts of child rearing and various sorts of formal and informal training (or today, it seems, it’s lack!) through young adulthood (at least). The relevant kinds of literature are in human development, developmental psychology and in philosophy of education. I.e., it’s not the literature philosophical purists would touch, but then we might ask, which of these lines of inquiry is more pertinent to the issues?
Insofar as you ask, rightly I too think, for empirical evidence about virtue acquisition, I think you’ll find it in studies of character development in the fields I mentioned. In Phil Ed, here are two good places to start:
Barbara Herman, ‘Training for Autonomy’, rpt in her recent book, *Moral Literacy*.
Thomas Green, *Voices: The Educational Formation of Conscience* (Uni Notre Dame press, 1999).
I hope these perhaps unexpected suggestions may prove to be of some use.
With very best wishes,
Timothy (if I may),
One place to look is Nancy Snow’s recent book, Virtue as Social Intelligence. She surveys some of the relevant literature and argues that virtue can be developed through “habitual virtuous actions and automaticity.”
I’ve done some work on other means of acquiring virtues, but that’s not what your question was about.
All the best,
A source with a lot of material would be the literature on behaviourist therapy, (and perhaps behaviourism in general), where a habit, eg of not drinking, or not gambling, or losing a phobia, is built up by repeated steps in that direction being rewarded until the habit is established.
An interesting question, that. I wonder if it might be fruitful to look at the opposite: the acquisition of vice. My hunch is that there’ll be more empirical work done on that, because how people become dangerous is a more pressing problem (and, cynically, a bit of a sexier research topic) than how they become saintly – though prima facie the psychological mechanisms could well be similar.
I’m thinking here about how people get conditioned to be torturers, or SS members, or cult-members, and so on – all of which involve the internalisation to some degree of a propensity to behave in a certain manner.
And I’m also reminded of this story from a couple of years ago, in which the “toxic” home environment of the perpetrators was mentioned in court as having a causative role in their crime. Again – assuming that the psychiatrist who gave evidence is reliable – this looks plausibly to be a case of habituation.
Are you familiar with this? http://www.thecharacterproject.com/
Templeton is funding a huge project at Wake Forest University through the departments of Phil, Psych, and Religion on specifically these kinds of questions.
John F. Whitmire, Jr., Ph.D.
Hi Tim. I know some central references in personality psychology that indicates the existence of traits (some of which could be considered virtues). Let me know if you’d like them. However, I haven’t looked deeply into developmental psychology; my understanding, from the little digging I have done, is that it is very under-theorized. Some references include:
Lapsley 1996 Moral psychology
Damon 1999 The moral development of children, Sci Am
Turiel 2006 The development of morality in Handbook of child psychology 6th ed
Helwig – series of publications in Child Development
I’d like to see what else turns up in the answers you get. Also very interested in anything you do with this!
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