Conference: Habit and Second Nature

The British Society for Phenomenology


15th – 17th April 2011

St Hilda’s College, Cowley Place, Oxford

Habit is undeniably an important and pervasive aspect of human life; indeed, it is so familiar to us that often we do not pause to reflect on it.  Similarly, the concept of habit has played a significant role through the history of European philosophy – for example, in the thought of Aristotle, Aquinas and other scholastic theologians, Hume, Reid, Maine de Biran, Hegel, Ravaisson, Bergson and Deleuze.  However, it is seldom the focus of scholarly attention and debate.  Typically, philosophers invoke the concept of habit without defining it or addressing the important ontological, epistemological and ethical questions that it raises.  This means that the concept of habit represents a hole in debates concerning basic philosophical topics such as the foundations of knowledge and belief; the constitution of personal identity; the relationship between mind and body; the nature of the moral life and the source of moral obligation.

This conference will explore, from a range of philosophical perspectives, questions such as the following:

  • What is habit?
  • How is habit connected to, and distinct from, the concepts of disposition, skill, addiction, and practice?
  • What is the ontological status of habits or dispositions, and what entitles us to infer the existence (or non-existence) of a disposition?
  • How are habits formed?
  • What is the role and significance of habit in human life, particularly in the moral life?
  • To what extent is self-identity constituted by habit?
  • What is the relationship between habit and freedom?
  • Why do many philosophers evaluate habit negatively?
  • How does reflection on habit illuminate philosophical distinctions between mind and body, freedom and necessity, will and nature?
  • What are the underlying assumptions and attitudes that have shaped accounts of habit through the history of European philosophy?
  • What is the relationship between habit and philosophical method?
  • Is habit harmful or beneficial to human life?
  • How do our responses to these questions contribute to our understanding of the human condition?

Conference schedule:


3.45 pm         Ben Morgan (Oxford University): Heidegger’s Habits

5.30 pm         David Wood (Vanderbilt University): Reinhabiting the Earth

10.00 am        Mark Sinclair (Manchester Metropolitan University): Ravaisson and

11.45 am        Philip Goodchild (Nottingham University): Thinking Nature: On Habit and

Studi di Milano-Bicocca)
The Work of Being: Aristotle and the Architecture of the Human

John Milbank (Nottingham University)
Hume’s New Habit and How it Relates to Aristotle’s Older One


10.00 am        Johanna Oksala (University of Helsinki): The Neoliberal Subject of Feminism

11.45 am        Matthew Ratcliffe (Durham University): Habit and the Phenomenology of Negation

To register: please contact Julia Jansen:  Further details, including registration
forms will be found shortly at the BSP web-site:



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