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Francis Garden - 1878 - Table of contents

Diccionario filosófico
Complete edition

Diccionario de Filosofía
Brief definition of the most important concepts of philosophy.


A Dictionary of English Philosophical Terms Francis Garden

Vocabulary of Philosophy, Psychological, Ethical, Metaphysical
William Fleming

Biografías y semblanzas Biographical references and lives of philosophers

Brief introduction to the thought of Ortega y Gasset

History of Philosophy Summaries

Historia de la Filosofía
Explanation of the thought of the great philosophers; summaries, exercises...

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Jaime Balmes

Historia de la Filosofía
Digital edition of the History of Philosophy by Zeferino González

Vidas, opiniones y sentencias de los filósofos más ilustres
Complete digital edition of the work of Diogenes Laertius

Compendio de las vidas de los filósofos antiguos

A brief history of Greek Philosophy
B. C. Burt


A Short History of Philosophy





Habit. From habeo, to have, as the Greek equivalent ἔξις from ἔχω. Habit means a permanent though in many matters acquired state, and is opposed to διάθεσις, disposition. The latter is temporary and can be removed with comparative ease, the former permanent and removable with difficulty. Thus the state of accidental intoxication constitutes but a diathesis, continual drunkenness a habit.


Aristotle defines habit as the act intermediate between possessing and being possessed, just as when one makes and something is thereby made there is between the two a making. Also in the same passage he calls it a diathesis, though elsewhere he makes the distinction between these which I have just laid down. Further, he says that it is part of a given diathesis.(1)

Habit, then, may be defined with Sir W. Hamilton, "the relation of the thing having, and the thing had." (2) It is one of the ten Categories or Predicaments, though, as is freely confessed in the treatise on these with which the Organon is opened, it really falls under that of quality.

In physical and medical science, the word is used in its original largeness of meaning, i. e. not as confined to action, but as embracing states, modes of being, and we are accordingly familiar with the phrases "habit of body," "a full" or "a spare habit." Also, medical men speak of a cachexy, a permanent bad condition of the body.

In another way we both adhere to the etymology, and recognise the original bearings of the word, when we speak of clothes as habits.

Aristotle, seeking for a definition of virtue, (3) says that there are in the soul three things, passions, powers, habits, and the question is to which of the three does virtue belong. After examination he refers it to the last. In further consideration of the subject he arrives at a puzzle from which without the aid of revelation I do not see an escape. Habits, he justly observes, are produced by repeatedly doing the actions which are appropriate to them. Ἔθος gives birth to ἦθος. This is a truth with which we are all familiar, so familiar that, as Sir W. Hamilton has observed, we call the cause by the name of the effect, and speak of a custom as a habit, instead of as that which produces a habit. But to return to the Aristotelian puzzle. Virtue being a habit, the specific character of which is laid down by Aristotle,(4) it would seem that it is to be acquired by doing virtuous actions. But how is an action to be virtuous if it wants the very essence of virtue, the being habitual?(5) We must then be virtuous in order that our deeds be virtuous, righteous in order that they may be righteous. Only in the Christian dispensation is this riddle solved. Only in the truth that Christ is made unto us righteousness, can we see our way out of the great difficulty. His righteousness is by the act of grace made the habit of the believer's soul.

Habits are divided into active and passive. "The determinations of the will, efforts of attention, and the use of our bodily organs give birth to active habits; the acts of the memory and the affections of the sensibility, to passive habits."(6)

Aristotle shows that our habits are voluntary, because they are produced by voluntary actions. Over and above this, however unmarked may be its action in that which has become habitual, there may be, I think, an abiding habit of the will.

Is the law of custom producing habit confined to living agents? According to Aristotle it is so. No practice, he argues, will make a stone fly upwards, or flame burn downwards. To this Lord Bacon objects, and says with his usual felicity of phrase, "Though this principle be true in things wherein Nature is peremptory, the reason whereof we cannot stand now to discuss, yet it is otherwise in things wherein Nature admitteth a latitude. For he (Aristotle) might see that a strait glove will come on more easily with use; and that a wand will by use bend otherwise than it grew." (7)

The great authorities on habit as connected with ethics are, among the ancients Aristotle, and Butler among the moderns.


(1) Met. IV. 20.

(2) HAMILTON'S Reid, 688.

(3) Eth. Nic. II. 5.

(4) Eth. Nic. II. 6.

(5) Eth. Nic. II. 4.

(6) FLEMING, Voc.

(7) Advancement of Learning, book II. De Augmentis, book VII.



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