Treatise on Habits

Question 49: The intrinsic nature of habits

Question 50: The subject of habits

Question 51: The cause of habits

Questions 52 and 53: On the augmentation, corruption and diminution of habits

Question 54: The distinctions among habits



 

Question 49: The intrinsic nature of habits

  • 49,1: Ontological category = quality, i.e., a way of being conditioned or, better, a determination of a substance's potentiality with respect to accidental (as opposed to substantial) esse.
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  • 49,2: The four species of quality, where a quality is a determination of a substance's potentiality with respect to accidental esse:
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    • first species: habit and disposition = determinations by which a substance is well-disposed or ill-disposed with respect to the very nature of the substance and/or with respect to its operation and final end (perfection). These qualities can be (1) either (a) good (health, beauty, strength, arts and skills, moral virtue, intellectual virtue) or (b) bad (sickness, ugliness, weakness, moral vice, intellectual vice), and (2) either (a) easy to change (dispositions: health, sickness, etc.) or (b) hard to change (habits: virtues, vices, arts).
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    • second species: determinations that follow upon the form: active powers
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    • third species: determinations that follow upon the matter: passive (or sensible) qualities (hot, cold, color, smell, taste, etc.)
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    • fourth species: determinations that follow upon quantity = shape and figure
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    Habits, unlike dispositions in the most proper sense (e.g., health and sickness), are not easily acquired or lost. (In a second sense and less proper sense, a disposition can be said to be an inchoate and imperfect habit, since as we see later, habits, like certain other qualities, can be had more and less perfectly.) [50,1: "A habit is a sort of disposition belonging to a subject that is in potency to an operation."
     
  • 49,3: A habit is itself a certain being or actuality, since it is a real quality, i.e., an accidental determination of a substance; but it is also part of the nature of a habit which inheres in a power (as well as of the power which is its primary subject) that it be ordered toward a relevant sort of operation, in such a way that it is a principle or cause of that operation. Such a habit is thus a middle element between a mere potentiality (or power or faculty), on the one hand, and the actuality or end toward which that potentiality (or power or faculty) is ordered, on the other hand. In technical terminology, the habit is a first act relative to the operation (the second act) which it facilitates.
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  • 49,4: There are three things required in order for it to be true that habits are necessary for a given entity with respect to a given end of operation:
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    • 1. The thing which is disposed by the habit must be in potency with respect to the end or actuality toward which the habit is ordered. Hence a being with no unrealized potentiality does not need habits, and so God does not need habits (or, hence, virtues). In general, a power or faculty admits of habits only insofar as it is passive and hence able to "formed".
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    • 2. That which is in potency to the given end must be such that it can be determined in many ways and to diverse objects. So a certain diversity with respect to ways of achieving or falling short of the end must be present. 
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    • 3. There must be many things that dispose the subject to that with respect to which it is in potency; and it must be that these many things can be present in different measures, so that the thing in question is either well or badly disposed toward the form or operation in question. This is why the primary qualities of the elements are not habits.
    • Ad 1: "... The (substantial) form is ordered to an operation which is either the end or a path to the end. And, to be sure, if the form has in a determinate way just one determinate operation, then no disposition other than the form itself is required for its operation. However, if the form is such that, like the soul, it is able to operate in different ways, then it has to be disposed to its operations by certain habits."


Question 50: The subject of habits

  • 50,1: the body
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    • With respect to the operations of the body: The body of a living thing is subject to habits in a secondary way, insofar as the body is disposed by habituation to promptly subserve the operations of the soul. (Think of the difference between a constant involuntary twitch and an habitual bodily movement just like it; or think of the finger movements involved in typing or playing a musical instrument.)
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    • With respect to the nature of the body: dispositions such as the health, beauty, etc. can be called habits or habitual dispositions in a broad sense.

  • 50,2: the soul:  The soul cannot have habits in the soul that are ordered toward its own nature, since the soul just is that which makes the nature what it is. "However, if we are speaking of a higher nature in which a human being is able to participate ... then in this sense nothing prevents there being some habit, viz., grace, that is in the soul according to its essence." This is habitual (sanctifying) grace, which modifies the soul's very essence and from which are derived the theological virtues [(informed) faith, hope, and charity], which are themselves ordered to operations that exceed the natural powers of our intellect and will. (On the distinction of the essence of the soul from its powers or faculties see Summa Theologiae 1, q. 77, a. 1.)
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  • 50,3: the sentient part of the soul: The sentient powers sometimes operate by an "instinct of nature" and in such operations they are not subject to habituation. However, "insofar as they operate at the command of reason they can be ordered to diverse effects, and in this sense there can be habits in them by which they are well-disposed or badly disposed to something." This applies mainly to the sentient appetitive powers and, to some lesser extent, to the interior sentient apprehensive powers of memory, imagination, cogitation. (Note that animals can be trained by human beings, and to this extent their trained actions are habitual in an extended sense.)
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  • 50,4: the intellect: the passive (or possible) intellect of a human being is by nature merely in potentiality with respect to every object it cognizes. Therefore, it requires habits (e.g., concepts with respect to simples, propositions with respect to complexes, intellectus with respect to first principles of demonstration, scientia with respect to conclusions, and wisdom with respect to ultimate causes.)
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  • 50,5: the will: as regards those objects which the will is not determined to by its nature, it needs habits in order to operate promptly with respect to diverse objects.
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  • 50,6: angels: to the extent that angels are in potency with respect to given intelligible objects, they require intellectual habits. The extent of this need varies from one grade of angel to another, each knowing certain things by nature (through its essence) rather than by means of habitual operations. All angels, in addition, need habits in order to participate by grace in God's wisdom and goodness.

Question 51: The cause of habits

  • 51,1: nature
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    • with respect to the nature: beauty, sickliness, etc. can be thought of as natural habits or, better, dispositions.
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    • with respect to operation: there are certain habits that come partly from nature and partly from an exterior principle; some of these habits are common to all human beings, e.g., grasp of truth of first principles once they are understood; others of these habits are peculiar to individuals, e.g., different levels of intelligence and natural temperaments which make certain virtues easier or harder to acquire.

  • 51,2-3: acts:  to the extent that an agent is capable of immanent action, i.e., of acting on itself, its acts generate habits within itself insofar as it is in potentiality to such qualities. For example, habits are generated by repeated acts in the appetitive powers. And habits are generated in the apprehensive powers insofar as they act as moved by other apprehensive and appetitive acts; in the case of the apprehensive powers, habits (e.g., concepts) can sometimes be generated by a single act.
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  • 51,4: infusion by God:  the (supernatural) habits by which we are well disposed to our ultimate end, the clear knowledge and attainment of which exceeds our natural powers, must be infused by God and cannot (obviously) be acquired by nature or acts.

Questions 52 and 53: On the augmentation, corruption and diminution of habits
    St. Thomas points out that certain habits and dispositions are susceptible to augmentation or diminution in themselves insofar as they can extend to more or fewer things (knowledge is an example); this sort of augmentation is augmentation by addition, whereas the corresponding diminution is diminution by subtraction

    Habits and dispositions are also susceptible to augmentation according to the subject's participation, insofar as their subject can possess or participate in them to a greater or lesser degree, i.e., more or less perfectly or intensely. However, whether any given act augments one's participation in a habit depends on the relative intensity of the habit and act. An act that is equal to or greater than the habit in intensity will augment the habit, whereas an act that is less than the habit in intensity will not augment it and may even diminish it. Also, one with a habit might not use (exercise) it or might even act contrary to it, and in both cases the habit is diminished. So the question comes down to how the habit is voluntarily used by the subject. 


Question 54: The distinctions among habits
      There are three parameters along which habits differ from one another in species:
       
      • active principles: i.e., their efficient causes--e.g., faculties and acts of those faculties relevant to the habit in question; it is in this way that opinion with respect to a given proposition is distinguished from scientific knowledge with respect to that proposition.
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      • the nature to which a habit is ordered:

        • (i) a habit may be either consonant or not consonant with the thing's nature (good and bad)
        • (ii) a habit may be either consonant with a lower nature or consonant with a higher nature (natural virtue vs. supernatural or heroic virtue).
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      • the object to which the habit's operation is ordered: this includes the ends as well as the objects in the narrower sense. For instance, an act of giving money might be motivated either by love of God, in which case it pertains to the virtue of charity, or by the fact that I am in debt, in which case it pertains to the virtue of justice.
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      Look at a. 4 and also q. 57, a. 6, ad 4, on the three different senses in which habits have parts:
       
      • integral parts: These are related to the habit in question as the roof, the foundation, and the walls are related to a building. The integral parts are such that they must all be present for any complete or perfect act of the habit.
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      • subjective parts: These are related to the habit in question as the species of a genus are related to the genus. That is, they fully satisfy the formal definition of the habit and differ from one another in being ordered toward distinct ends or goods. For instance, the subjective parts of prudence are prudence with respect to oneself and prudence with respect to a multitude (e.g., a household or army, etc.). Again, the proper parts of justice are commutative justice, which has to do with the relations between private individuals, and distributive justice, which has to do with the relation between the whole community and the individual.
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      • potential parts: The habit in question is related to these parts in the way that the rational soul is related to the operations of its own vegetative and sentient powers, i.e., the form of the whole is the principle of operation for the potential parts, but those operations in some way fall short of the operations of the principal form. So the potential parts of a habit share something in common with that habit but fall short of fully satisfying its formal definition. For instance, the potential parts of justice (e.g., religion, filial piety, truthfulness, gratitude, affability, etc.) all involve, as does justice, our relations with others. But whereas justice, strictly speaking, is the rendering of what is legally due to one's equals, the potential parts are concerned with relations between unequals and/or with demands that are moral rather than strictly legal. Again, in the case of prudence the potential parts are good inquiry (eubilia) and good judgment both in matters that conform to ordinary rules (synesis) and in matters that call for exceptions to ordinary rules (gnome). For inquiry and judgment fall short of the principal act of prudence, which is to command or give precepts for action.