Mark Sinclair: Is habit the result of repetition?

On The January 13, 2020

10h00 - 12h00
26, Place Bellecour - 69002 Lyon
Salle de réunion - Allée A - 1er étage

My project concerns accounts of the nature of habit in the history of modern French philosophy since 1800. Throughout this period of French thought, habit is a pivotal philosophical and metaphysical question. The issue of habit concerns not just the nature of mind, but also how we conceive nature itself. Competing schools of thought throughout the period not only offer diverging views on habit, but also define and establish themselves in doing so.

The project aims to show: 

  1. how 'spiritualist' conceptions of habit within this tradition are relevant today in that they allow us to criticise materialist approaches dominant in the contemporary neurosciences;
  2. how the unity of French philosophy throughout this period can be understood better in grasping the centrality of intellectual struggles concerning the nature of habit.

In this presentation, I return to Victor Egger's 1870 'La naissance des habitudes' and to his rejection of the Aristotelian claim that habit is simply the result of repetition (e.g. of repeated acts). For Egger, repetition itself requires a more fundamental principle that we can name 'habit'. In the case of the acquisition of a motor habit, this principle allows us to identify what is repeated, to isolate identity in difference, and thus to develop a new skill, capacity or tendency. In making sense of this claim, we'll see how it leads to a notion of lived time (19th century French philosophers called it 'la durée') that is more basic than our 'vulgar' (spatialised) notions of time as a series of instants.


Mark Sinclair is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Roehampton, London. He is a 2019/2020 Fellow of the Collegium de Lyon.