Habit is the foundation of routines - Deepstash
Habit is the foundation of routines

Habit is the foundation of routines

Late philosopher Hubert Dreyfus said that habits are a part of our daily coping practices. We don't consciously assess what we are going to do at any given moment - e.g., we don't deliberately reflect on brewing a morning coffee.

But, even when we do something habitually, we can still interact intelligently with it. For example, when habitually driving the same road to work, we might be consumed with thoughts about the day and still be able to navigate the roads.

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MORE IDEAS FROM In praise of habits – so much more than mindless reflexes | Psyche Ideas

Habits are not stupefied and inflexible reactions to environmental triggers. To understand this, we need to see that it is not possible to make a clear-cut distinction between habit and skill.

  • Many of our skills consist of habits. For example, a sport skill is often just the process of pursuing a new motor habit through repetitive practice.
  • Habits often are made up of skills. For example, think of someone whistling when they are bored. Whistling is a skilful act.

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In contrast to the view that habits are mechanistic, some, like philosopher Jason Stanley, promote habits as intelligent. In this context, habits are a kind of resolved belief about ways of achieving certain goals.

For example, within a few weeks at a new workplace, we develop a belief about how to successfully get to work. The settled belief becomes ingrained. Even if I become convinced of a more efficient route, I can still accidentally take this route.

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Dreyfus held that we are experts at our daily habitual routines and that our daily habits will be guided by expert-level perception and intuition. It means that we will think only of one course of action for each situation. But his view of habits is too mindless and mechanical.

While agreeing that habits facilitate intelligent behaviour by shaping perception, John Dewey denies that our habitual responses become entirely automatic. For him, the more numerous our habits, the wider the field of possible observation.

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Habits are generally context-sensitive. Stanley thought habits to be intelligent and rational when unconscious beliefs guide them. His underlying thought is that intelligent flexibility of habits depends on the rapid updating of unconscious beliefs.

  • This is in conflict with his claim that habits are guided by stubborn unconscious beliefs.
  • It is also unclear how unconscious processes can even involve beliefs.

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In Gilbert Ryle's book, The Concept of Mind (1949), he rejected the idea that habits were intelligent. Instead, he thought habits were an unintelligent way of responding to the world.

Other influential philosophers held the same view, including Baruch Spinoza, Immanuel Kant and Henri Bergson. Even today, many think of habits as rigid patterns of behaviour that are naturally activated by context prompts.

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As philosopher John Dewey points out, habits are intelligently modified to the context because we see the environment in which habits have been encouraged in light of the vast habitual responses we can make to it.

Habits are then not blunt reflexes but a wellspring of possible responses to our environment.

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