On the role of habit for self-understanding

Line Ryberg Ingerslev

pp. 481-497

An action is typically carried out over time, unified by an intention that is known to the agent under some description. In some of our habitual doings, however, we are often not aware of what or why we do as we do. Not knowing this, we must ask what kind of agency is at stake in these habitual doings, if any. This paper aims to show how habitual doings can still be considered actions of a subject even while they involve a sense of involuntariness and there is a temporal displacement in the self-understanding they afford. It turns out that in some forms of habitual agency, we do not have the relevant intentional description at hand when we are engaged in the process of doing what we so typically do; on the contrary, such a description can only be appropriated with effort and subsequent to the time of the action. I will focus on two approaches to habits, broadly construed; a phenomenological and an action theoretic one, and I will suggest that both approaches focus too narrowly on a synchronic relation between habitual action and self-understanding. I will suggest that we need a diachronic account of the potential for self-understanding required for agency that allows us to explain the experience of diminished control and alienation involved in certain of our habitual actions. The suggested perspective enables us to explain how some habits can be experienced as both momentarily involuntary and unconscious while at the same time they play a significant role for self-understanding.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s11097-018-9605-8

Full citation:

Ryberg Ingerslev, L. (2020). On the role of habit for self-understanding. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 19 (3), pp. 481-497.

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