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Monday, December 9, 2013

"Habitudes of the Wise" (from Stoicism and Emotion)

From Margaret R. Graver's Stoicism and Emotion:

Habitudes of the wise

     "Finally we return to the attributes belonging to the normative human life and to the group of conditions called epitedeumata, that is, `habitudes' or `pursuits.' Examples of these appear in another portion of the Stobaean account: Fondness for music (philomousia), fondness for literature (philogrammatia), fondness for horses (philippia), fondness for hunting with dogs (philokunegia), and, in general, the things that are said to be encyclical skills are called by Stoics `habitudes' but are not said to be forms of knowledge; rather, they are classed among the worthwhile conditions. Accordingly, they say that only the wise person is fond of music and fond of literature, and analogously with the others. And they give an outline account of the `habitude' as follows: `a road that leads toward what is in accordance with virtue through a skill or through part of a skill.'

     What strikes the eye immediately is the similarity of nomenclature between the examples of `habitudes' philomousia, philogrammatia, philippia, philokunegia-and the `sicknesses' considered earlier: philarguria, philogu- nia, and so on. Why should `fondness for horses' have a different moral standing from `fondness for birds'? There would be no reason at all, if it were not that the habitudes are defined quite differently from the sicknesses. Sicknesses and infirmities have as part of their definition a mistake about the value of externals: they take some object to be choiceworthy that is in fact not choiceworthy. A habitude does not involve any such mistake; nor could it, since habitudes belong to the inerrant wise. Thus while a nonwise person might well be fond of dogs or literature in an ordinary way, thinking of a day of hunting, or of reading Euripides, as a genuine good, that would not be the sort of fondness that counts as a habitude.29 To be a habitude, one's engagement with the preferred object must be `a road that leads toward what is in accordance with virtue through a skill or through part of a skill.'

`     To understand this definition, it is helpful to know that the word hodos, `road,' also means method': a sensible means of achieving some end. Also, we have a definition of `skill' as `a system of accurate cognitions trained together toward some good end.' Accurate cognitions, also called katalepseis or `grasps,' are instances of reliable judgment. Thus we are again dealing with the area of belief, though these beliefs are not the precipitate and unstable opinions (doxai) of the nonwise but the wise person's fully justified beliefs, also describable as items of knowledge. A habitude should therefore be the kind of item that can work together with a set of interrelated beliefs to guide one's actions in one direction rather than another. I suggest, then, that a habitude must itself take the form of a belief (in this case a reliable `grasp') with specific content. Logically it should be related in content to the katalepseis comprised by the skill, without being one of them. That is, it should not just register some reliable bit of information concerning, for instance, horses but should direct a person's actions in that direction. This would be the case if the content grasped included something about the appropriateness in one's own case of preferring activities related to horses where circumstances permit and where no other more pressing obligation stands in the way.

     Thus a habitude is indeed a road or method, in that it guides a person toward actions in accordance with virtue. It should be remembered, though, that in the Stoic system all the actions of a wise agent are necessarily in accordance with virtue. We cannot think, then, that the habitude leads toward what is in accordance with virtue by directing one away from what is in accordance with vice: the wise person would not need such direction. Rather a habitude must offer a principle of selection among a number of possibilities for virtuous action. It must give the justification for devoting one's time to literature rather than public service, or sports rather than music.

     We are told that a habitude is not a form of knowledge but rather a worthwhile condition.' The significance of this assertion is that as worthwhile conditions, the habitudes do not have to characterize all wise persons equally. Knowledge in Stoicism is a property of a person's overall epistemic makeup, and it is a diathesis: it is present whenever someone holds all beliefs in a fully systematic way, as all the wise do. The virtues are forms of knowledge, and as such they interentail, so that every wise person possesses all the same virtues. However, the Stoics did not assert that every wise person has the same experience or knows exactly the same things. There is room for individuality in the account of skills, for while the virtues (in the sense that applies here) are also skills, not every skill is also a virtue. Skills are concerned with particular areas of experience: they are defined by specific good aims rather than by more general epistemic characteristics such as internal consistency or stability. It is quite possible, then, that each wise person may differ from all others in the specific skills that he or she possesses. Likewise, each may have his or her own habitudes.

     The habitude, then, is a characteristic of the wise person as an individual different from others who are also wise. Related in content to her individual skills, it gives her activities a specific focus which is no more virtuous than many alternative possibilities, but which is nonetheless legitimately favored by her. For instance, being `fond of music' would mean that she believes-with full justification-that it is appropriate for her to spend many hours a day practicing, studying, or listening to music. Such an appreciation is not in itself a virtue, and it is not by any means necessary for virtue that a person have either that appreciation or any specific appreciation at all. One wise person may be fond of music but not of dogs, while another, equally wise, devotes herself to horses, or to a variety of pursuits. Such preferences are not what it is to be wise; rather, they are personality traits of the wise, products of their varied experience."

Margaret R. Graver. Stoicism and Emotion (p. 145-147). Kindle Edition.

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