Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Prof Devin Henry


Standard interpretations of Aristotle’s ethics construe the habituation phase in his theory of moral education as markedly robust regarding the moral condition that must be achieved before the learner can attend lectures on the noble and political questions in general. These “intellectualists” argue that habituation engages the rational part of the soul so that the learner develops the capacity to identify that an action is noble, which involves taking pleasure in the nobility of the act. Practical reason will provide an understanding of why the action is noble. I argue against intellectualist readings of habituation and defend a neo-mechanical account which holds that habituation is a thoroughly non-rational process. By focusing on Aristotle’s treatment of courage, I maintain that the goal of habituation is the cognitive state of those who have civic courage: the habituated learner is required to develop to the point where he is motivated by a desire for honor and a fear of shame. This position is supported by the connection that Aristotle establishes between honor and the noble, and I argue that the goal of the habituated learner is the acquisition of a nominal account of “the noble”, the content of which is “honorable action”. This superficial understanding of the noble in terms of honorable action is then completed by the development of practical reason through teaching, which supplies the why. I establish this conception of moral development as a movement from the that to the why – which involves arriving at a complete conception of the noble based on a nominal conception of the noble – by drawing on the Posterior Analytics, and highlighting the parallels between Aristotle’s science and ethics. My interpretation is superior insofar as it fulfills two criteria that an adequate interpretation of habituation must meet: (1) it resolves the “continuity problem”; and (2) it affords sufficient weight to the teaching phase of moral education. The upshot of this view is that it provides motivation for shifting the focus of Aristotelian scholarship from habituation to the teaching phase of moral education, which concerns the development of specific intellectual virtues such as practical wisdom.