Cultivating sentimental dispositions through Aristotelian habituation

J.W. Steutel, B. Spiecker

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The beliefs both that sentimental education is a vital part of moral education and that habituation is a vital part of sentimental education can be counted as being at the 'hard core' of the Aristotelian tradition of moral thought and action. On the basis of an explanation of the defining characteristics of Aristotelian habituation, this paper explores how and why habituation may be an effective way of cultivating the sentimental dispositions that are constitutive of the moral virtues. Taking Aristotle's explicit remarks on ethismos as a starting point, we present habituation as essentially involving (i) acting as virtue requires, (ii) both frequently and consistently, and (iii) under the supervision of a virtuous tutor. If the focus is on the first two characteristics, habituation seems to be a proper method for acquiring skills or inculcating habits, rather than an effective way of cultivating virtuous sentimental dispositions. It will be argued, however, that even if only the first two characteristics are taken into account, habituation may be an efficacious means of moderating, reducing or restricting the child's affective dispositions where these are somehow excessive. But contrary to Aristotle's view, the effectiveness of processes of habituation that are directed at strengthening, deepening or broadening the child's sentimental dispositions where these are somehow deficient seems to be a function of the third characteristic, especially of the affective responses of the virtuous tutor to the child's behaviour. At the end of the paper, this predominantly non-cognitive account of the workings of Aristotelian habituation will be compared with Nancy Sherman's primarily cognitive view.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)531-549
Number of pages19
JournalJournal of Philosophy of Education
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2004


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