Theses Doctoral

Just like Nature: Habit and the Art of Life

del Nido, Daniel Manfred

In this dissertation, I will examine the conceptions of philosophy of the 19th and 20th Century thinkers Félix Ravaisson, Henri Bergson, and Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and their implications for contemporary theories of religious ethics and philosophical practice, especially that of Pierre Hadot. In doing so, I will elucidate their understanding of both the goals of philosophical practice and the means by which they are achieved, focusing in particular on the importance of the body in their respective theories of philosophical practice. Specifically, I argue that Ravaisson, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty’s theories of philosophical practice are grounded in an understanding of habit as a dynamic process of producing and transforming bodily dispositions that problematizes distinctions between self and world and limits attempts to achieve conscious self-mastery. As a result, their work calls into question the extent to which self-conscious cultivation of intellectual and bodily habits that conform to an ideal self-conception is either possible or desirable, and instead affirms a conception of philosophical practice as what I term “indefinite self-cultivation.”
In chapter one, I examine Félix Ravaisson’s conception of philosophical practice in relationship to his theory of habit, which he claims originates as a principle of desire that gives rise to bodily spontaneity. This theory of habit underlies a conception of philosophical practice as imitation of models of ideal conduct through which habits of inventive conduct that outstrip capacities for rational deliberation are produced. In chapter two, I contrast Ravaisson’s conception of habit with Henri Bergson’s, who regards habit as a form of bodily memory that produces automaticity. Philosophical practice for Bergson resists the effects of habit on thought and action by engaging in philosophical intuition, an application of mental effort to processes of change and movement that generates new ideas and new forms of life. In chapter three, I examine Merleau-Ponty’s intermediate position between these theories of habit, and his argument that the fluid nature of habituation as a process of social interaction makes living according to a determinate way of life possible only at the risk of doing violence to oneself. For Merleau-Ponty, philosophy entails critical practice of interrogating and expressing affects and immediate responses to events that serves as a way to question consciously-held values and uncover new personal and social possibilities. Finally, in chapter four, I conceptualize Ravaisson, Bergson, and Merleau-Ponty’s theories of philosophical practice as forms of indefinite self-transformation by putting their work in critical conversation with Pierre Hadot’s theory of philosophy as a way of life.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Thesis Advisors
Taylor, Mark C.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 30, 2017