Theories of Habit as shown by William James



Introduction. 1

Theory of habit by William James. 1

Theory of the mind by Charles Sanders Pierce. 2




A common topic in the area of philosophy, theory of habits concentrates on the power of the mind in regard to an individual’s actions. Several philosophers have taken on the responsibility of studying this concept so as understand its principles factors. Author Costa and Bena kellick are credited for contributing significantly to the theory of habit making them key figures in the world of philosophy. Over the years the theory has attracted a number of philosophy experts who have developed their own premise regarding the theory (Copleston, 2003).

The focus of this paper provides the analysis of the suggested theories. This constitutes of the work of two scholars namely William James and Charles pierce. The two theories are essential for the study of this topic due to the similarities and differences that they both relay. The paper then provides a concluding paragraph that summarizes the contents of the two works

Theory of habit by William James

According to James, the main principles of the theory of habit are matter and mind. Both factors account for the experiences of human beings in their day to day lives. The mind plays a significant role in the life of a human being. The action of the mind is controlled by the function of the brain. The mind assists the body to exist in the environment without difficulty. This consists of the use qualities such as thoughts, memory, consciousness and reason (Hollinger & Capper, 2011).

The mind has to be conscious for its proper coordination with the rest of the body. Consciousness is a state that recurs on a continuous basis. The mind on the other hand can act in an unconscious state. The theory of habit looks at the routine actions that a person performs due to the function of the mind. An action is a deed that is controlled by an individual’s perception of an idea or thought. Perception is determined by the conduction of an activity that occurs consciously or unconsciously. The brain uses its position as part of the organ of the central nervous system to dictate on which action to reinforce. This is made possible by different parts such as the hypothalamus which registers information such as memory, thoughts and response to stimuli. Each individual has different ways of reacting to a certain events or occurrences. The brain uses the perceptions of the mind to compute the desired action (Smyth, 2002).

James explains that the mind is in complete control of a majority of the habits displayed by an individual. These habits are continuous due to the constant thoughts of the mind which are rarely prone to change. This thought of study is relatively new as compared to that of Charles Sanders. Habit is thus compared to the nature of the human being which plays a significant role in modern philosophy. Human nature is determined by the perceptions produced in the mind. The mind is responsible for the sustainability of the human nature which is formed from the perceptions which may be conscious or unconscious (Copleston, 2003).

Theory of the mind by Charles Sanders Pierce

Charles Pierce is remembered for his theory that formed one of the initial arguments of habit as a theory. His arguments differ from that of William James in that he mentions that theory and practice should be kept separate for proper understanding. Both theory and habit have their own distinctive nature formed by completely different laws. One is therefore not dependant on the other and thus cannot be treated as the same. A central area of study in this case is the role of ethics in the theory of habit. Ethics has been classified as a practical theory from time immemorial distancing it from theory. This has been changing over the years as a result of the close study of the theory that is applied to the concept of ethics (Hollinger & Capper, 2011).


Bing ethical reflects on the norms and values of an individual. Ethics is a pivotal subject in philosophy making is one of the common topics of arguments. Ethics forms a close relation to the conduct of an individual. Conduct arises from the culture and cultural norms of a community. Ethical beliefs may contradict each other or have a certain similarity depending on the culture involved.  Culture dictates on right and wrong thus determined the conduct that should be followed and discouraged. Ethics constitutes of the observation of right and defying ofthe wrong character traits. It is essential to note that the world has changed from the simple days due to social factors such as technology, industrialization and globalization. This paves way for a culture that is more accepting of the modern way of life (Smyth, 2002).

For ethics to prevail, a person has to embrace a conduct that is considered ideal in the community. This is influenced by the change in culture that is inevitable in most cases. One of the factors that allow for the conducting of ethical decisions is self control. Self control is a key aspect in developing a particular habit. A habit is formed as a result of the repetition of certain character traits. Character traits are developed to form conducts that may be good or evil. Following an ethical decision involves controlling oneself from the proposed evils of the world. This in turn, accounts for the end result of the decision which should be performed for the greater good of the entire environment (Copleston, 2003).

Theory of habit states that a habit cannot be changed in a short period of time. This is due to the registration of the action in the brain cells. A habit may however be influenced by external factors such as surrounding environments. Most of the habits are directed towards acquiring positive results. Sanders thus classifies habit as a theory which is caused by the self control a person displays due to the type of cultural background they identify with (Hollinger & Capper, 2011).

In conclusion, the theory of habit is a wide area of study that gives credit to different aspects of philosophy. Most of the theories are derived from a number of studies that are carried out for a long period f time. A number of experts have taken on the challenge on defining the theory of habit and its effects on society. These theories differ depending on the premise provided by the philosopher in regard to the time of the study. Both James and Pierce provide credible evidence of their theories making them preferred topics of discussion. They however stand to be corrected by opposes of the theories who choose to find fault in each case.


Works cited

Copleston, F. (2003). A history of philosophy: Vol. 9. London [u.a.: Continuum

Hollinger, D. A., & Capper, C. (2011). The American intellectual tradition. New York: Oxford University Press.

Smyth, J. V. (2002). The habit of lying: Sacrifical studies in literature, philosophy, and fashion theory. Durham, NC: Duke University Pre

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