Force of Habit

LSE runs a public philosophy website called The Forum. It’s well worth a look, as it lists a number of interesting podcasts, events, and so on. The website includes The Blog, to which I was kindly invited to contribute recently. I wrote something on habit, which was loosely based on my paper “Habit and Attention”:

I wake up one Saturday morning, look at the sunshine, and decide to go for a picnic. I call my friend Ernie who agrees to meet me at the picnic spot, pack some sandwiches, and set off on my bicycle. As I go to meet Ernie, I start daydreaming, and instead of cycling straight ahead to the picnic spot, I turn off left along my habitual route to work. I quickly realize my mistake, and with some annoyance, I turn back and carry on towards the picnic spot. How should we understand my action?

An influential picture defines actions as being the product of the agent’s intentions. But it’s not clear that this explains what I do in the example above. I do not intend to cycle to work. I intend to meet Ernie at the picnic spot. Sometimes, of course, we change our minds. I might intend to go swimming, but then decide that I had better tidy the house instead. But this is not what happens in the above case. I don’t change my mind about where to go—I always intend to meet Ernie at the picnic spot.

You can read the complete piece here.

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