habitus

The Latin habitus meant a middle between a power and its object. The word is essential to understanding virtue, for virtue is a habitus, and it also is critical for understanding non-beings. The same can be said of the intellectual virtues, so wisdom, science, art etc. are each habiti us-. St. Thomas also says that in non-being is only a habitus in the soul, as opposed to having any species in things. Other important meanings aren’t hard to come by.

Habitus is the past perfect participle of the verb “to have/ hold”, and since “held” cannot function as a subsistent adjective, English has no descent translation of habitus. “Habit” is far too specific, and only captures a fragment of the meaning, even though every habit is a habitus. “Holdings” might have worked if it had entered common speech. As it stands, we should just use habitus with the awareness of what it means.

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12 Comments

  1. August 14, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    St. Thomas also says that in non-being is only a habitus in the soul, as opposed to having any species in things.

    I have no idea what this means, though I suspect that there’s a word missing. I’m also unsure what it means to a “middle between a power and its object”. Could you elaborate, perchance?

  2. a thomist said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:01 pm

    That looks obscure, but I think it’s right. The source text I had in mind was De Veritate Q. 1 art 8 in the corpus. I just looked at it again, and it is a sense of “habitus” that probably would get rendered as “relation”, which isn’t bad, but the word habitus would be a bit more specific.

  3. Brandon said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:37 pm

    I always struggle with this one. ‘Disposition’ sometimes works, but sometimes conveys too much or too little.

    Isn’t the plural of habitus habitus? I can never remember, but I think it’s one of the weird ones.

  4. a thomist said,

    August 14, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    I just looked at it- it’s fourth declension as a noun! I never would have guessed. I thought it was just a past perfect participle that took on a life of its own. Guess not. I’ll fix that. I checked it against the De Veritate text again and it seems he’s using the related word “habitudo” which is from the same root, and has similar translation difficulties. The essential note that any translation would have to bring out is the idea of being a middle between a faculty and an object or activity. This is particularly vexing because it’s one of the the first things we have to see about virtue, and English has no single term that lays it out there for the student.

  5. Brandon said,

    August 14, 2008 at 5:11 pm

    I’m almost tempted in some ways just to start using ‘habitude’ until people feel bullied into taking it in the right sense.

  6. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 14, 2008 at 5:25 pm

    Most controversial text of Aristotle ever swings around that little word:

    De Anima III (Bekker 430 a 14-15):
    καὶ ἔστιν ὁ μὲν τοιοῦτος νοῦς τῷ πάντα γίνεσθαι, ὁ δὲ τῷ πάντα ποιεῖν, ὡς ἕξις τις, οἷον τὸ φῶς· τρόπον γάρ τινα καὶ τὸ φῶς

    William of Moerbeke:
    Et est intellectus hic quidem talis in omnia fieri, ille vero in omnia facere, sicut habitus quidam, et sicut lumen

    Loeb’s W. S Hett, the sometime scholar of Wadham College:
    But mind has another aspect in that it makes all things; this is a kind of positive state like light

    J A Smith, Oxford English translation:
    While there is another which is what it is by virtue of making all things: this is a sort of positive state like light;

  7. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 14, 2008 at 5:28 pm

    the English translations are clumsy and artless, in my snobby opinion – I like Moerbeke’s.

  8. a thomist said,

    August 14, 2008 at 6:44 pm

    I was going to put something up about hexis too, but you beat me to it. I like your text better anyway. I agree with Brandon. Someone here has to get famous and simply start saying “hexis” or habitus”. “Ratio” too, and all the other wonderful Latin and Greek words that could occupy that “middle world” between thoughts and things. English has a tendency to make the things of reason too abstract and the “real” things too concrete. Bref, it has a tendency to concretion. Habitus is a case in point. It has “object like” qualities because it determines a faculty, but it is completely within the subject.

  9. August 14, 2008 at 7:44 pm

    Sorry to be dense, but I still don’t understand how to parse the sentence

    St. Thomas also says that in non-being is only a habitus in the soul

    The phrase “in non-being” appears to be the subject of the clause “in non-being is only a habitus in the soul”. That doesn’t seem right.

  10. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 15, 2008 at 6:52 am

    Oh man, I’m going back through the notes of P. Alain Contat for his course, the Habitude of the First Principles of the Intellect according to St Thomas. Commenting on Sn3,23,1,1,c,n21, he says:

    Therefore, habitude appears as a rule immanent to the potency of which it constitutes a second nature (quasi in naturam versa), in opposition to the simple disposition which is yet imperfect. The sign of its presence is the ease and delight with which the potency emanates the acts to which it is ordered.

    so that sets habit against disposition. As you can see, I’m following Brandon’s suggestion – use habitude.

    One might also look with profit at Quaestio disputata de spiritualibus creaturis q11 (corpus).

  11. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 15, 2008 at 7:03 am

    Text from the Sentences referenced above:

    Oportet ergo ut alio modo recipiatur, scilicet per modum qualitatis inhaerentis,
    ut rectitudo regulae efficiatur forma potentiae regulatae: sic enim faciliter et
    delectabiliter quod rectum est, operabitur sicut id quod est conveniens suae formae: et haec quidem qualitas, sive forma, dum adhuc est imperfecta, dispositio dicitur; cum autem iam consummata est, et quasi in naturam versa, habitus nominatur, qui, ut ex 2 Ethic., et 5 Metaphys., accipitur, est secundum quem nos habemus ad aliquid bene vel male. Et inde est quod in Praedicamentis dicitur dispositio facile mobilis, et habitus

  12. Niggardly Phil said,

    August 15, 2008 at 7:24 am

    P Contat continues:
    After showing the necessity of habits, and thereby ipso facto showing their nature, the Common Doctor is careful to establish which powers (potenze) need to be perfected in this manner to achieve their purpose, and which do not:

    Patet ergo quod potentiae naturales, quia sunt ex seipsis determinatae ad unum, habitibus non indigent.
    It appears therefore that the natural powers, which are determined from outside themselves to one, do not need habitude.

    Similiter etiam nec apprehensivae sensitivae, quia habent determinatum modum operandi, a quo non deficiunt nisi per potentiae defectum.
    Likewise nor do the sensitive apprehensive [powers], which have a determined way of acting, from which they do not malfunction except through a defect in the power

    Similiter etiam nec voluntas humana, secundum quod est naturaliter determinata ad ultimum finem, et ad bonum, secundum quod est obiectum eius.
    Likewise nor does the human will, by which it is naturally determined to its final end, and to the good, which is its object.

    Similiter etiam nec intellectus agens, qui habet determinatam actionem, scilicet facere intelligibilia in actu; sicut lux facere visibilia in actu.
    Likewise nor does the agent intellect, which has a determined act, namely to put what is intelligible into act; as light puts what is visible into act.

    Similiter etiam nec in ipso Deo est aliquis habitus, cum ipse sit prima regula ab alio non regulata: unde essentialiter bonus est, et non per participationem rectitudinis ab alio; nec malum in ipso incidere potest.
    Likewise nor in God himself is there any habitus, since he is the first measure unmeasured by any other; wherefore he is essentially good, and does not participate in rectitude from another; nor can evil be in him (NB – the regulata/rectitudinis refers to the above, a ruler let’s you draw a straight line only if it is straight, etc)

    Sed intellectus possibilis qui de se est indeterminatus, sicut materia prima, habitu indiget, quo participet rectitudinem suae regulae…
    But the possible intellect which in itself is indeterminate, like prime matter, needs habitude, by which it participates the rectitude of its measure.

    My translation is awful for not rendering the ruler notion better, but I’m too lazy to think it out and fix it, and I’m hoping the current will serve as crutch to look at the Latin.


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