Dispositions, Habits, and Virtues
2014 Annual ACPA Meeting

Letter from Daniel Dahlstrom about the Topic for 2014

Dear Colleagues and Members of the ACPA: 

It is my pleasure to invite you to the eighty-eighth annual meeting of the American Catholic Philosophical Association, in 2014.  Over the years, the ACPA has demonstrated the uncommon virtue of fruitfully combining study of philosophy’s history with meditation on fundamental philosophical questions.  Its habits are felicitously diachronic and synchronic, putting otherwise disparate thinkers into living engagement with one another, as it recognizes both the ongoing efficacy of philosophy’s past and the profound interconnectedness of philosophical issues.  In the hope of tapping once more into these vital strengths of the ACPA, I am proposing, for our 2014 meeting, that we address the topics of

Dispositions, Habits, and Virtues.

Contemporary metaphysics and philosophy of science have reinvigorated inquiry into dispositions, a source of rich speculation already in antiquity.  From theological, ontological, and scientific points of view, contemporary thinkers are asking anew how dispositions are to be characterized and what sort(s) of status they are to be accorded.  So, too, for the past century, philosophers of mind, of psychology, and of human nature have been joined by political and social philosophers in giving prominent place to habits – a phenomenon that, by some estimable accounts, builds on dispositions. Here, too, the history of philosophy holds immense resources, not least given medieval treatments of habitus (as a translation of some uses of the Greek hexis).  There has also been a host of notable post-medieval reflections – from Hume’s characterization of habit as the basis of all experiential inference to treatments of habit as “the enormous fly-wheel of society” (James), “the final logical interpretant” (Pierce), the key to the “experience of my body in the world” (Merleau-Ponty), the source of belief and “what a thing means” (Skinner), “the most striking answer to the problem of the self” (Deleuze), and “history turned into nature” (Bourdieu) – to cite just a smattering of authors.  Just as accounts of dispositions and habits often go hand-in-hand, so, too, traditional treatments of virtue frequently have recourse to concepts of dispositions and habits.  Reliance upon these concepts is evident in much contemporary virtue epistemology, aretaic legal theory, and virtue ethics (a fact exploited by the latter’s critics, such as Harman and Doris).  Questions abound here, as elsewhere, in thinking through our trio of topics, e.g., for virtue-based accounts, what sorts of concepts of dispositions and habits (if any) are required, what sorts are incompatible, and in both cases, why?

You are cordially invited to submit a paper on one of the topics described above, or a paper on any other area of philosophy. Deadline for submissions is 2 April 2014, via email attachment to the following address:

ACPA Paper Submissions:  [email protected]   


Daniel O. Dahlstrom

ACPA Vice President

Silber Professor of Philosophy

Boston University