Why We Do What We Do? Coda

I'd like to have one last contribution to the series Why We Do What We Do?, which I hope to edit and present in full in an upcoming essays section to the site. Presently, I would like to bring the series to an end by providing a quote from a journal article that I read recently. I feel it sums up what the series attempts to express, particularly if read in conjunction with an except from a related journal article presented in an earlier blog entry.


An excerpt from Gerrans, P. (2005). Tacit knowledge, rule following and Pierre Bourdieu’s philosophy of social science. Anthropological Theory, 5(1), 53-74.

On Bourdieu’s account of dispositional tacit knowledge, agents learn to agree in practice without explicitly or consciously representing concordance as a goal. Thus the hierarchy of respect in the barrio is reproduced even though each individual is not consciously thinking that the rule which governs his actions is to ‘preserve the hierarchy of respect’. The idea goes back at least to Aristotle’s contrast between learning by habituation and learning by intellectual instruction in the Nichomachean Ethics

Now some think that we are made good by nature, others by habituation, others by teaching. Nature’s part evidently does not depend on us, but as a result of some divine causes is present in those who are truly fortunate; while argument and teaching we may suspect are not powerful with all men, but the soul of the student must first have been cultivated by means of habits for noble joy and noble hatred, like earth which is to nourish the seed . . . The character, then, must somehow be there already with a kinship to virtue, loving what is noble and hating what is base. (Nichomachean Ethics 1179b-31)

Aristotle’s point is that virtue, which on his account is a form of knowledge, is originally a matter of character rather than intellect. Furthermore, that character cannot be acquired alone. One acquires a character as second nature through living in a society in which standards for virtuous behaviour are embodied in practice. Aristotle’s word for this type of socially embodied representation acquired through practical immersion in a culture is Hexis: Bourdieu captures the same concept by a term first used by Aristotle’s medieval translators: habitus.