Habit + Experience = Character

Posted: July 25, 2013 in Dammion W.

Aristotle believes that character is not natural, and that it is developed through habit. Contemporary research suggests that some people are predisposed to develop in ways that are biologically ‘hard wired’ into them.
What do you think? Is character natural or unnatural? Use an example to explain your point of view.

I agree with Aristotle’s philosophical theory that character is not natural, it’s formed by habit. The reason I believe this to be true is because life teachings and experiences mold us into the individuals we are today. We are creatures that’s constantly developing and learning from our environment around us and personal/social relationships. I learned how to be polite and exercised it so that it becomes a natural instinct to me. I learned how to not use foul language in public or when I’m trying to get a point across, and through continuing to work on that trait (habit), it’s something that’s become second nature to me. Even though those things are so little, I wanted to keep it simple to get my point across. That’s how character is built. For me not to ever have had anyone or had not been an environment that I would have been able to learn those character traits, I wouldn’t know about being polite or not to curse in public and when having a conversation. I would think it’s acceptable because from the “habit” of it being used so frequently in my environment, I’m not aware of it being an issue. And this goes back to my point that we develop our character (good or bad) from our habits.

There are some people who would disagree and argue that some people are born with certain genetics that predisposes them to have certain characteristics already in them from birth. One of the issues would probably consist of, the controversial topic of one being born with a gene that predisposes them to committing rapes. I would respond to that by saying that I don’t believe that there is a gene that would literally FORCE people to rape. At the most, it might predispose a person to, but predispositions can be overcome by cultural training and everybody is taught that rape is wrong. So even if the sociobiological explanation of this type of behavior is correct, this has no implications of how we should act, who we should be or how we should run our society. Character cannot be deduced from science. Character is created by practice.

  1. Liam says:

    Thanks for your contribution, Dammion (and sorry I am so late to reply; life happened). I agree with you about the nature of character, and think it is an important point you make here. I am interested, though, in why you think that if character is created by practice then it cannot be deduced from science. Can’t science study human practice?

  2. zhengrb says:

    Dammion, I really liked this post. You make the really important point that even if character is formed by habit, which sounds like something that it is up to me to practice or not, habits *themselves* are available or not, depending on a person’s environment. So, you can’t just expect a person to develop good habits (or blame them when they develop bad habits) if they didn’t have good models or good rules to follow.

    I also think you make a very good response to the objection from genetics. You’re absolutely right that actual behavior is the product of many complex and interacting forces, where genetics is just one that is often overcome. You seem to suggest here, again, that environment (cultural training) is the key. I’m especially interested in the example you used, because even though everyone is indeed taught that rape is wrong, many people have argued that actually we live in a “rape culture”. (There’s a quick summary of it here http://upsettingrapeculture.com/rapeculture.html). The idea is that even though there are rules against rape, the environment is filled with other stories, jokes, music, etc that suggest that rape is ok. Do you have any thoughts about our environment today? Do you think that society has created an environment that allows people to overcome dispositions to rape (or other crimes)?

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