- Being Inclined: Félix Ravaisson’s Philosophy of Habit by Mark Sinclair
Being Inclined is erudite, clearly written, and well-argued. It is rich in the history of philosophy and in philosophical ideas. It is not an exaggeration when Sinclair says that “philosophy advances, and can only advance, by means of a living dialogue with the past” (18). This short review cannot do the book justice.
Being Inclined is divided into six chapters. From a historical viewpoint, chapters 1 and 2 are revelatory for the Anglophone reader of the last two hundred years of French philosophy. Sinclair is a master at assembling all the texts that influenced Ravaisson and all the texts [End Page 157] on which he had an influence. However, in the first two chapters, Sinclair also presents the basics of Ravaisson’s philosophy of habit, which is based on his 1838 dissertation, Of Habit. For Ravaisson, as Sinclair shows repeatedly in the opening chapters, habit is “continuous” with will and reflection. It is an “obscure activity” that is “pre-voluntary” (neither involuntary nor voluntary). In fact, the phrases that define Ravaisson’s philosophy of habit are ‘more and more’ and ‘less and less.’ Through these differences of degree, Sinclair shows that Ravaisson’s philosophy consists in an attempt to overcome traditional philosophical dualisms such as the mind-body dualism.
Thus, as we see in chapter 3, habit, for Ravaisson, is the organon for philosophy itself. In this chapter, Sinclair provides an interesting comparison between Ravaisson and Schelling. But the most interesting comparison between Schelling on art and Ravaisson on habit occurs through the Kantian idea of “purposiveness without a purpose.” As Sinclair says, “For Ravaisson, this purposiveness without a purpose . . . expresses itself as grace, which . . . can be understood as a certain artful effortlessness” (121). In the effortless gracefulness of a dancer, we see the dualism of the mind and body overcome: the will pushing the body but the body not resisting the push, but also the will following the body and not resisting its draw. In this way, habit’s “law of grace” puts us in touch with “first nature” (67).
Chapter 3 is the pivot in Being Inclined from the history of philosophy to philosophy as such. Like chapters 1 and 2, chapters 4–6 are revelatory, but they seem to be revelatory more in relation to Sinclair’s developing his own ideas. In chapter 4, especially in its fourth section, Sinclair shows that Ravaisson’s philosophy of habit is a thoroughgoing ontology. In this regard, one has to hear the title of the book—Being Inclined—in two registers. On the one hand, being inclined describes the basic characteristic of habit: a tendency or tending to and toward. Yet the title also indicates that habit provides the door through which we can enter into the meaning of being in general: being inclined. By means of an analogy with habit, we come to see that all of nature is a tendency: to be is to tend. Here Sinclair mentions Heidegger explicitly, and because tendency has a temporal dimension (tending toward the future), he even makes use of Heidegger’s phrase ‘being and time’ (181).
Also in these final chapters, and this is already indicated in the book’s introduction, Sinclair argues that inclination or tendency (these terms are not exactly synonymous, with tendency being more fundamental than inclination ) is not reducible to reasons or to mechanical causality (3). This “neither-nor” sets up the overarching theme of the whole book: the modal character of habit. At first, these later chapters (4 through 6) attempt to show that when Ravaisson speaks of necessity in Of Habit and in later writings when he speaks of moral necessity, he actually means contingency. But, as we progress further into chapter 6, I think we see something else. Here, Sinclair turns to contemporary philosophies of causality. This chapter takes up a prior debate between Sinclair and certain philosophers of causality, Stephen Mumford and Rani Lill Anjum. Like Mumford and Anjum, Sinclair wants to show...