American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly

Volume 96, Issue 2, Spring 2022

Contemporary Thomistic Psychology

Brandon Dahm, Matthew Breuninger
Pages 291-315

Virtue and the Psychology of Habit

An exciting trend in virtue ethics is its engagement with empirical psychology. Virtue theorists have connected virtue to various constructs in empirical psychology. The strategy of grounding virtue in the psychological theory of habit, however, has yet to be fully explored. Recent decades of psychological research have shown that habits are an indispensable feature of human life, and virtues and habits have a number of similarities. In this paper, we consider whether virtues are psychological habits (i.e., habits as understood by the field of psychology). After some background to frame the interaction between the two disciplines, we explain the predominant account of habit in psychology, which we call “standard psychological habit,” in the next section. We then consider Servais Pinckaers’s objections that virtue cannot be a habit and conclude that standard psychological habits cannot be virtues. Finally, we argue that another psychological account of habits, goal-directed habits, withstand Pinckaers’s objections and provide a promising construct for understanding virtue.