Universität Wien

180132 SE The Phenomenology of Habits (2017S)

5.00 ECTS (2.00 SWS), SPL 18 - Philosophie
Continuous assessment of course work


Note: The time of your registration within the registration period has no effect on the allocation of places (no first come, first served).


max. 45 participants
Language: English


Classes (iCal) - next class is marked with N

Wednesday 08.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 15.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 22.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 29.03. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 05.04. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 26.04. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal. 2H NIG 2.Stock
Wednesday 03.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 10.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 17.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 24.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 31.05. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 07.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 14.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 21.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock
Wednesday 28.06. 13:15 - 14:45 Hörsaal 3B NIG 3.Stock


Aims, contents and method of the course

Course Description

A rational agent is someone who knows what she is doing and why; and we hold her responsible for her actions. However, in our everyday lives we often act automatically, unreflectively and sometimes even involuntarily. In this course we will examine how habits make the world familiar to us, but also how temporal displacements, disintegration and self-alienation as part of our habits are constitutive of human self-experience. We will attempt to describe and understand everyday actions that we perform without knowing why or how. Further, we will question how habitual actions belong to us although we don’t seem to be the conscious author of our actual doings. We will touch on aspects central to habits and unreflective action namely ownership, volition and responsibility. We will discuss views on human agency that allows us to consider even non-rational acts like habits, obsessive behaviour, and psychopathological symptoms to be personal. The central readings of this course will be of Merleau-Ponty, Ricoeur, Ravaisson, Aristotle, Dewey and others.


The goal of this course is to make the students familiar with central topics in existential phenomenology and philosophy of mind concerning self-understanding and self-experience in habits and unreflective action. By the end of the course the student will be able to reflect critically on central arguments in recent and classical debates in existential philosophy and phenomenology on habit, self-awareness in agency, selfhood, and unreflective actions. Further, the students will be capable of contextualizing these issues with matters of our everyday life such as decision making, responsibility and bodily ownership. Furthermore, the students will practice their fundamental philosophical skills in presenting arguments as they will be giving oral presentations as well as writing short essays on topics focused on in class.


Close reading of texts, joint discussion, oral presentations, written reflections, written essays. All readings for this course will be available on Moodle.

Assessment and permitted materials

The two essays should be submitted
1) 12:00 Wednesday June 28th, 2016
2) 12:00 Wednesday July 26th, 2016
Papers can be submitted in German or English. Further guidelines will be uploaded on Moodle. Each essay will be given written feedback.

Minimum requirements and assessment criteria


- Attendance: The students should attend 10 or more seminars out of 13.

- Preparation: The students are expected to read the texts carefully before class and be prepared to discuss the texts in class.

- Presentation: The students are expected to give one oral presentation of the central arguments of one of the readings during the semester.

- Reflection: The students are expected to upload 6 seminar reflections of ½ -1 page MAXIMUM on Moodle

- Understanding: Finally, the students are expected to submit two short essays on topics discussed in class while covering at least two of the assigned texts from the syllabus. The essays are expected to be of MAXIMUM2000-2500 words each.

Examination topics

Reading list

Lecture Plan

Seminar 1: March 8th
Introduction: Clare Carlisle (2013) On Habit, Chapter 1: The concept of habit, pp. 1-27
General Introduction to the phenomenology of Habits .This session gives an introduction to the topic of habits and provides an overview of three guiding sections of the course:

A: Knowing the world unreflectively (seminar 2-5)
In our first section of seminars, we set out to see how habits make the world familiar to us. In phenomenology, embodied practices and embodied knowledge is a way in which the world makes itself understood. We set out by establishing the relation between habits and our embodied understanding of the world.

B: Autonomy and Responsibility in Habitual Agency (Seminar 6-9)
In this second section of seminars, we investigate the relation between habits on the one hand and autonomy and freedom on the other. If we are engaged unreflectively in the world, knowing it by being emerged in it, how are we to see ourselves as responsible and free in relation to our habitual agency? Is freedom merely an exception from our otherwise unreflective actions?

C: Automatization, Unfamiliarity and Self-Alienation in Habits (Seminar 10-13)
In this third section of seminars, we question how much automatization and unreflectivness we can endure. Are there limits to our self-familiarity, are there ways in which our ownmost familiar actions can become strangely foreign to us and thus appear to us with otherness? Which kind of self-experience is at stake in habitual agency?

Seminar 2: March 15th
A1: Merleau-Ponty, M. (2012): “The Spatiality and Motility of One’s own Body” and “The synthesis of one’s own body” pp. 100-14 and pp. 137-155 in Phenomenology of Perception 2012, London: Routledge, transl. by Donald A. Landes

Seminar 3: March 22nd
A2: Heidegger, M. (1993) Sein und Zeit, §§ 14-18, pp.63-88

Seminar 4: March 29nd
A3: Ravaisson, F. (2008): Of Habit, transl. by Clare Carlisle and Mark Sinclair, pp. 23-77

Seminar 5: April 5th
A4: Rietveld, E. (2008): Unreflective Action. A Philosophical Contribution to Integrative Neuroscience, pp. 125-168 Amsterdam: University of Amsterdam, ILLC Dissertation Series

Seminar 6: April 26th
B1: Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics: Book II: section 1-7; Book III: section 1-5

Seminar 7: May 3th
B2: Dewey, J (1921) Human Nature and Conduct, New York; Cosimo Classics pp. 14-41; pp. 172-99;

Seminar 8: May 10th
B3: Korsgaard, C. (1996) “The Authority of Reflection” in The Source of Normativity, (Ed.) Onora O’Neill, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.90-130

Seminar 9: May 17th
B4: Railton, P. (2009) “Practical competence and fluent agency” in Reasons for Action (ed.) D. Sobel and S. Wall, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp.81-115

Seminar 10: May 24th
C1: Ricoeur, P. (2007) Freedom and Nature. The Voluntary and the Involuntary, Evanstone: North Western University Press, Chapter 2, section [3] “Habit”, pp.280-307

Seminar 11: May 31st
C2: Waldenfels, B. (2004) “Bodily experience between selfhood and otherness” in Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences (3) pp. 235-48

Seminar 12: June 7th
C3: Ratcliffe, M. (2009) “Existential Feeling and Psychopathology”, in Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology,
16(2), 179–194.

Seminar 13: June 14th
C4: Fuchs, T. (2012): “Body memory and the Unconscious” in Founding Psychoanalysis Phenomenologically. Phenomenological Theory of Subjectivity and the Psychoanalytic Experience (Ed. Lohmar, D. and Jagna Brudzinska) pp.69-82, Phaenomenologica 199, Springer

Association in the course directory

BA M 5.3
UF PP 08
PP § 57.3.6

Last modified: Mo 07.09.2020 15:36