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A culture of habit: habitual dispositions in late early modern English intellectual thought

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

Publication date1/06/2020
Number of pages250
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Arts & Humanities Research Council
Award date31/01/2020
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


This thesis examines the concept of ‘habit’ and notions of ‘habitual dispositions’ in late early modern English thought. It’s primary aim is to highlight the ways in which the process of acquiring habitual dispositions was an integral part of late Early Modern English intellectual life, which was founded upon the need to habituate the individual to internalise moral virtues and to govern their passions and actions so as to cultivate religious sociability, establish epistemological consensus, and maintain civil society. Chapter 1 presents a new reading of the concept of ‘right reason’ through a close examination of the works of Henry More and John Wilkins. Chapter 2 examines the notion of habitual dispositions in Restoration religion, focusing on how a group of loosely connected moderate divines attempted to fashion a religion that was founded on habitually acquired moral beliefs and dispositions. Chapter 3 then shifts the focus to the context of the new experimental philosophy, demonstrating how experimental philosophers such as Robert Boyle and Robert Hooke were preoccupied with cultivating good experimental habitual behaviour and dispositions. The fourth and final chapter, in light of the genealogy of habit that has been mapped out in the first three chapters, presents a new reading of John Locke’s educational programme. The broader aim of this thesis is to historicise the late-Early Modern English conception of habit as well as highlight its importance in English intellectual thought. A proper historicisation of late Early Modern English intellectual approaches to, and uses of habit will help us see that not only was habit viewed favourably, but that it was also a crucial part of intellectual life and could provide a safeguard against a multitude of pressing intellectual, religious, and civil problems that plagued the period.