Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 9, Issue 5, pp 545–561 | Cite as

Habitual Virtuous Actions and Automaticity

  • Nancy E. SnowEmail author


Dual process theorists in psychology maintain that the mind’s workings can be explained in terms of conscious or controlled processes and automatic processes. Automatic processes are largely nonconscious, that is, triggered by environmental stimuli without the agent’s conscious awareness or deliberation. Automaticity researchers contend that even higher level habitual social behaviors can be nonconsciously primed. This article brings work on automaticity to bear on our understanding of habitual virtuous actions. After examining a recent intuitive account of habitual actions and habitual virtuous actions, the author offers her own explanation in terms of goal-dependent automaticity. This form of automaticity provides an account of habitual virtuous actions that explains the sense in which these actions are rational, that is, done for reasons. Habitual virtuous actions are rational in the sense of being purposive or goal-directed and are essentially linked with the agent’s psychological states. Unlike deliberative virtuous actions, the agent’s reasons for habitual virtuous actions are not present to her conscious awareness at the time of acting.

Key words

automaticity externalism goal-dependent automaticity habit internalism intervention control rational reasons virtue 



I would like to thank Timothy Crockett, Michael Monahan, Theresa Tobin, and anonymous reviewers for this journal for helpful comments on earlier versions of this essay.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMarquette UniversityMilwaukeeUSA

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