The Pragmatic Intelligence of Habits

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Habitual actions unfold without conscious deliberation or reflection, and yet often seem to be intelligently adjusted to situational intricacies. A question arises, then, as to how it is that habitual actions can exhibit this form of intelligence, while falling outside the domain of paradigmatically intentional actions. Call this the intelligence puzzle of habits. This puzzle invites three standard replies. Some stipulate that habits lack intelligence and contend that the puzzle is ill-posed. Others hold that habitual actions can exhibit intelligence because they are guided by automatic yet rational, propositional processes. Others still suggest that habits guide intelligent behaviour without involving propositional states by shaping perception in action-soliciting ways. We develop an alternative fourth answer based on John Dewey’s pragmatist account of habit. We argue that habits promote intelligent behaviour by shaping perception, by forming an interrelated network among themselves, and by cooperating with the environment.

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Funding Sponsor

Association pour la Recherche sur le Cancer



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