As soon as the soul arrives at self-consciousness, it is no longer merely the form, the end or even the principle of organization; a world opens within it that increasingly separates and detaches itself from the life of the body, and in which the soul has its own life, its own destiny, and its own end to accomplish. It is this superior life that the incessant progress of life and nature seems – without being able to attain it – to aspire, as if to its perfection, to its good. This higher life, in contrast, has its own good within itself; and it knows this, looks for it, embraces it, at once as its own good and as good itself, as absolute perfection. But pleasure and pain have their grounds in good and evil; they are the sensible signs of good and evil. Here, therefore, in this world of the soul, the truest good is accompanied by the truest form of sensibility; such are the passions of the soul – that is, feeling. Feeling is distinct from the spiritual and moral activity that pursues good and evil, though it gathers their impressions.
Continuity or repetition must therefore gradually weaken feeling, just as it weakens sensation; it gradually extinguishes pleasure and pain in feeling, as it does in sensation. Similarly, it changes into a need the very feeling that it destroys, making its absence more and more unbearable for the soul. At the same time, repetition or continuity makes moral activity easier and more assured. It develops within the soul not only the disposition, but also the inclination and the tendency to act, just as in the organs it develops the inclination for movement. In the end, it gradually brings the pleasure of action to replace the more transient pleasure of passive sensibility.
In this way, as habit destroys the passive emotions of pity, the helpful activity and the inner joys of charity develop more and more int he heart of the one who does good. In this way, love is augmented by its own expressions; in this way, it reanimates with its penetrating flame the impressions that have been extinguished, and at each instant reignites the exhausted sources of passion.
Ultimately, in the activity of the soul, as in that of movement, habit gradually transforms the will proper to action in an involuntary inclination. Mores and morality are formed in this manner. Virtue is first of all an effort and wearisome; it becomes something attractive and a pleasure only through practice, as a desire that forgets itself or that is unaware of itself, and gradually it draws near to the holiness of innocence. Such is the very secret of education: its art consists in attracting someone towards the good by action, thus fixing the inclination for it. In this way a second nature is formed.
Félix Ravaisson 1838: De l’habitude in the English translation by Clare Carlisle and Mark Sinclair, Of Habit, 67-69.
Félix Ravaisson (23 October 1813—1900 May 18) was a French philosopher influential in the latter half of the 19th century, particularly in the school of French Spiritualism and particularly as a “spiritual realist”. He exhibits in Of Habit, his most influential and enduring work, a familiarity with Aristotle and the Peripatetic tradition. He is also known for his influence on Henri Bergson, whose theory of the élan vital would likely not have been without Ravaisson.