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Ravaisson on the Formation of Second Nature

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.

[2022 Spring] Thomistic Psychology: A Retreival

In 2017, an article was published in the Journal of Emergencies, Trauma, and Shock, highlighting how pervasive mental health issues have become in our world.  Depression, bipolar disorders, schizophrenia, and psychosis all appear, according to the authors (Veronica Tucci and Nidal Moukaddam), to be rapidly on the rise. 


Is it a matter, merely, of increased recognition and improvement in diagnosis—or have we somehow gone fundamentally wrong in our understanding of the human person, to the point of our cures becoming worse than the disease?

As Spalding, Stedman, Gagné, and Kostelecky (three psychologists and a philosopher) write in their book, The Human Person:

Any undergraduate student of psychology, at the end of their studies, knows that there is no coherent, understandable picture of psychology as a single discipline.  Indeed, reading any modern introductory psychology textbook is enough to see this.  It is not just that different areas of psychology emphasize different aspects or approaches, but that they have fundamentally different, and incompatible, philosophical commitments, although those commitments are rarely described.

2019: The Human Person: What Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas Offer Modern Psychology, 2.

Put otherwise, psychology—as with all sciences, but especially so—cannot operate in a philosophical vacuum.  And yet, the methodologies employed by contemporary practitioners of psychology consists either in a materialist reductivism which eschews having any philosophical commitments whatsoever, or it relies upon nebulous concepts of what it means to be human, resulting in inferences of murky significance and strength. In consequence, there are philosophical commitments employed but never explored or analyzed in much of our psychological literature and in the concepts which are handed down to us, the public, from “elite” psychological authorities.

We are left therefore with many professionals studying and analyzing mental health, but, it seems, no real grasp of what “mental health” means in truth.  Absent a rich causal understanding of the human psyche, we seem condemned to improve only in our recognition that something is not right, that we are mentally unhealthy—while the epidemic of mental illness continues to spread.

Thus, in this seminar, we will undertake to retrieve the deep, coherent, and rich conception of the human psyche professed by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae. At the center of this retrieval is a threefold recovery and clarification: 1) of the understanding of the ψυχή, anima, or soul; 2) of the faculties by means of which the soul operates; and 3), of the notion of habits as structuring both these faculties individually and the entire soul.  These recoveries and clarifications will help us understand personhood.

April 2—28 May
Saturdays, 10:00-11:00am ET /
2:00-3:00pm UTC

(Additional discussion sessions may be added depending on interest.)

Lyceum Institute digital platform run on Microsoft Teams

In this seminar, lasting 8 weeks (with a break at the halfway point—see here for more information on all Lyceum Institute seminars), we will learn what Thomas Aquinas has to say about our human nature and faculties. The instructor for this seminar is Brian Kemple, PhD, Executive Director of the Lyceum Institute. You can read more about Dr. Kemple here.

Lyceum Institute seminar costs are structured on a principle of financial subsidiarity. There are three payment levels, priced according to likely levels of income. If you wish to take a seminar but cannot afford the suggested rate, it is acceptable to sign up at a less-expensive level. The idea is: pay what you can. Those who can pay more, should, so that those who cannot pay as much, need not. Lyceum Institute members receive a further discount (see here for details).

[2022Sp] Thomistic Psychology: A Retrieval – Participant

Recommended for those who are currently students or with part-time employment.


[2022Sp] Thomistic Psychology: A Retrieval – Patron

Recommended for those in professions that do not pay as well as they ought and for whom continued education is especially important (including professors and clergy).


[2022Sp] Thomistic Psychology: A Retrieval – Benefactor

Recommended for those with fulltime employment in well-paying professions and sufficient resources to provide a little more.


Standard priceBasic Lyceum
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Benefactor$200 per seminar$903 seminars included
$90 after
8 seminars included
$90 after
Patron$135 per seminar$653 seminars included
$65 after
8 seminars included
$65 after
Participant$80 per seminar$403 seminars included
$40 after
8 seminars included
$40 after