Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

I just read Ravaisson’s Of Habit. It is really a great little book. There is so much more in this essay than I expected and it really shows just how indebted 19th-20th Century French Metaphysics are to Schelling. Ravaisson of course attended Schelling’s lectures in Munich and was apparently set to translate some of Schelling’s works into French though it never panned out. Bergson sounds so much less “out there” when read in the context of Ravaisson. Not only are the roots of Bergsonism in there (by way of the virtual, the focus on memory and repetition, “secret vital forces” at the heart of the organism, etc.), but also the carnal phenomenology that largely separates the French phenomenologists (Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, Henry, Marion, etc.) from the Heideggerian tradition. There’s also a form of the unconscious, which he calls an “unreflective spontaneity” that “breaks into […] the organism, and increasingly establishes itself there, beyond, beneath the region of will, personality and consciousness” (53). He also speaks of it in terms of “effort,” which the translators use to translate both “effort” and “puissance” [power]. The latter term of course becomes important in Deleuze and his reading of Nietzsche. It also proves important in Foucault’s later writings on the Self. Deleuze distinguishes “puissance” (as power-to, possibility) from “pouvoir” (as power-over, domination) when he discusses Nietzsche’s Will to Power. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Ravaisson talks of “puissance” in relation to an unconscious drive (connected with “instinct” and “tendency”), as the ground of possibility at the centre of the organism, much in the same way that the psychoanalytic and vitalist traditions see it. There must be a connection between this early 19th Century Naturphilosophie and the later French psychology tradition (Janet). Besides that, it shows the biologization of Schellingian speculative metaphysics, grounding Schelling in much the same way that thinkers like Lorenz Oken did. Anyone interested in either the Schellingian or 20th Century French tradition owes it to themselves to read this brief essay.

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6 responses to “Félix Ravaisson’s Of Habit

  1. Bergson has an essay on Raviasson, I believe on the occassion of his taking over Raviasson’s chair at the Académia Française, which talks more about his indebtedness. It is in the collection The Creative Mind. You might also be interested in Janicaud’s book on Spirtualisme, which you can find on GoogleBooks. Probably going way beyond what you’re interested in here, but Jankelevitch’s Henri Bergson really brings out the Schellingian influences in Bergson’s thought.

  2. Thanks Anthony, I’ll check these out.

  3. Thanks for the push to (re)read. I am struck by the elision of Aquinas in this mix. Certainly Ravaisson must have known his extensive treatment of the nature of habits in the Summa and commentary on the Ethics. His framing of the question of habit seems thoroughly scholastic in its anchoring in concepts of movement and mechanism. And as regards carnal phenomenology, Aquinas’s understanding of the *connaturality* of intellectual and corporeal things, on which the whole habit question hinges, seems more generally foundational.

  4. Nicola would probably know this better than myself, but I would guess that Ravaisson avoided talking about Aquinas because of the particular understanding of Aquinas at the time and the way it would culturally code his work.

  5. Louis Brassard

    Bergson’s idea that movement cannot be decomposed is directly imported from Ravaisson. Check this source :
    Movement before Cinematography: The High-Speed
    Qualities of Sentiment by Jimena Canales
    http://dash.harvard.edu/bitstream/handle/1/3210602/canales-cinematography(4).pdf?sequence=1

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