William Hazlitt and the Philosophy of Habit
This research project investigates the development of a philosophical theory of habit in the early nineteenth century, with a focus on the writings of William Hazlitt. In both the essays and philosophical writings of this political radical, there is a tension between condemning man’s habitual nature as the fundamental obstacle to revolutionary change, and praising it as the basis of all sympathetic feelings. Using this contradictory notion of habit as a lens through which to investigate his use of essay form, his philosophy of mind, and his depictions of industrialised London, I will examine how habit offers another perspective on Romantic subjectivity, one rooted not in the sublime experiences of the individual artist or poet, but in the unconscious influences that shape everyday life and thought. This will be situated within a history of habit that takes in not only Hazlitt’s philosophical forebears in the Scottish Enlightenment and the Dissenting tradition, but also modern theories such as Pierre Bourdieu’s habitus.