Quote of the Week: Habits of the Heart

Quote of the Week: Habits of the Heart February 19, 2009

“We [the authors] believe that much of the thinking about the self of educated Americans, thinking that has become almost hegemonic in our universities and much of the middle class, is based on inadequate social science, impoverished philosophy, and vacuous theology. There are truths we do not see when we adopt the language of radical individualism. We find ourselves not independently of other people and institutions but rather through them. We never get to the bottom of our selves on our own. We discover who we are face to face and side by side with others in work, love, and learning. All of our activity goes on in relationships, groups, associations, and communities ordered by institutional structures and interpreted by cultural patterns of meaning. Our individualism is itself one such pattern. And the positive side of our individualism, our sense of the dignity, worth, and moral autonomy of the individual, is dependent in thousand ways on a social, cultural, and institutional context that keeps us afloat even when we cannot very well describe it. […] We are not simply ends in ourselves, either as individuals or as a society. We are parts of a larger whole that we can neither forget nor imagine in our own image without paying a high price. If we are not to have a self that hangs in the void, slowly twisting in the wind, these are issues we cannot ignore.”

Emphasis added.

Bellah, Robert, et al. Habits of the Heart: Individualism and Commitment in American Life. 3rd ed. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 84.

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  • I agree with their sentiment, esp. in how we use others to be who we want to be. And yet, I am trying to create a vocabulary which differentiates individual from person because of the connotations we have given to the term individual. I think it would help when dealing with these topics. I wonder if my proposed difference will ever take off.

  • “We are not simply ends in ourselves, either as individuals or as a society.”?

    What does that mean?

    An individual person is not an end?

  • An individual person is not an end?

    No. Such view tends to isolate and alienate the “individual” from the whole society/community and tends to emphasize the needs and desires of the individual over those of the common good.

  • JB

    Zach, this can analogously be applied to salvation. As Catholics we believe that we are not saved as individuals. Jesus is not MY personal Lord and savior. He is OUR bridegroom. We are saved as part of the Body of Christ.

  • Policraticus

    What does that mean?

    An individual person is not an end?

    From a Kantian and personalist stance, yes, persons are ends in themselves. However, the quote above is not making a philosophical claim but a socio-economic point.

  • I think the distinction between person and individual is needed.

  • Katerina

    I knew you did (from your support of my piece last year), but, when I read good quotes like this, I always like to add how I would modify it because of the distinctions I see myself making. Nonetheless, even as I say that, I do, at times, go back to the habit of the old use of the word “individual” at times (as with all habits, it’s hard to break).

  • Henry,

    Oh no, I was referring to the root of Zach’s confusion not to your comment, because it can be indeed confusing. I was just rushing out to a meeting 🙂 so I wasn’t explicit. Similar to the word “liberal” and the confusions it brings whenever the context is not explained.

    • Katerina

      Ah, ok 🙂 I know how it is to do a rush comment here 🙂