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Abstract: Using evidence from experimental psychology, some social psychologists, moral philosophers and organizational scholars claim that character traits do not exist and, hence, that the philosophical tradition of virtue ethics is empirically inadequate and should dispose of the notion of character to accommodate the empirical evidence. In this paper, I systematically address the debate between dispositionalists and situationists about the existence, status and properties of character traits and their manifestations in human behavior, with the ultimate goal of responding to the question whether virtue ethicists need to abandon the very enterprise of building a character-based moral theory in business ethics and organizational behavior. In the course of this paper, I shall defend the claim that the situationist argument relies on a misinterpretation of the experimental evidence
Abstract: Appiah explores how the new empirical moral psychology relates to philosophical ethics. He elaborates a vision of naturalism that resists both temptations and traces an intellectual genealogy of the burgeoning discipline of 'experimental philosophy'.
Abstract: The Milgram and other situationist experiments support the real-life evidence that most of us are highly akratic and heteronomous, and that Aristototelian virtue is not global. Indeed, like global theoretical knowledge, global virtue is psychologically impossible because it requires too much of finite human beings with finite powers in a finite life; virtue can only be domain-specific. But unlike local, situation-specific virtues, domain-specific virtues entail some general understanding of what matters in life, and are connected conceptually and causally to our traits in other domains. The experiments also make us aware of how easily unobtrusive situational factors can tap our susceptibilities to obedience, conformity, irresponsibility, cruelty, or indifference to others’ welfare, thereby empowering us to change ourselves for the better. Thus, they advance the Socratic project of living the examined life. I note a remarkable parallel between the results of the baseline Milgram experiments and the results of the learned helplessness experiments by Martin Seligman et al. This provides fresh insight into the psychology and character of the obedient Milgram subjects, and I use this insight to argue that pusillanimity, as Aristotle conceives of it, is part of a complete explanation of the behavior of the obedient Milgram subjects
Abstract: This book is a provocative contribution to contemporary ethical theory challenging foundational conceptions of character that date back to Aristotle. John Doris draws on behavioral science, especially social psychology, to argue that we misattribute the causes of behavior to personality traits and other fixed aspects of character rather than to the situational context. More often than not it is the situation not the nature of the personality that really counts. The author elaborates the philosophical consequences of this research for a whole array of ethical theories and shows that, once rid of the misleading conception of motivation, moral psychology can support more robust ethical theories and more humane ethical practices
Abstract: The first part of this article discusses recent skepticism about character traits. The second describes various forms of virtue ethics as reactions to such skepticism. The philosopher J.-P. Sartre argued in the 1940s that character traits are pretenses, a view that the sociologist E. Goffman elaborated in the 1950s. Since then social psychologists have shown that attributions of character traits tend to be inaccurate through the ignoring of situational factors. (Personality psychology has tended to concentrate on people’s conceptions of personality and character rather than on the accuracy of these conceptions). Similarly, the political theorist R. Hardin has argued for situational explanations of bloody social disputes in the former Yugoslavia and in Africa, rather than explanations in terms of ethnic hatred for example. A version of virtue ethics might identify virtues as characteristics of acts rather than character traits, as traits consisting in actual regularities in behavior, or as robust dispositions that would manifest themselves also in counterfactual situations
Hennig, Boris (2008). Tugenden und absichten.Philosophisches Jahrbuch 115 (1):165-182. (Google)
Abstract: Psychological experiments show that human behavior is often determined by features of the situation rather than general and persistent character traits of the agent. Therefore, it may seem naive to suppose that someone with a virtuous character will in general act virtuously. This is at least true if a character trait is taken to be a persistent characteristic or property that reliably causes certain behavior. On the basis of the conception of agency developed by Anscombe in Intention, I will argue against the assumption that virtues are such persistent traits. Rather, I will suggest that virtues stand in a conceptual relation to ways of acting in kinds of contexts in the same way in which intentions are not causes of actions but stand in a conceptual relation to them.
Abstract: Situationist social psychologists tell us that information about people’s distinctive character traits, opinions, attitudes, values, or past behavior is not as useful for determining what they will do as is information about the details of their situations.1 One would expect, they say, that the possessor of a given character trait (such as helpfulness) would behave consistently (helpfully) across situations that are similar in calling for the relevant (helping) behavior, but under experimental conditions, people’s behavior is not found to be cross-situationally consistent (the likelihood that a person who has behaved helpfully on one occasion will behave helpfully on the next is hardly above chance).2 Instead, across a range of situations, the person’s behavior tends to converge on the behavioral norm for those situations. So situationists reason that people’s situations, rather than their characters, are the explanatorily powerful factors in determining why different people behave differently. They add that if behavior does not covary with character traits, then ordinary people, “folk psychologists” who try to explain and predict..
Abstract: Gilbert Harman has argued that it does not make sense to ascribe character traits to people. The notion of morally virtuous character becomes particularly suspect. How plausible this is depends on how broad character traits would have to be. Views of character as entirely invariant behavioural tendencies offer a soft target. This paper explores a view that is a less easy target: character traits as specific to kinds of situation, and as involving probabilities or real possibilities. Such ascriptions are not undermined by Harman's arguments, and it remains plausible that the agent's character often is indispensable in explanation of behaviour. Character is indispensable also as processes of control that impose reliability where it really matters
Abstract: This paper represents two polemics. One is against suggestions (made by Harman and others) that recent psychological research counts against any claim that there is such a thing as genuine virtue (Cf. Harman, in: Byrne, Stalnaker, Wedgwood (eds.) Fact and value, pp 117–127, 2001 ). The other is against the view that virtue ethics should be seen as competing against such theories as Kantian ethics or consequentialism, particularly in the specification of decision procedures
Abstract: In this paper I examine and reply to a deflationary challenge brought against virtue ethics. The challenge comes from critics who are impressed by recent psychological evidence suggesting that much of what we take to be virtuous conduct is in fact elicited by narrowly specific social settings, as opposed to being the manifestation of robust individual character. In answer to the challenge, I suggest a conception of virtue that openly acknowledges the likelihood of its deep, ongoing dependence upon particular social relationships and settings. I argue that holding this conception will indeed cause problems for some important strands of thought in virtue ethics, most notably in the tradition of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. But an approach to virtue ethics modeled on David Hume's treatment of virtue and character in A Treatise of Human Nature promises to escape these problems
Abstract: Several philosophers have recently claimed to have discovered a new and rather significant problem with virtue ethics. According to them, virtue ethics generates certain expectations about the behavior of human beings which are subject to empirical testing. But when the relevant experimental work is done in social psychology, the results fall remarkably short of meeting those expectations. So, these philosophers think, despite its recent success, virtue ethics has far less to offer to contemporary ethical theory than might have been initially thought. I argue that there are plausible ways in which virtue ethicists can resist arguments based on empirical work in social psychology. In the first three sections of the paper, I reconstruct the line of reasoning being used against virtue ethics by looking at the recent work of Gilbert Harman and John Doris. The remainder of the paper is then devoted both to responding to their challenge as well as to briefly sketching a positive account of character trait possession
Abstract: I first summarize the central issues in the debate about the empirical adequacy of virtue ethics, and then examine the role that social psychologists claim positive and negative mood have in influencing compassionate helping behavior. I argue that this psychological research is compatible with the claim that many people might instantiate certain character traits after all which allow them to help others in a wide variety of circumstances. Unfortunately for the virtue ethicist, however, it turns out that these helping traits fall well short of exhibiting certain central features of compassion
Abstract: Gilbert Harman and John Doris (among others) have maintained that experimental studies of human behaviour give good grounds for denying the very existence of moral character. This research, according to Harman and Doris, shows human behaviour to be dependent not on character but mainly on one's ‘situation.’ My paper develops a number of criticisms of this view, among them that social science experiments are ill-suited to study character, insofar as they do not estimate the role of character in continuously shaping the direction of one's life—including what situations one is apt to get into in the first place
Abstract: In conclusion, then, the situationist literature provides a rich area of exploration for those interested in freedom and responsibility. Interestingly, it does not do so primarily because it is situationist in the sense of supporting the substantive thesis about the role of character traits. Rather it is because it makes us wonder whether we really do act on a regular basis with the particular normative, epistemic,and reactive capacities that are central to our identity as free and responsible agents.
Abstract: Situationists argue that virtue ethics is empirically untenable, since traditional virtue ethicists postulate broad, efficacious character traits, and social psychology suggests that such traits do not exist. I argue that prominent philosophical replies to this challenge do not succeed. But cross-cultural research gives reason to postulate character traits, and this undermines the situationist critique. There is, however, another empirical challenge to virtue ethics that is harder to escape. Character traits are culturally informed, as are our ideals of what traits are virtuous, and our ideals of what qualifies as well-being. If virtues and well-being are culturally constructed ideals, then the standard strategy for grounding the normativity of virtue ethics in human nature is undermined
Russell, Daniel C. (2009). Practical Intelligence and the Virtues. Oxford University Press. (Google)
Abstract: Practical intelligence and the virtues : an aristotelian approach -- Deliberation -- Phronesis -- The phronesis controversy -- Phronesis, virtue, and right action -- Right action for virtue ethics -- Right action and serious practical concerns -- Two constraints on right action -- Must virtue ethics accept the act constraint? -- Can virtue ethics accept the act constraint? -- Right action and virtuous motives -- The structure of agent-based virtue ethics -- Virtuous acts and virtuous motivations -- Why virtues are virtues -- Reasons for virtue -- Right action and 'the virtuous person' -- Doing without 'the virtuous person' -- 'Virtuous enough' -- Ideals and aspirations -- Virtues, persons, and 'the virtuous person' -- Representing 'the virtuous person' -- The enumeration problem -- The enumeration problem -- The enumeration problem : an introduction -- Enumeration and overall virtuous actions -- Enumeration and overall virtuous persons -- Enumeration and naturalism -- Individuating the virtues -- From individuation to enumeration -- 'The same reasons' -- Reasons, individuation, and cardinality -- Implications for hard virtue ethics -- Magnificence, generosity, and subordination -- Magnificence as a virtue -- Subordination, specialization, and cardinality -- Alternatives to the subordination view -- Situations, dispositions, and virtues -- Situations and broad-based dispositions -- Situationism and dispositionism -- Situationism and personality -- Idiographic predictions of consistency -- Situations and dispositions : examining the evidence -- How to test broad-based dispositions for cross-situational consistency -- Putting dispositions to the test : four representative experiments -- Interpreting the findings -- From situationism to virtue theory -- Situationism : from empirical to philosophical psychology -- Situationism and virtue theory : normative adequacy -- From common sense to virtue theory? -- Out-sourcing the empirical work? -- A cognitive-affective approach to the virtues -- Defending hard virtue theory -- Phronesis and the unity of the virtues -- The unity of which virtues? -- Attributive and model theses -- Responsibility for character -- Depth, self-construction, and responsibility -- On responsibility and ultimate responsibility for character -- What is critical distance? -- From critical distance to responsibility -- Objections to the critical distance view.
Snow, Nancy E. (2010). Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory. Routledge. (Google)
Abstract: Introduction -- In search of global traits -- Habitual virtuous actions and automaticity -- Social intelligence and why it matters -- Virtue as social intelligence -- Philosophical situationism revisited -- Conclusion.
Abstract: This paper continues a debate among philosophers concerning the implications of situationist experiments in social psychology for the theory of virtue. In a previous paper (2002), I argued among other things that the sort of character trait problematized by Hartshorne and May's (1928) famous study of honesty is not the right sort to trouble the theory of virtue. Webber (2006) criticizes my argument, alleging that it founders on an ambiguity in "cross-situational consistency" and that Milgram's (1974) obedience experiment is immune to the objections I levelled against Hartshorne and May. Here I respond to his criticisms. The most important error in Webber's argument is that it overlooks a distinction between "one time performance" experiments and "iterated trial" experiments. I explain why the former cannot begin to trouble the theory of virtue. CiteULike Connotea Del.icio.us What's this?
Abstract: This paper argues against the unity of the virtues, while trying to salvage some of its attractive aspects. I focus on the strongest argument for the unity thesis, which begins from the premise that true virtue cannot lead its possessor morally astray. I suggest that this premise presupposes the possibility of completely insulating an agent’s set of virtues from any liability to moral error. I then distinguish three conditions that separately foreclose this possibility, concentrating on the proposition that there is more to morality than virtue alone—that is, not all moral considerations are ones to which some virtue is characteristically sensitive. If the virtues are not unified, the situationist critique of virtue ethics also turns out to be more difficult to establish than some have supposed
Abstract: This paper examines the implications of certain social psychological experiments for moral theory—specifically, for virtue theory. Gilbert Harman and John Doris have recently argued that the empirical evidence offered by ‘situationism’ demonstrates that there is no such thing as a character trait. I dispute this conclusion. My discussion focuses on the proper interpretation of the experimental data—the data themselves I grant for the sake of argument. I develop three criticisms of the anti-trait position. Of these, the central criticism concerns three respects in which the experimental situations employed to test someone's character trait are inadequate to the task. First, they do not take account of the subject's own construal of the situation. Second, they include behaviour that is only marginally relevant to the trait in question. Third, they disregard the normative character of the responses in which virtue theory is interested. Given these inadequacies in situationism's operationalized conception of a ‘character trait’, I argue that situationism does not really address the proposition that people have ‘character traits’, properly understood. A fortiori, the social psychological evidence does not refute that proposition. I also adduce some limited experimental evidence in favour of character traits and distil two lessons we can nevertheless learn from situationism
Abstract: Character traits have several vital functions. They should enable us to assess others morally, inform us of others’ behavioral tendencies, and accurately explain and predict others’ behavior. But traits of character, as they have traditionally been understood, cannot adequately serve these purposes. For character traits are traditionally thought to be context-insensitive. The Contextual Account of Character Traits, which I here develop and defend, posits traits that are context-sensitive. Context-sensitive character traits are more receptive to the complexity of human psychology and behavior and, hence, they not only adequately, but excellently, satisfy their theoretic and pragmatic functions
Upton, Candace L. (2009). Situational Traits of Character: Dispositional Foundations and Implications for Moral Psychology and Friendship. Lexington Books. (Google)
Abstract: Introduction -- Global traits of character -- Traits as dispositions -- Situational traits of character -- Situational traits and social psychology -- Situational traits and the friendly consequentialist.
Abstract: In this paper, I defend a local account of character traits that posits traits like close-friend-honesty and good-mood-compassion. John Doris also defends local character traits, but his local character traits are indistinguishable from mere behavioral dispositions, they are not necessary for the purpose which allegedly justifies them, and their justification is only contingent, depending upon the prevailing empirical situation. The account of local traits I defend posits local traits that are traits of character rather than behavioral dispositions, local traits that are necessary to satisfy one of their central purposes, and local traits whose justification is dependent upon theoretical rather than empirical considerations
Abstract: I defend the epistemic thesis that evaluations of people in terms of their moral character as good, bad, or intermediate are almost always epistemically unjustified. (1) Because most people are fragmented (they would behave deplorably in many and admirably in many other situations), one’s prior probability that any given person is fragmented should be high. (2) Because one’s information about specific people does not reliably distinguish those who are fragmented from those who are not, one’s posterior probability that any given person is fragmented should be close to one’s prior—and thus should also be high. (3) Because being fragmented entails being indeterminate (neither good nor bad nor intermediate), one’s posterior probability that any given person is indeterminate should also be high—and the epistemic thesis follows. (1) and (3) rely on previous work; here I support (2) by using a mathematical result together with empirical evidence from personality psychology
Abstract: You may not know me well enough to evaluate me in terms of my moral character, but I take it you believe I can be evaluated: it sounds strange to say that I am indeterminate, neither good nor bad nor intermediate. Yet I argue that the claim that most people are indeterminate is the conclusion of a sound argument—the indeterminacy paradox—with two premises: (1) most people are fragmented (they would behave deplorably in many and admirably in many other situations); (2) fragmentation entails indeterminacy. I support (1) by examining psychological experiments in which most participants behave deplorably (e.g., by maltreating “prisoners” in a simulated prison) or admirably (e.g., by intervening in a simulated theft). I support (2) by arguing that, according to certain plausible conceptions, character evaluations presuppose behavioral consistency (lack of fragmentation). Possible reactions to the paradox include: (a) denying that the experiments are relevant to character; (b) upholding conceptions according to which character evaluations do not presuppose consistency; (c) granting that most people are indeterminate and explaining why it appears otherwise. I defend (c) against (a) and (b)
Abstract: Gilbert Harman has argued that the common-sense characterological psychology employed in virtue ethics is rooted not in unbiased observation of close acquaintances, but rather in the ‘fundamental attribution error’. If this is right, then philosophers cannot rely on their intuitions for insight into characterological psychology, and it might even be that there is no such thing as character. This supports the idea, urged by John Doris and Stephen Stich, that we should rely exclusively on experimental psychology for our explanations of behaviour. The purported ‘fundamental attribution error’ cannot play the explanatory role required of it, however, and anyway there is no experimental evidence that we make such an error. It is true that trait-attribution often goes wrong, but this is best explained by a set of difficulties that beset the explanation of other people’s behaviour, difficulties that become less acute the better we know the agent. This explanation allows that we can gain genuine insight into character on the basis of our intuitions, though claims about the actual distribution of particular traits and the correlations between them must be based on more objective data
Abstract: John Doris has recently argued that since we do not possess character traits as traditionally conceived, virtue ethics is rooted in a false empirical presupposition. Gopal Sreenivasan has claimed, in a paper in Mind, that Doris has not provided suitable evidence for his empirical claim. But the experiment Sreenivasan focuses on is not one that Doris employs, and neither is it relevantly similar in structure. The confusion arises because both authors use the phrase ‘cross-situational consistency’ to describe the aspect of character traits that they are concerned with, but neither defines this phrase, and it is ambiguous: Doris uses it in one sense, Sreenivasan in another. Partly for this reason, the objections Sreenivasan raises fail to block the argument Doris provides. In particular, the most reliable data Doris employs, Milgram’s famous study of authority, is entirely immune to Sreenivasan’s objections. Sreenivasan has not shown, therefore, that Doris provides unsuitable evidence for his claim
Abstract: Philosophers have recently argued that we should revise our understanding of character. An individual’s behaviour is governed not by a set of ‘global’ traits, each elicited by a certain kind of situational feature, but by a much larger array of ‘local’ traits, each elicited by a certain combination of situational features. The data cited by these philosophers supports their theory only if we conceive of traits purely in terms of stimulus and response, rather than in the more traditional terms of inner mental items such as inclinations. We should not adopt the former conception, since doing so would impede pursuit of the ethical aims for which we need a theory of character, whereas retaining the latter conception will facilitate this pursuit. So we should not revise our understanding of character in this way
Abstract: Philosophers have recently argued that traditional discussions of virtue and character presuppose an account of behaviour that experimental psychology has shown to be false. Behaviour does not issue from global traits such as prudence, temperance, courage or fairness, they claim, but from local traits such as sailing-in-rough-weather-with-friends-courage and office-party-temperance. The data employed provides evidence for this view only if we understand it in the light of a behaviourist construal of traits in terms of stimulus and response, rather than in the light of the more traditional construal in terms of inner events such as inclinations. More recent experiments have shown this traditional conception to have greater explanatory and predictive power than its behaviourist rival. So we should retain the traditional conception, and hence reject the proposed alteration to our understanding of behaviour. This discussion has further implications for future philosophical investigations of character and virtue. Key Words: character traits situationism social psychology virtue ethics
Abstract: In his recent book Lack of Character, Jon Doris argues that people typically lack character (understood in a particular way). Such a claim, if correct, would have devastating implications for moral philosophy and for various human moral projects (e.g. character development). I seek to defend character against Doris's challenging attack. To accomplish this, I draw on Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant to identify some of the central components of virtuous character. Next, I examine in detail some of the central experiments in social psychology upon which Doris's argument is based. I argue that, properly understood, such experiments reveal differences in the characters of their subjects, not that their subjects lack character altogether. I conclude with some reflections on the significance of such experiments and the importance of character