Virtue, Vice, and Situationism

In Nancy E. Snow (ed.), The Oxford Handbook of Virtue. Oxford University Press. pp. 524-545 (2017)
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Abstract

On the basis of psychological research, a group of philosophers known as 'situationists' argue that the evidence belies the existence of broad and stable (or 'global') character traits. They argue that this condemns as psychologically unrealistic those traditions in moral theory in which global virtues are upheld as ideals. After a survey of the debate to date, this article argues that the thesis of situationism is ill-supported by the available evidence. Situationists overlook the explanatory potential of a large class of global character traits, namely, vices that do not involve other-directed malevolence, such as laziness, cowardice, and selfishness. A detailed discussion of the relevant empirical studies bearing on moral psychology shows that the behavioral patterns observed in these studies are consistent with the widespread possession of such non-malicious vices. This means, contrary to the situationist thesis, that the empirical record is fully compatible with the common existence of global character traits.

Author Profiles

Thomas Bates
Plymouth State College
Pauline Kleingeld
University of Groningen

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