Aristotelian Moral Psychology and the Situationist Challenge

Polish Psychological Bulletin 46:262-277 (2015)
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For some time now moral psychologists and philosophers have ganged up on Aristotelians, arguing that results from psychological studies on the role of character-based and situation-based influences on human behavior have convincingly shown that situations rather than personal characteristics determine human behavior. In the literature on moral psychology and philosophy this challenge is commonly called the “situationist challenge,” and as Prinz has previously explained, it has largely been based on results from four salient studies in social psychology, including the studies conducted by Hartshorne and May, Milgram, Isen and Levin, and Darley and Batson. The situationist challenge maintains that each of these studies seriously challenges the plausibility of virtuous personal characteristics by challenging the plausibility of personal characteristics more generally. In this article I undermine the situationist challenge against Aristotelian moral psychology by carefully considering major problems with the conclusions that situationists have drawn from the empirical data, and by further challenging the accuracy of their characterization of the Aristotelian view. In fact I show that when properly understood the Aristotelian view is not only consistent with empirical data from developmental science but can also offer important insights for integrating moral psychology with its biological roots in our natural and social life.

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Adam M. Croom
University of California, Berkeley


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