Malleable character: organizational behavior meets virtue ethics and situationism

Philosophical Studies 179 (12):3535-3563 (2022)
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Abstract

This paper introduces a body of research on Organizational Behavior and Industrial/organizational Psychology that expands the range of empirical evidence relevant to the ongoing character-situation debate. This body of research, mostly neglected by moral philosophers, provides important insights to move the debate forward. First, the OB/io scholarship provides empirical evidence to show that social environments like organizations have significant power to shape the character traits of their members. This scholarship also describes some of the mechanisms through which this process of reshaping character takes place. Second, the character-situation debate has narrowly focused on situational influences that affect behavior episodically and haphazardly. The OB/io research, however, highlights the importance of distinguishing such situational influences from influences that, like organizational influences, shape our character traits because they are continuous and coordinated. Third, the OB/io literature suggests that most individuals display character traits that, while local to the organization, can be consistent across situations. This puts pressure on the accounts of character proposed by traditional virtue ethics and situationism and provides empirical support to interactionist models based on cognitive-affective processing system theories of personality. Finally, the OB/io literature raises important challenges to the possibility of achieving virtue, provides valuable and untapped resources to cultivate character, and suggests new avenues of normative and empirical research.

Author Profiles

Santiago Mejia
Fordham University

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