Situations and Dispositions: How to Rescue the Military Virtues from Social Psychology

Journal of Military Ethics 16 (1-2):78-93 (2017)
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In recent years, it has been argued more than once that situations determine our conduct to a much greater extent than our character does. This argument rests on the findings of social psychologists such as Stanley Milgram, who have popularized the idea that we can all be brought to harm innocent others. An increasing number of philosophers and ethicists make use of such findings, and some of them have argued that this so-called situationist challenge fatally undermines virtue ethics. As virtue ethics is currently the most popular underpinning for ethics education in the military, it is important to know to what extent the claim situationists make is correct. Fortunately, a closer look indicates that an interactionist perspective, with our character and the situation interplaying, is more accurate than the situationist perspective.

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Peter Olsthoorn
Netherlands Defence Academy


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