Against Moral Character Evaluations: The Undetectability of Virtue and Vice

The Journal of Ethics 13 (2-3):213 - 233 (2009)
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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

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Peter Vranas
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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