In Defense of Ordinary Moral Character Judgment

Erkenntnis 87 (4):1461-1479 (2020)
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Moral character judgments pervade our everyday social interactions. But are these judgments epistemically reliable? In this paper, I discuss a challenge to the reliability of ordinary virtue and vice attribution that emerges from Christian Miller’s Mixed Traits theory of moral character, which entails that the majority of our ordinary moral character judgments are false. In response to this challenge, I argue that a key prediction of this theory is not borne out by the available evidence; this evidence further suggests that our moral character judgments do converge upon real psychological properties of individuals. I go on to argue that this is because the evidence for the Mixed Traits Theory does not capture the kind of compassionate behaviors that ordinary folk really care about. Ultimately, I suggest that our ordinary standards for virtue and vice have a restricted social scope, which reflects the parochial nature of our characterological moral psychology.

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Evan Westra
Purdue University


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