Positive psychology on character strengths and virtues. A disquieting suggestion

New Ideas in Psychology 33:21-34 (2014)

Authors
Konrad Banicki
Jagiellonian University
Abstract
The Values in Action (VIA) classification of character strengths and virtues has been recently proposed by two leading positive psychologists, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman as “the social science equivalent of virtue ethics.” The very possibility of developing this kind of an “equivalent,” however, is very doubtful in the light of the cogent criticism that has been leveled at modern moral theory by Alasdair MacIntyre as well as the well argued accusations that positive psychology, despite its official normative neutrality, is pervaded by specifically Western individualism and instrumentalism. In order to evaluate whether the VIA project can be considered as substantially rooted in virtue ethical tradition, the classification was assessed against two fundamental features of the classical version of the latter: (1) the substantial interconnectedness of individual virtues, as expressed by the thesis of the unity of virtue, and (2) the constitutive character of the relationship between virtue and happiness. It turned out, in result, that the two above features are not only absent from but also contradicted by the VIA framework with the latter's: (1′) construal of individual virtues and character strengths as independent variables and (2′) official endorsement of the fact/value distinction. As soon as the arguments for the superiority of the classical virtue ethical perspective are provided, the potential responses available to the VIA's proponents are discussed.
Keywords Values In Action  virtues  character strengths  positive psychology  virtue ethics  Seligman  Peterson  unity of virtue  fact-value distinction
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