Virtue, situationism, and the cognitive value of art

The Monist 99 (2):144-158 (2016)
Authors
Mark Alfano
Delft University of Technology
Abstract
Virtue-based moral cognitivism holds that at least some of the value of some art consists in conveying knowledge about the nature of virtue and vice. We explore here a challenge to this view, which extends the so-called situationist challenge to virtue ethics. Evidence from social psychology indicates that individuals’ behavior is often susceptible to trivial and normatively irrelevant situational influences. This evidence not only challenges approaches to ethics that emphasize the role of virtue but also undermines versions of moral cognitivism, because the value of art cannot consist in teaching us about traits that do not exist. We thus recommend a new account of the cognitive value of art: art teaches how context and character interact to produce action.
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DOI 10.1093/monist/onv039
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