Philosophical Issues 31 (1):334-354 (2021)

Authors
Georgi Gardiner
University of Tennessee, Knoxville
Jacob Smith
University of Virginia
Abstract
Many jurisdictions prohibit or severely restrict the use of evidence about a defendant’s character to prove legal culpability. Situationists, who argue that conduct is largely determined by situational features rather than by character, can easily defend this prohibition. According to situationism, character evidence is misleading or paltry. Proscriptions on character evidence seem harder to justify, however, on virtue ethical accounts. It appears that excluding character evidence either denies the centrality of character for explaining conduct—the situationist position—or omits probative evidence. Situationism is, after all, presented as antithetical to virtue ethics. This essay provides a virtue ethical defense of character evidence exclusion rules. We show that existing virtue ethical rebuttals to situationism themselves support prohibitions on character evidence; even if behavior arises from stable character traits, character evidence should be prohibited. In building our case, we provide a taxonomy of kinds of character judgment and reconcile the ubiquity and reasonableness of character judgments in ordinary life with the epistemic legitimacy of character evidence prohibitions in law.
Keywords situationism  evidence law  virtue ethics  character evidence  Federal Rules of Evidence  FRE 404  situationist critique
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DOI 10.1111/phis.12192
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References found in this work BETA

Nicomachean Ethics.H. Aristotle & Rackham - 1968 - Harvard University Press.
Knowledge in a Social World.Alvin Ira Goldman - 1999 - Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.
The Sovereignty of Good.Iris Murdoch - 1970 - New York: Schocken Books.

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