Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problems and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy

Abstract
Moral philosophers of late have been examining the implications of experimental social psychology for ethics. The focus of attention has been on situationism—the thesis that we routinely underestimate the extent to which minor situational variables influence morally significant behavior. Situationism has been seen as a threat to prevailing lay and philosophical theories of character, personhood, and agency. In this paper, I outline the situationist literature and critique one of its upshots: the admonition to carefully select one’s situational contexts. Besides being limited in application, this strategy accentuates an untenable person/situation dichotomy. The deeper lesson of situationism lies in highlighting the interconnectedness of all social behavior—how we are inextricably involved in the actions of others, and how minor tweaks in our own behavior can lead to major payoffs in our moral lives. Situationism is better seen as an opportunity for moral progress than a threat to individual autonomy
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