The Empirical Argument Against Virtue

The Journal of Ethics 20 (4):355-371 (2016)
Authors
Candace Upton
University of Denver
Abstract
The virtues are under fire. Several decades’ worth of social psychological findings establish a correlation between human behavior and the situation moral agents inhabit, from which a cadre of moral philosophers concludes that most moral agents lack the virtues. Mark Alfano and Christian Miller introduce novel versions of this argument, but they are subject to a fatal dilemma. Alfano and Miller wrongly assume that their requirements for virtue apply universally to moral agents, who vary radically in their psychological, physiological, and personal situations; I call this the ‘content problem.’ More troubling, however, the content problem leads to what I call the ‘structural problem:’ Alfano and Miller each structure their argument against the virtues as a modus tollens argument and, owing to the breadth of the content problem, each must constrain their argument with a ceteris paribus clause. But the ceteris paribus clause precludes each argument’s validity. More important, however, the resulting conception of virtue implicitly endorsed by Alfano and Miller holds that virtues are idealized models; but since idealized models do not even purport accurately to describe the world, neither novel version of EAV gains any empirical traction against the virtues. The upshot is an old story whose moral has yet, within the empirical study of the virtues, adequately to be internalized: it is imperative that the empirical observation of character traits proceed via longitudinal studies.
Keywords Character traits  Moral psychology  Situationism  Virtue ethics
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DOI 10.1007/s10892-015-9199-0
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References found in this work BETA

On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Meditation and the Cultivation of Virtue.Candace Upton - 2017 - Philosophical Psychology 30 (4):373-394.

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