The goal of this book is to develop a new framework for thinking about what moral character looks like today. My central claim will be that most people have moral character traits, but at the same time they do not have either the traditional ...
This book first reviews Miller's theory of Mixed Traits, as developed in his 2013 book Moral Character: An Empirical Theory. It then engages extensively with situations, the CAPS model in social psychology, and the Big Five Model in personality psychology. It ends by taking up implications for his view in meta-ethics (a modified error theory) and normative ethics (a challenge for virtue ethics).
Several philosophers have recently claimed to have discovered a new and rather significant problem with virtue ethics. According to them, virtue ethics generates certain expectations about the behavior of human beings which are subject to empirical testing. But when the relevant experimental work is done in social psychology, the results fall remarkably short of meeting those expectations. So, these philosophers think, despite its recent success, virtue ethics has far less to offer to contemporary ethical theory than might have been initially (...) thought. I argue that there are plausible ways in which virtue ethicists can resist arguments based on empirical work in social psychology. In the first three sections of the paper, I reconstruct the line of reasoning being used against virtue ethics by looking at the recent work of Gilbert Harman and John Doris. The remainder of the paper is then devoted both to responding to their challenge as well as to briefly sketching a positive account of character trait possession. (shrink)
Cases involving amoralists who no longer care about the institution of morality, together with cases of depression, listlessness, and exhaustion, have posed trouble in recent years for standard formulations of motivational internalism. In response, though, internalists have been willing to adopt narrower versions of the thesis which restrict it just to the motivational lives of those agents who are said to be in some way normal, practically rational, or virtuous. My goal in this paper is to offer a new set (...) of counterexamples to motivational internalism, examples which are effective both against traditional formulations of the thesis as well as against many of these more recent restricted proposals. (shrink)
No one in philosophy has paid much attention to the virtue of honesty in recent years. Here is a trait for which it is easy to find consensus that it is a virtue, and furthermore, a very important virtue. It also has obvious relevance to what we see going on in contemporary politics, for instance, or in sports, the entertainment world, and education. Yet as far as I can tell, only one article in a philosophy journal has appeared in several (...) decades which discusses this virtue at any length. -/- In this chapter I have two central aims: (i) to sketch some of the conceptual parameters of the virtue of honesty in general, as well as its subordinate virtues, and then (ii) to draw on leading work in psychology to determine, at least in a preliminary way, whether we should think that most people instantiate this virtue or not. (shrink)
The Humean theory of motivation remains the default position in much of the contemporary literature in meta-ethics, moral psychology, and action theory. Yet despite its widespread support, the theory is implausible as a view about what motivates agents to act. More specifically, my reasons for dissatisfaction with the Humean theory stem from its incompatibility with what I take to be a compelling model of the role of motivating reasons in first-person practical deliberation and third-person action explanations. So after first introducing (...) some assumptions about the nature of agency in section one, I will turn to articulating and defending this account of motivating reasons in sections two through four of the paper. Section five then provides some background on the Humean theory before I argue directly against it in section six and critically examine the leading arguments for the view in section seven. Given limitations of space, however, I save the task of developing a positive anti-Humean view for another occasion. (shrink)
I first summarize the central issues in the debate about the empirical adequacy of virtue ethics, and then examine the role that social psychologists claim positive and negative mood have in influencing compassionate helping behavior. I argue that this psychological research is compatible with the claim that many people might instantiate certain character traits after all which allow them to help others in a wide variety of circumstances. Unfortunately for the virtue ethicist, however, it turns out that these helping traits (...) fall well short of exhibiting certain central features of compassion. (shrink)
The central virtue at issue in recent philosophical discussions of the empirical adequacy of virtue ethics has been the virtue of compassion. Opponents of virtue ethics such as Gilbert Harman and John Doris argue that experimental results from social psychology concerning helping behavior are best explained not by appealing to so-called ‘global’ character traits like compassion, but rather by appealing to external situational forces or, at best, to highly individualized ‘local’ character traits. In response, a number of philosophers have argued (...) that virtue ethics can accommodate the empirical results in question. My own view is that neither side of this debate is looking in the right direction. For there is an impressive array of evidence from the social psychology literature which suggests that many people do possess one or more robust global character traits pertaining to helping others in need. But at the same time, such traits are noticeably different from a traditional virtue like compassion. (shrink)
We like to think of ourselves, our friends, and our families as decent people. We may not be saints, but we are still honest, relatively kind, and mostly trustworthy. Miller argues here that we are badly mistaken in thinking this. Hundreds of recent studies in psychology tell a different story: that we all have serious character flaws that prevent us from being as good as we think we are - and that we do not even recognize that these flaws exist. (...) But neither are most of us cruel or dishonest. Instead, Miller argues, we are a mixed bag. On the one hand, most of us in a group of bystanders will do nothing as someone cries out for help in an emergency. Yet it is also true that there will be many times when we will selflessly come to the aid of a complete stranger - and resist the urge to lie, cheat, or steal even if we could get away with it. Much depends on cues in our social environment. Miller uses this recent psychological literature to explain what the notion of "character" really means today, and how we can use this new understanding to develop a character better in sync with the kind of people we want to be. (shrink)
The virtue of honesty has been stunningly neglected in contemporary philosophy, with only two papers appearing in the last 40 years. The first half of this paper is a conceptual exploration of one aspect of the virtue, namely the honest person’s motivational profile. I argue that egoistic motives for telling the truth or not cheating are incompatible with honest motivation. At the same time, there is no one specific motive that is required for a person to be motivated in a (...) virtuously honest way. Instead I advance a pluralistic theory of honest motivation, which allows for motives of caring, fairness, and virtue, among others. The second half of the paper then turns briefly to the empirical literature in psychology and behavioral economics on cheating, to see to what extent honest motives appear to be operative. The upshot is that we have good preliminary evidence for the claim that most people are not virtuously honest. (shrink)
The turn of the century saw a significant increase in the amount of attention being paid by philosophers to empirical issues about moral character. Dating back at least to Plato and Aristotle in the West, and Confucius in the East, philosophers have traditionally drawn on empirical data to some extent in their theorizing about character. One of the main differences in recent years has been the source of this empirical data, namely the work of social and personality psychologists on morally (...) relevant thought and action. -/- This entry briefly examines four recent empirical approaches to moral character. It will draw on the psychology literature where appropriate, but the main focus will be on the significance of that work for philosophers interested in better understanding moral character. The four areas are situationism, the CAPS model, the Big Five model, and the VIA. The remainder of this entry devotes a section to each of them. (shrink)
A number of philosophers have become convinced that the best way of trying to understand human agency is by arriving at an account of identification. My goal here is not to criticize particular views about identification, but rather to examine several assumptions which have been widely held in the literature and yet which, in my view, render implausible any account of identification that takes them on board. In particular, I argue that typically identification does not involve either reflective consideration of (...) our mental states or endorsement of those states. If it did, we would rarely be agents. (shrink)
Philosophers have inherited a familiar taxonomy of character types from Aristotle. We are all acquainted with the labels of the virtuous, vicious, continent, and incontinent person. The goal of this paper is to argue that we should jettison this framework. The main reason is that psychological research in the past fifty years has suggested a much more complex picture of moral character than what can be usefully captured by these four categories. In its place, I will suggest a better taxonomy (...) that makes use of the idea of what I call mixed character. (shrink)
In this paper, I hope to provide an account of the conditions of moral realism whereby there are still significant metaphysical commitments made by the realist which set the view apart as a distinct position in the contemporary meta-ethical landscape. In order to do so, I will be appealing to a general account of what it is for realism to be true in any domain of experience, whether it be realism about universals, realism about unobservable scientific entities, realism about artifacts, (...) and so forth. (shrink)
I first summarize the main line of argument used by Harman and Doris against Aristotelian virtue ethics in particular. In section two I present what seems to me to be the most promising response to their argument. Finally in section three I briefly review and assess the other leading responses in the now sizable literature that has developed in this area.
In a number of recent papers, I have begun to develop a new theory of character which is conceptually distinct both from traditional Aristotelian accounts as well as from the positive view of local traits outlined by John Doris. On my view, many human beings do have robust traits of character which play an important explanatory and predictive role, but which are triggered by certain situational variables which preclude them from counting as genuine Aristotelian virtues. Like others in this discussion, (...) I have focused on helping behavior in particular, and have gone on to argue that much of the social psychology literature is compatible with this new approach. The goal of this paper is to develop the model as it pertains to helping behavior further by examining how helping-relevant traits can serve as impediments to helping behavior. (shrink)
Thanks largely to the work of Robert Adams and Philip Quinn, the second half of the twentieth century witnessed a resurgence of interest in divine command theory as a viable position in normative theory and meta-ethics. More recently, however, there has been some dissatisfaction with divine command theory even among those philosophers who claim that normative properties are grounded in God, and as a result alternative views have begun to emerge, most notably divine intention theory (Murphy, Quinn) and divine motivation (...) theory (Zagzebski). My goal here is to outline a distinct theory, divine desire theory, and suggest that, even if it is not clearly superior to these extant views, it is at least worthy of serious consideration.1 As far as this paper is concerned, the discussion will be limited just to the deontic status of actions (obligatory, permissible, forbidden), and so no attempt will be made to also account for axiological properties such as goodness or evil. In order to get oriented to the range of deontological views in this area, consider the following three rough characterizations. (shrink)
There have only been three articles in mainstream philosophy journals going back at least to the 1970s on generosity. In this paper, I hope to draw attention to this neglected virtue. By building on what work has already been done, and trying to advance that discussion along several different dimensions, I hope that others will take a closer look at this important and surprisingly complex virtue. More specifically, I formulate three important necessary conditions for what is involved in possessing the (...) virtue of generosity, and consider other contenders as well. (shrink)
This handbook article reviews the situationist movements in psychology and philosophy, before turning to possible implications for issues about free will and moral responsibility. Particular attention is paid to possible threats to reasons-responsiveness and to agency.
The Euthyphro Dilemma is named after a particular exchange between Socrates and Euthyphro in Plato‟s dialogue Euthyphro. In a famous passage, Socrates asks, “Is the pious loved by the gods because it is pious, or is it pious because it is loved by the gods?” (Plato 1981: 10a), and proceeds to advance arguments which clearly favor the first of these two options (see PLATO). The primary interest in the Euthyphro Dilemma over the years, however, has primarily concerned the relationship between (...) God and morality in the monotheistic religious tradition, where God is taken to be omnipotent, omniscient, and omnibenevolent, having created the universe initially and still actively involved in it today. But as we will see at the end of this entry, there has also been a recent surge of interest in a version of the Dilemma which applies to so-called response-dependent accounts of normative properties in meta-ethics. (shrink)
The situationist movement in psychology and, more recently, in philosophy has been associated with a number of striking claims, including that most people do not have the moral virtues and vices, that any ethical theory which is wedded to such character traits is empirically inadequate, and that much of our behavior is causally influenced, to significant degrees, by psychological influences about which we are often unaware. Yet Christian philosophers have had virtually nothing to say about situationist claims. The goal of (...) this paper is to consider whether Christians should start to be worried about them. (shrink)
This is a response paper to Daniel Russell's paper in the same volume. I raise some challenges to Russell's model of virtue acquisition which draws extensively on the CAPS model in psychology and on parallels between virtues and skills.
Integrity is one of the leading normative concepts employed in our society. We frequently talk about the degree of integrity of community leaders and famous historical figures, and we highly value integrity in our elected public officials. But philosophers have had a difficult time arriving at consensus about what integrity consists in. Some claim that it is a purely formal relation of consistency, others that it has to do primarily with one‟s identity, and still others that it involves subjective or (...) objective moral requirements. The primarily goal here is to outline the leading facets of integrity in the contemporary philosophical literature. (shrink)
Critics of Rorty’s views on truth, objectivity, and value often take them to imply some form of untenable relativism.1 While it would be worthwhile to investigate whether Rorty is in fact committed to what might be called global relativism, or relativism in most if not all domains of investigation, for our purposes in this paper we must proceed more selectively. By focusing on Rorty’s view of moral objectivity, we can hopefully shed some new light on the now stale charge of (...) Rortian relativism. In the process, we can also go quite a long way towards articulating what a Rortian approach to meta-ethics might look like. (shrink)
Various themes have been discussed under the heading of ‘situationism’ in psychology over the past forty years. Much of this discussion has been extremely controversial, leading to deep divisions among psychologists and, more recently, among philosophers as well. In this paper I will pick up on one of those themes having to do with the influence of certain unconscious mental dispositions. I will assume that these dispositions are widely possessed, and also that they disqualify the people who have them from (...) counting as virtuous at that moment. The majority of the paper will then consider various strategies for trying to still develop the virtues in the face of this particular obstacle. (shrink)
Philosophers have discussed virtue and character since Socrates, but many traditional views have been challenged by recent findings in psychology and neuroscience. This fifth volume of Moral Psychology grows out of this new wave of interdisciplinary work on virtue, vice, and character. It offers essays, commentaries, and replies by leading philosophers and scientists who explain and use empirical findings from psychology and neuroscience to illuminate virtue and character and related issues in moral philosophy. The contributors discuss such topics as eliminativist (...) and situationist challenges to character; investigate the conceptual and empirical foundations of self-control, honesty, humility, and compassion; and consider whether the virtues contribute to well-being. (shrink)
I reply to the excellent commentaries by Nancy Snow and Jennifer Cole Wright on my book, The Character Gap: How Good Are We? Topics discussed include the criteria of virtue, kinds of virtuous motives, vicious motivation and behavior, continence and incontinence, the possibility of widespread vice, and a recent meta-analysis of helping behavior.
This paper is part of a six paper exchange with Michael Shermer. Section one explains how “God” is meant to be understood. Section two then introduces the position that morality depends in some way upon God. Section three turns to some of the leading arguments for this view. Finally, we will conclude with the most powerful challenge to this approach, namely what has come to be called the Euthyphro Dilemma.
I pursue three of the many lines of thought that were raised in my mind by Kristjánsson’s engaging book. In the first section, I try to get clearer on what exactly Aristotelian character education (ACE) is, and suggest areas where I hope the view is developed in more detail. In the second and longest section, I draw some lessons from social psychology about the pervasive role of what I call ‘Surprising Dispositions,’ and invite Kristjánsson to take up the difficult challenge (...) of clarifying how ACE would help to address their influence on our thought and action. Finally, in section three I consider whether there is any robust empirical support for ACE, and if not, where that leaves us. (shrink)
This textbook chapter briefly introduces and defend a way of thinking about the relationship between God and morality. Section one explains how “God” is meant to be understood. Section two then introduces the position that morality depends in some way upon God. Section three turns to some of the leading arguments for this view. Finally, we will conclude with the most powerful challenge to this approach, namely what has come to be called the Euthyphro Dilemma.
In section one, I briefly review the Harman/Doris argument and outline the most promising response. Then in section two I develop what I take the real challenge to virtue ethics to be. The final section of the chapter suggests two strategies for beginning to address this challenge.
This paper brings together the social intuitionist view of the psychology of moral judgments developed by Jonathan Haidt, and the recent morphological rationalist position of Terry Horgan and Mark Timmons. I will end up suggesting that Horgan and Timmons have offered us a more plausible account of the psychology of moral judgment formation. But the view is not without its own difficulties. Indeed, one of them might prove to be quite serious, as it could support a form of skepticism about (...) understanding our own motivating reasons. (shrink)
Much of the literature in contemporary analytic metaethics has grown rather stale – the range of possible positions seems to have been exhaustively delineated, and most of the important arguments on all sides have been clearly articulated and evaluated. In order to advance discussion in this area, I examine more fundamental issues about the nature of agency. In my view, the heart of what it is to exhibit intentional agency in the world is to identify with the relevant components of (...) practical reasoning from the first person perspective. Chapter one attempts to arrive at sufficient conditions for desire identification by examining the structure of instrumental practical reasoning. But it turns out that this story about identification cannot be told until we first have available a separate account of norm identification. The best way of developing this latter account is by understanding the phenomenon of first person volitional impossibility. With the resources in hand from the first two chapters, we can articulate sufficient conditions in chapter three for desire, norm, and action identification, as well as critically evaluate rival hierarchical views. Finally, chapter four is devoted to a preliminary consideration of our sense of our own wills as free. (shrink)
Most atheists are error theorists about theists; they claim that theists have genuine beliefs about the existence and nature of a divine being, but as a matter of fact no such divine being exists. Thus on their view the relevant theistic beliefs are mistaken. As error theorists, then, atheists need to arrive at some answer to the question of what practical course of action the atheist should adopt towards the theistic beliefs held by committed theists. The most natural answer and (...) the one that we see being implemented by many prominent atheists today, can be stated roughly as follows: -/- (1) Theistic Eliminativism: Atheists should marshal the best arguments at their disposal and present them to theists in the hopes that theists will come to appreciate that their religious beliefs are systemically erroneous. Furthermore, on coming to this realization, a theist should abandon not just his specific religious beliefs, but also more generally his religious practices and theistic framework for viewing the world, and adopt a secular point of view instead. -/- One of the main goals of this paper is to show that, despite its popularity, eliminativism is not the only option for the atheist to adopt. In order to do so, I draw on recent work in meta-ethics on moral error theories, work which has helped to outline a number of alterative courses of action that someone might take towards a group which is said to have widespread erroneous beliefs. (shrink)
The goal of this chapter is to offer the first detailed critical assessments of the CAPS model from a philosophical perspective. I will argue for the following claim: using technical language, the CAPS model re-describes and finds supporting evidence for basic platitudes of commonsense folk psychology.
In a number of recent papers, Michael Bratman has defended a policy-based theory of identification which represents the most sophisticated and compelling development of a broadly hierarchical approach to the problems about identification which Harry Frankfurt drew our attention to over thirty years ago. Here I first summarize the bare essentials of Bratman's view, and then raise doubts about both its necessity and sufficiency. Finally I consider his objections to rival value-based models, and find those objections to be less compelling (...) than he makes them out to be. (shrink)
Bargaining games typically involve two players distributing a specific payoff (usually money), and will be our focus here, as they are especially helpful for examining the moral psychology of justice. Examples include the ultimatum game and dictator game. We will also look at a novel twist on the dictator game by the psychologist Daniel Batson, which has fostered a large experimental literature on what he calls ‘moral hypocrisy.’ Finally we will connect this discussion of economic games to the virtue of (...) justice and to other personality traits such as agreeableness, honesty-humility, and justice sensitivity. (shrink)
This entry first provides some background about how to define moral relativism. It then reviews two different strands of the contemporary discussion of moral relativism. The first concerns the question of whether most people endorse, either implicitly or explicitly, some form of moral relativism. The second concerns the question of whether moral relativism is actually true. Here the focus will be on the influential work of Shaun Nichols, who has proposed an account of the psychology of moral judgments which he (...) takes to provide support for moral relativism. Some problems will briefly be raised with Nichols’s main argument. (shrink)
The concern of this paper is not with the truth of any particular realist or anti-realist view, but rather with determining what it is to be a realist or anti-realist in the first place. While much skepticism has been voiced in recent years about the viability of such a project, my goal is to articulate interesting and informative conditions whereby any view in any domain of experience can count as either a realist or an anti-realist position.
This chapter for our edited volume (Character: New Directions from Philosophy, Psychology, and Theology) provides background material on what we consider to be several of the fundamental questions about character, such as whether character traits exist, what their makeup is, and how they can be improved.
Colleges and universities need to first develop an empirically informed understanding of their students when it comes to their honesty and cheating, so as to be in a better position to develop policies which can try to help them not become more disposed to cheat during their college years. In section one of this paper, I review some of the leading research on cheating behavior, and in section two I do the same for cheating motivation. Section three then draws some (...) implications from this research, both about what faculty can typically expect the characters of their students to be like when it comes to cheating, and what colleges might try to do to help foster character improvement in this area of their students’ lives. (shrink)
Constructivist positions in meta-ethics are on the rise in recent years. Similarly, there has been a flurry of activity amongst theistic philosophers examining the relationship between God and normative facts. But so far as I am aware, these two literatures have almost never intersected with each other. Constructivists have said very little about God, and theists working on religious ethics have said very little about constructivist views in meta-ethics. In this paper, I draw some connections between the two literatures, and (...) hopefully will inspire others to continue to investigate this sadly neglected area. My main conclusion will be that theists should be hesitant about accepting any of the leading versions of constructivism in the contemporary meta-ethics literature. (shrink)
Due largely to the work of Mark Murphy and Philip Quinn, divine will theory has emerged as a legitimate alternative to divine command theory in recent years. As an initial characterization, divine will theory is a view of deontological properties according to which, for instance, an agent S‟s obligation to perform action A in circumstances C is grounded in God‟s will that S A in C. Characterized this abstractly, divine will theory does not specify which kind of mental state is (...) supposed to ground S‟s obligation; it could be God‟s desires, beliefs, intentions, or emotions. My purpose here is not to challenge this view. Rather, I want to examine the decision by Murphy and Quinn to base their version of divine will theory on God‟s intentions, and argue that this may have been an unwise move. As an alternative, I suggest that those who are initially attracted to divine will theory would be better served to develop the view with a focus on God‟s desires rather than intentions. (shrink)