Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 21 (2):341-358 (2018)

Seth Robertson
Harvard University
Indirect situationist critiques of virtue ethics grant that virtue exists and is possible to acquire, but contend that given the low probability of success in acquiring it, a person genuinely interested in behaving as morally as possible would do better to rely on situationist strategies - or, in other words, strategies of environmental or ecological engineering or control. In this paper, I develop a partial answer to this critique drawn from work in early Confucian ethics and in contemporary philosophy and psychology. From early Confucian ethics, I lean on the concept of li, or ritual. Ritual represents both a set of situational manipulations that are especially effective at directly producing moral behavior and at indirectly cultivating virtue over time, and also a virtue that consists of facility with and expertise in these situational manipulations. Appealing to the particular example of social power, I then argue that one is justified in attempting to acquire virtue if one knows that one will frequently encounter circumstances in which purely situationist strategies lose effectiveness, if these circumstances also carry moral urgency: the risk of great harm or opportunity for great benefit to others is high, and if utilizing the potent combination of situationist strategies and virtue envisioned by the early Confucians as ritual is possible.
Keywords Virtue Ethics  Confucian Ethics  Situationist Critique
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DOI 10.1007/s10677-018-9884-8
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References found in this work BETA

The Theory of Moral Sentiments.Adam Smith - 1759 - Dover Publications.
On Virtue Ethics.Rosalind Hursthouse - 1999 - Oxford University Press.

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Citations of this work BETA

Situationism and the Problem of Moral Improvement.Matthew C. Taylor - 2019 - Philosophical Explorations 22 (3):312-327.

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