Situationism and the problem of moral improvement

Philosophical Explorations 22 (3):312-327 (2019)
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A wealth of research in social psychology indicates that various ethically arbitrary situational factors exert a surprisingly powerful influence on moral conduct. Empirically-minded philosophers have argued over the last two decades that this evidence challenges Aristotelian virtue ethics. John Doris, Gilbert Harman, and Maria Merritt have argued that situationist moral psychology – as opposed to Aristotelian moral psychology – is better suited to the practical aim of helping agents act better. The Aristotelian account, with its emphasis on individual factors, invites too much risk of morally bad conduct insofar as it ignores the power of situational factors which lead us astray. Moral agents are often better off detecting and intervening on situational factors to help themselves act better. This paper offers an argument against the claim that situationism enjoys practical advantages over Aristotelian virtue ethics. There is empirical evidence suggesting that people can improve their behavior via Aristotelian strategies of deliberate self-improvement. This evidence also suggests that focusing our ethical attention on morally trivial factors may result in worse overall conduct. Accordingly, Aristotelianism may fare better than situationism on the practical issue of moral improvement.



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Matthew C Taylor
Florida A&M University

Citations of this work

Proposing an Islamic virtue ethics beyond the situationist debates.Muhammad Velji - forthcoming - Inquiry: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Philosophy.
Non-Ideal Virtue and Situationism.Matthew C. Taylor - 2021 - The Journal of Ethics 26 (1):41-68.

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References found in this work

Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior.John M. Doris - 2002 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The methods of ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Bristol, U.K.: Thoemmes Press. Edited by Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones.
Character as Moral Fiction.Mark Alfano - 2013 - New York: Cambridge University Press.
The Methods of Ethics.Henry Sidgwick - 1874 - Bristol, U.K.: Cambridge University Press. Edited by Emily Elizabeth Constance Jones.

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