This book is a provocative contribution to contemporary ethical theory challenging foundational conceptions of character that date back to Aristotle. John Doris draws on behavioral science, especially social psychology, to argue that we misattribute the causes of behavior to personality traits and other fixed aspects of character rather than to the situational context. More often than not it is the situation not the nature of the personality that really counts. The author elaborates the philosophical consequences of this research for a (...) whole array of ethical theories and shows that, once rid of the misleading conception of motivation, moral psychology can support more robust ethical theories and more humane ethical practices. (shrink)
Do we know what we're doing, and why? Psychological research seems to suggest not: reflection and self-awareness are surprisingly uncommon and inaccurate. John M. Doris presents a new account of agency and responsibility, which reconciles our understanding of ourselves as moral agents with empirical work on the unconscious mind.
While there is now considerable anxiety about whether the psychological theory presupposed by virtue ethics is empirically sustainable, analogous issues have received little attention in the virtue epistemology literature. This paper argues that virtue epistemology encounters challenges reminiscent of those recently encountered by virtue ethics: just as seemingly trivial variation in context provokes unsettling variation in patterns of moral behavior, trivial variation in context elicits unsettling variation in patterns of cognitive functioning. Insofar as reliability is a condition on epistemic virtue, (...) we have reason to doubt that human beings possess the cognitive materials required for epistemic virtue, and thereby reason to think that virtue epistemology is threatened by skepticism. We conclude that while virtue epistemology has resources for addressing this challenge, exploiting these resources forces tradeoffs between empirical and normative adequacy. (shrink)
John M. Doris has been a leading proponent of interdisciplinary approaches to moral psychology for decades. His work has transformed the way in which philosophers approach questions of character, virtue, and agency. This selection of his work focuses on the ways in which human personality orders moral cognition and behaviour.
Moral psychology investigates human functioning in moral contexts, and asks how these results may impact debate in ethical theory. This work is necessarily interdisciplinary, drawing on both the empirical resources of the human sciences and the conceptual resources of philosophical ethics. The present article discusses several topics that illustrate this type of inquiry: thought experiments, responsibility, character, egoism v . altruism, and moral disagreement.
We begin, in section 2, with a brief sketch of a cluster of assumptions about human desires, beliefs, actions, and motivation that are widely shared by historical and contemporary authors on both sides in the debate. With this as background, we’ll be able to offer a more sharply focused account of the debate. In section 3, our focus will be on links between evolutionary theory and the egoism/altruism debate. There is a substantial literature employing evolutionary theory on each side of (...) the issue. However, it is our contention that neither camp has offered a convincing case. We are much more sanguine about recent research on altruism in social psychology, which will be our topic in section 4. Though we don’t think this work has resolved the debate, we will argue that it has made illuminating progress – progress that philosophers interested in the question cannot afford to ignore. (shrink)
Philosophical accounts of moral responsibility are standardly framed by two platitudes. According to them, blame requires the presence of a moral defect in the agent and the absence of excuses. In this chapter, this kind of approach is challenged. It is argued that (a) people sometimes violate moral norms due to performance mistakes, (b) it often appears reasonable to hold them responsible for it, and (c) their mistakes cannot be traced to their moral qualities or to the presence of excuses. (...) In the end, the implications for discussions of moral responsibility are discussed. (shrink)
While nothing justiﬁes atrocity, many perpetrators manifest cognitive impairments that profoundly degrade their capacity for moral judgment, and such impairments, we shall argue, preclude the attribution of moral responsibility.
A great deal of fascinating research has gone into an attempt to uncover the fundamental criteria that people use when assigning moral responsibility. Nonetheless, it seems that most existing accounts fall prey to one counterexample or another. The underlying problem, we suggest, is that there simply isn't any single system of criteria that people apply in all cases of responsibility attribution. Instead, it appears that people use quite different criteria in different kinds of cases. [This paper was originally circulated under (...) the title 'Strawsonian Variations.']. (shrink)
This paper is a critical discussion of Manuel Vargas’ Building Better Beings, focusing on the treatment of desert therein. By means of an analogy between morality and sport, I examine some seemingly peculiar implications of Vargas’ teleological and revisionary account of desert. I also consider some general questions of philosophical methodology provoked by revisionary approaches.
Is it harder to acquire knowledge about things that really matter to us than it is to acquire knowledge about things we don't much care about? Jason Stanley 2005 argues that whether or not the relational predicate 'knows that' holds between an agent and a proposition can depend on the practical interests of the agent: the more it matters to a person whether p is the case, the more justification is required before she counts as knowing that p. The evidence (...) for Stanley's thesis includes a number of intuitive judgments about examples. In this paper we provide parallel examples for which Stanley's thesis requires unwelcome knowledge-attributions, and argue that this is possible because his thesis conflicts with familiar and plausible principles about knowledge. (shrink)
Messaging from U.S. authorities about COVID-19 has been widely divergent. This research aims to clarify popular perceptions of the COVID-19 threat and its effects on victims. In four studies with over 4,100 U.S. participants, we consistently found that people perceive the threat of COVID-19 to be substantially greater than that of several other causes of death to which it has recently been compared, including the seasonal flu and automobile accidents. Participants were less willing to help COVID-19 victims, who they considered (...) riskier to help, more contaminated, and more responsible for their condition. Additionally, politics and demographic factors predicted attitudes about victims of COVID-19 above and beyond moral values; whereas attitudes about the other kinds of victims were primarily predicted by moral values. The results indicate that people perceive COVID-19 as an exceptionally severe disease threat, and despite prosocial inclinations, do not feel safe offering assistance to COVID-19 sufferers. This research has urgent applied significance: the findings are relevant to public health efforts and related marketing campaigns working to address extended damage to society and the economy from the pandemic. In particular, efforts to educate the public about the health impacts of COVID-19, encourage compliance with testing protocols and contact tracing, and support safe, prosocial decision-making and risk assessment, will all benefit from awareness of these findings. The results also suggest approaches, such as engaging people's stable values rather than their politicized perspectives on COVID-19, that may reduce stigma and promote cooperation in response to pandemic threats. (shrink)
In this chapter, we recount some of the most pressing objections to character scepticism, pointing out their limitations and, when appropriate, incorporating their suggestions. From here, we consider what empirically informed moral improvement might look like by turning to the skill analogy. While the skill analogy provides a realistic rubric for becoming a better person, many of the questions concerning the details of how moral improvement might take place remain unanswered. When developing expertise in domains like chess and morality, a (...) wide range of factors will likely be important and it is unlikely than any one individual factor will be especially important. Given this, for any account of moral improvement, our optimism should be bounded: the effect of any particular intervention is likely to be limited, in both magnitude and domain. Lastly, we consider how character scepticism has reshaped the way we think about moral responsibility, whether this is cashed out in reasons-responsiveness or self-expression accounts. While both views face challenges, by distinguishing the possession of the responsibility-making feature from failures to manifest that property in behaviour, we gain a certain degree of wiggle room that allows us to accommodate empirical findings while holding on to notions of responsibility. This chapter highlights that the ‘person-situationism debate’ has expanded far beyond its beginnings, giving way to new accounts of moral improvement and moral responsibility. (shrink)
Jesse Prinz’s The Emotional Construction of Morals is among the most significant of illuminations of human morality to appear in recent years. This embarrassment of riches presents the space-starved commentator with a dilemma: survey the book’s extraordinary sweep, and slight the textured argumentation, or engage a fraction of the argumentation, and slight the sweep. I’ll fall on the second horn, and focus mostly on Chapter 7, ‘The Genealogy of Morals’. Like Prinz , 1 I think that genealogical arguments have not, (...) despite their frequent appearance, received enough self-conscious discussion in ethical theorizing; I’ll try to extend Prinz’s amelioration of this neglect, by making some recurring themes explicit. In so doing, I indulge myself in a bit of therapy. I’ve always regarded genealogical arguments with certain ambivalence: genealogies frequently make a beguiling first impression, but just as often, when one gets to know them, their appeal turns out to be superficial. In articulating the contrasting uses to which genealogical arguments might be put, I hope to distinguish uses that deliver real substance from uses where the promise is not realized in the practice.Genealogical arguments are indelibly associated with Nietzsche, so it is unsurprising that Prinz in this chapter parts company with Hume, his usual muse, 2 and takes up, somewhat ambivalently , a Nietzschean torch. I won’t fret the historical details, nor will I trouble myself over where Nietzsche ends and Prinz begins; I’ll simply raise some general issues about genealogy and ethics. 3The Nietzschean insight, according to Prinz , is that ‘the values we currently cherish have a history’ and this history ‘may not be pretty’. Notoriously, Nietzsche was a bit grumpy about Christianity, and he supposed that tracing morality through the dark and labyrinthine history of the Church would unmask the attendant values …. (shrink)
Moral psychology is the study of how human minds make and are made by human morality. This state of the art volume covers contemporary philosophical and psychological work on moral psychology, as well as notable historical theories and figures in the field of moral psychology, such as Aristotle, Kant, Nietzsche, and the Buddha. The volume’s 50 chapters, authored by leading figures in the field, cover foundational topics, such as character, virtue, emotion, moral responsibility, the neuroscience of morality, weakness of will, (...) and the nature of moral judgments and reasons. The volume also canvases emerging work in applied moral psychology, including adaptive preferences, animals, mental illness, poverty, marriage, race, bias, and victim blaming. (shrink)
Recent policy debates in the US over access to mental health care have raised several philosophically complex ethical and conceptual issues. The defeat of mental health parity legislation in the US Congress has brought new urgency and relevance to theoretical and empirical investigations into the nature of mental illness and its relation to other forms of sickness and disability. Manifold, nebulous, and often competing conceptions of mental illness make the creation of coherent public policy exceedingly difficult. Referencing a variety of (...) approaches to ethical reflection on health care, and drawing from the empirical literature on therapeutic efficacy and economic efficiency, we argue that differential rationing, ‘disparity,’ is unjustifiable. (shrink)