The Journal of Ethics

, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 117–144

The Normativity Challenge: Cultural Psychology Provides the Real Threat to Virtue Ethics


DOI: 10.1007/s10892-009-9053-3

Cite this article as:
Prinz, J. J Ethics (2009) 13: 117. doi:10.1007/s10892-009-9053-3


Situationists argue that virtue ethics is empirically untenable, since traditional virtue ethicists postulate broad, efficacious character traits, and social psychology suggests that such traits do not exist. I argue that prominent philosophical replies to this challenge do not succeed. But cross-cultural research gives reason to postulate character traits, and this undermines the situationist critique. There is, however, another empirical challenge to virtue ethics that is harder to escape. Character traits are culturally informed, as are our ideals of what traits are virtuous, and our ideals of what qualifies as well-being. If virtues and well-being are culturally constructed ideals, then the standard strategy for grounding the normativity of virtue ethics in human nature is undermined.


CultureNormativityPersonalitySelf conceptsSituationismVirtue ethicsWell-being

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyCity University of New YorkNew YorkUSA