, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 365-383

Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality Psychology

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Abstract

In this paper I examine and reply to a deflationary challenge brought against virtue ethics. The challenge comes from critics who are impressed by recent psychological evidence suggesting that much of what we take to be virtuous conduct is in fact elicited by narrowly specific social settings, as opposed to being the manifestation of robust individual character. In answer to the challenge, I suggest a conception of virtue that openly acknowledges the likelihood of its deep, ongoing dependence upon particular social relationships and settings. I argue that holding this conception will indeed cause problems for some important strands of thought in virtue ethics, most notably in the tradition of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics. But an approach to virtue ethics modeled on David Hume's treatment of virtue and character in A Treatise of Human Nature promises to escape these problems.