Character as Moral Fiction
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Everyone wants to be virtuous, but recent psychological investigations suggest that this may not be possible. Mark Alfano challenges this theory and asks, not whether character is empirically adequate, but what characters human beings could have and develop. Although psychology suggests that most people do not have robust character traits such as courage, honesty and open-mindedness, Alfano argues that we have reason to attribute these virtues to people because such attributions function as self-fulfilling prophecies - children become more studious if they are told that they are hard-working and adults become more generous if they are told that they are generous. He argues that we should think of virtue and character as social constructs: there is no such thing as virtue without social reinforcement. His original and provocative book will interest a wide range of readers in contemporary ethics, epistemology, moral psychology and empirically informed philosophy.
leukemia. Special thanks are also due to David Rosenthal, whose wisdom and judgment are unparalleled. And special thanks are of course due to Hilary Gaskin at Cambridge University Press for agreeing to have my manuscript reviewed and working alongside me for the last year as I learned how book publishing works. Thanks also to Eddy Nahmias, Andrea Scarantino, George Graham, Jessica Berry, and – most of all – AJ Cohen at Georgia State University. They’ll know why. My interest in moral psychology
Situational non-reasons While it may be possible for virtue ethicists to find a place for temptations and situational demand characteristics in their moral psychology, For a more detailed analysis of the Milgram studies in obedience, see Chapter 8. 3 44 Factitious Moral Virtue situational non-reasons such as ambient sensory stimuli, mood elevators, and mood depressors present a harder problem. Unlike bad reasons, non-reasons don’t even provide the agent with a reason for conduct
influences). 4.8 Mischel and Shoda’s “cognitive-affective personality system” The two most recent book-length responses to the situationist challenge are Daniel Russell’s (2009, pp. 260–62, 323–31) Practical Intelligence and the Virtues and Nancy Snow’s (2009, pp. 19–31) Virtue as Social Intelligence. They contend that the cognitive-affective personality system (CAPS) model of personality developed by Walter Mischel and Yuichi Shoda (1995) is both empirically adequate, in the sense that it
admiration she will receive for helping the needy or to the expectations of her audience. Perhaps the most emphatic statement of this view is in Williams (1985, p. 11), which I quote at length: the virtue-term itself usually does not occur in the content of the [virtuous person’s] deliberation. Someone who has a particular virtue does actions because they fall under certain descriptions and avoids others because they fall under other descriptions. That person is described in terms of the virtue,
Virtue 2.1 Factitious reliabilist virtue In 1968, Robert Rosenthal and Lenore Jacobson published Pygmalion in the Classroom: Teacher Expectations and Pupils’ Intellectual Development, in which they described a longitudinal study of the effects of labeling on students and teachers. Based on the research of Rosenthal and Lawson (1964), they had come to think that if teachers expected great things from their students, they would act in such a way as to generate great things from them. Rosenthal