Duty-based, also referred to as deontological, ethics proffers that only actions performed out of (or from) duty have moral or ethical worth. Such actions are contrasted with those performed merely in accordance with duty. Essentially, one should be performing duties not based on what they want to do, but based on one’s duty or goodwill.This is the Link for the article The Benevolent Health Worm: Comparing Western Human Rights-Based Ethics and Confucian Duty-Based Moral Philosophy Part One: CompetencyApply duty-based ethical theories to contemporary moral issues.InstructionsIn this research-based assessment, you will be applying a Kantian perspective to a contemporary moral issue. Current contemporary moral issues range from genetic engineering to issues related to the use of torture in wartime. For this assessment you will need to research contemporary moral issues and select one that will be the focus of your paper as you apply the Kantian perspective. Once you select your moral issue, you will need to address the following in a properly formatted research paper.Explain what duty is according to Kant and how this view differs from other senses of duty.Describe the relationship between a good will and duty for Kant.Differentiate the two formulations of the Categorical Imperative.How do these formulations apply to your selected contemporary moral issue?Using the foundation of Kant’s moral theory explain how there is a moral duty for your selected contemporary moral issues.Express your view as a maxim.How feasible is it to universalize your maxim?How does your maxim fulfill/satisfy each of these formulations?In your paper, ensure that you use credible academic sources, and cite them properly.Part TwoCompetencyEvaluate consequence-based moral theories.InstructionsCreating the perfect bossYour company, Ye Old Paper Mill, recently experienced some organizational chart changes, mostly related to management positions. After posting low profits and even lower employment satisfaction scores, the CEO decided it was time for a change. The CEO, who prefers consequentialist views when it comes to ethical decisions, approached you, along with the rest of the human resources department, and tasked the team with weighing consequentialist ethical theories and selecting which theory would be best for potential managers. For this assessment, you will draft a proposal that addresses the following questions:What are key features of consequentialist theories?What are the differences between the consequentialist theories?How does happiness and pleasure factor in to these theories? Remember employee satisfaction is at an all-time low.What are the pros and cons of each view for the company if the majority of its employees would follow one of the particular theories?Would it be possible for a manager, who follows a different ethical perspective, to effectively manage subordinates who follow a particular consequentialist theory?Select and defend which consequentialist theory for management would be best for the company.Your properly formatted proposal will need to include the following sections:Introduction: Explain why you are sending this proposal. Provide an overview of the issue and discuss the task from the CEO.Address the questions listed above with applicable support and researchConclusion: In this part, you will wrap up the proposal and select and defend which consequentialist theory for management would be best for the company.Proper Proposal Formatting: This a professional document and needs to be structured as a proposal and not as an essay. You will still need to supply both in text and full citations for the sources of your information. If you need further assistance with how to structure a proposal, click on this linkPart three:.Aristotle’s ethical theory is a form of virtue ethics. Such theories focus on one’s character, living rightly, and being a good person. Aristotle framed his theory in terms of how to live a good life. Happiness was an important feature in his ethics, but in a very different way than a utilitarian would consider it. For Aristotle, happiness was human flourishing; it was each person being the best person he or she could be. To do this, one needs to be virtuous. This makes happiness a state of being and an activity. Many virtues (and their corresponding vices) are at play within one’s interaction with his or her friends.Link for the article Virtue, Character and SituationCompetencyUtilize virtue and character-based ethical theories in case studies.InstructionsFor this assessment, you will get the chance to highlight your creative writing skills and your knowledge surrounding Aristotle. Be the Best You, is a career coaching and mentorship agency that works with employees to not only achieve their professional goals, but their personal goals as well. By using a virtue and character-based approach. As a coach for Be the Best You, you are part of the training committee that creates new training material for the clientele. The agency is seeking 3 new training sessions related to the golden mean, Aristotelian friendship, and eudemonia. Part of these trainings include scenarios that the clientele read and then answer applicable questions. You will be creating three, fully developed scenarios for the golden mean, Aristotelian friendship, and eudemonia.Your submission, in its final state will include 3 scenarios including 1 for the golden mean, 1 Aristotelian friendship, and 1 for eudemonia. For each scenario, include 3 questions, 9 in total.Each scenario must include:A fully developed fictional scenario that clearly highlights which of the three (the golden mean, Aristotelian friendship, and eudemonia) is being presented. Clearly define the characters and the actions that are representative of the selected topic.Three, open-ended questions pertaining to the scenario that the clientele would answer in relation to the facts and the topic of the scenario.Part four CompetencyThis competency will allow you to demonstrate your understanding of notable Eastern ethical systems through explanation and description.InstructionsOften, when one thinks of ethical perspectives in the workplace, the focus tends to be on theories such as utilitarianism and egoism. While there is certainly a place for these two theories in the workplace, there remains a whole world of different perspectives and systems. For this deliverable, you will be creating a pamphlet that highlights Eastern Ethical Systems and their benefits within the workplace. Your pamphlet will need to address the following topics:A description of Buddhism and Confucianism.Key ethical themes that run through each of these traditions.Describe similarities and differences between the two traditions.Relate themes of Buddhism and Confucianism common themes within American culture.Describe features of the ethical perspectives of Buddhist and Confucian traditions that would be beneficial within a workplace/community.The pamphlet that you are creating will vary in length. Draw attention to your pamphlet by using well-placed art, an easy to read design with your content, and effective use of color.Looking for information on how to create a pamphlet? Check out http://rasmussen.libanswers.com/faq/190019Part Five CompetencyRelate one’s moral framework to notable ethical theories on the topic of justice.InstructionsThe topic of justice manifests itself in a variety of ways, and is often discussed in broad terms. What does justice mean to you? In this assessment you will address the subject of justice and related ethical theories. In a properly formatted, researched paper, you need to address the following questions:What does justice mean to you?What do you believe is a good foundation for justice?What is Rawls’ foundation of justice and how does it relate to what justice means to you?What are the key features regarding global economic justice?What do you believe are the most important issues within social justice currently and why are these important?In your paper, ensure that you use credible academic sources, and cite them properly.Journal of Moral Philosophy
^^^^
© 2006 SAGE Publications London,
^ ^ T M )OURNAL
Thousand Oaks. CA ^^H^fl OF
and New Delhi ^ ^ ^ ^ | MORAL
http://MPJ.sagepub.com
J i ^ ^ l PHILO.SOPHY
Vol 3(2): 193-213
DOl: 10.1177/1740468106065492
Virtue, Character and Situation
JONATHAN WEBBER*
Department of Philosophy
University of Sheffield
Sheffield SIO 2TN, UK
j.m.webber@sheffield.ac.uk
Philosophers have recently argued that traditional discussions of virtue
and character presuppose an account of behaviour that experimental
psychology has shown to be false. Behaviour does not issue from global
traits such as prudence, temperance, courage or fairness, they claim, but
from local traits such as sailing-in-rough-weather-with-friends-courage
and office-party-temperance. The data employed provides evidence for
this view only if we understand it in the light of a behaviourist construal
of traits in terms of stimulus and response, rather than in the light of the
more traditional construal in terms of inner events such as inclinations.
More recent experiments have shown this traditional conception to have
greater explanatory and predictive power than its behaviourist rival. So
we should retain the traditional conception, and hence reject the proposed
alteration to our understanding of behaviour. This discussion has further
implications for future philosophical investigations of character and virtue.
Keywords: character traits; situadonism; social psychology; virtue ethics
1. Introduction
W
hat is character? What do the distinctive patterns we discern in our
own and one another’s behaviour consist in? Exactly what does it mean
to call somebody honest, compassionate or courageous, and how are such
epithets earned? Answering these questions is central to assessing the various
ethical theories that enjoin us to develop morally sound character traits, since
we need to know in some detail what character traits really are before we can
discern whether and how they can be developed. John Doris has argued that
empirical evidence indicates that we do not have characters as these are generally understood in ethical discourse. There are no such traits as prudence,
temperance, courage, or fairness, he argues. There are only such traits as
sailing-in-rough-weather-with-friends-courage and office-party-temperance,
*
For comments on earlier drafts, I am very grateful to Chris Bennett, George Botterill,
Paul Faulkner, Chris Hookway, Sarah Parker, Tom Simpson, James Tartaglia, Tom Walker,
Suzi Wells, an audience at Keele University, and two anonymous referees for this journal.
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which are perfectly compatible with acting in a cowardly fashion when sailing
in rough weather with new acquaintances and drinking excessively at family
gatherings. Each trait is to be specified with reference to a range of features
of the situations in which they are manifested, he claims, with the result that
each person has a wide range of traits each with very restricted situational
application. Following his terminology, we can refer to this as the ‘fragmentation’ theory of character.’
Doris goes on to argue that adopting this fragmentation theory should lead
us to ‘a certain redirection of our ethical attention’: instead of attempting to
improve our characters, we should ‘invest more of our energies in attending
to the features of our environment that influence behavioural outcome’; we
‘should try, so far as we are able, to avoid.. .ethically dangerous circumstances’
and seek out ‘situations conducive to ethically desirable conduct’. The ideal
of character-development recommended by many ethicists should be abandoned in favour of an ethic of situation-management. Maria Merritt has formulated a variant of the fragmentation theory, according to which the aspects
of situations that need to be built into the concept of each trait are always
social aspects. She agrees that we should abandon character-development in
favour of situation-management, adding that we should focus on manipulating our social settings and relationships.^
But not all adherents of the fragmentation theory agree. Peter Goldie advocates the aim of harmonizing one’s fragmentary traits into semblances or
simulacra of traits as traditionally conceived. If I lcnow that I am only sociable
in certain situations, for example, and I approve of that sociability, then it
seems that I would prefer to be sociable generally. With the help of the twin
‘executive virtues’ of circumspection and strength of will, I can manipulate
my surroundings so that they elicit sociable behaviour, and continually doing
so will gradually alter my situation-specific dispositions, so that I am disposed
to be sociable across a wide variety of situations.^
These recommendations might be criticized for a variety of reasons. One’s
power to manipulate one’s situations will always be limited, so it might seem
that the advice of Doris and Merritt does not leave us with enough control
over our behaviour. If one’s traits are indeed fragmentary, then they will also
be vastly more numerous than has traditionally been thought, so Goldie’s
advice might also seem impractical. But these lines of thought will not be
pursued here.”
1.
John Doris, Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behaviour (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 2002), chs. 1-5; Peter Goldie, On Personality (London: Routledge, 2004),
chs. 3 and 4; the sailing example is taken from p. 115.
2. Doris, Lack of Character, pp. 146-47; Maria Merritt, ‘Virtue Ethics and Situationist
Personality Psychology’, Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 2 (2000), pp. 365-83.
3. Goldie, On Personality, chs. 3 and 4.
4. For development of the idea that the ethical advice issued by Doris and Goldie is
impractical, see my ‘Character, Global and Local’ (forthcoming in Utilitas).
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The aim of this paper is rather to show that we should not accept the fragmentation theory of character that these recommendations are based on. The
next two sections divide the evidence cited in favour of the fragmentation
theory between data that should be set aside and data that needs to be considered. The following section shows that the reliable data provides evidence
in favour of the fragmentation theory only if it is interpreted in the light of a
behaviourist construal of character traits as dispositions to respond in certain
ways to certain kinds of stimuli, and that it is compatible with the traditional
theory of character if traits are conceived as dispositions to be inclined with
a certain strength to behave in a certain way in response to a certain kind of
stimulus. We will see in section five that this latter conception is prominent
in Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics and in recent characterological ethical discourse influenced by it. Section six presents a pragmatic reason to prefer this
conception of traits to the behaviourist one favoured by proponents of the
fragmentation theory, and the final section considers some implications of
this discussion for future philosophical investigations of character and virtue.
2. Specious Evidence
There are five kinds of experiment cited in favour of the fragmentation theory,
all of which are cited by Doris, and two of which are cited by Goldie and
Merritt.^ Of these five experiments, as we will see, two should be discounted.
There is also a sixth experiment discussed by Doris, but although he has been
criticized for taking this experiment as evidence for his theory, he does not
actually use it in this way, as we shall see.
One of the experiments to be discounted seems to indicate that people are
more likely to exhibit helping behaviour if they have recently had good luck.
The subjects of this experiment were unaware that the experiment was taking
place. Having made calls from a telephone booth, some found a dime in the
coin return slot and others looked but found nothing. Each subject was soon
walking behind a woman who dropped a folder full of loose papers and began
to gather them up. Of those who had just found a dime, 96 per cent helped
her. Of those who had not, just 13 per cent helped.^ All three advocates of the
fragmentation theory cite this experiment.’^ The results are taken to challenge
5. Gilbert Harman presents a similar but distinct argument in his paper ‘Moral
Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error’,
Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99.3 (1999), pp. 315-31. He employs some of the data
employed by Doris, and argues that character is illusory and so characterological discourse
should be abandoned altogether. 1 cannot do justice to his argument here, but see my ‘Character, Common-Sense, and Expertise’ (forthcoming).
6. Summary of Alice M. Isen and Paula F. Levin, ‘Effect of Feeling Good on Helping:
C o o k i e s a n d K i n d n e s s ‘ , founial of Personality and Social Psychology 2 1 . 3 ( 1 9 7 2 ) p p 3 8 4 – 8 8
Study II.
7. Doris, Lack of Character, pp. 30-32; Merritt, “Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality
Psychology’, p. 366; Goldie, On Personality, pp. 30-32.
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the regularity theory: if behaviour could be influenced so strong]y by such a
minor event, the thought runs, then the patterns of one’s behaviour would
seem to reflect the vicissitudes of one’s daily life rather than one’s character.
It has been pointed out that repetitions of that experiment have yielded
wildly differing results.^ But similar experiments have shown that increased
sunshine brings with it larger tips for waiters and an increase in the number
people willing to answer questions for a survey, and that having recently been
given a cookie increases the likelihood that someone will agree to help another
person with a task but not the likelihood that someone will agree to hinder
someone else where this would be part of an experiment.’ Minor situational
variations do seem to have an impact on helping behaviour. But as critics have
recently argued, these experiments have involved only relatively trivial helping
scenarios. Nobody has shown that such minor situational variations affect the
likelihood of responding to someone seeming to be in serious distress.'” We
should therefore take these experiments to show only that we should not judge
character on the basis of such minor acts of help as gathering up someone
else’s dropped papers.
The other experiment to be discounted is the Stanford Prison Experiment,
cited by Doris. Eighteen males who had volunteered to partake in a study of
prison life and were judged to be stable and mature were randomly assigned
roles of either ‘prisoner’ or ‘guard’. Early one Sunday morning, each ‘prisoner’
was arrested by real police officers with no warning, as family and neighbours
looked on, and was charged with public order offences, taken to a real police
station, warned of his rights, fingerprinted, and then transferred blindfold to
what he was told was the Stanford County Jail. He was searched, stripped,
sprayed with a delousing agent, dressed in a rough smock, and assigned a
number to be used in place of his name. A chain was padlocked to his ankle,
to be worn at all times, even while asleep. The ‘guards’ were not trained, and
were free to do just about anything they thought necessary to maintain law
and order. At 2.30am on the first night, they woke the prisoners and made
them line up and give their identification numbers. Dissension was met with
forced push-ups, sometimes with someone pressing down on the prisoner’s
back. The prisoners responded by barricading themselves inside their cells.
The guards used fire extinguishers to fight through the barricades and remove
the supposed ringleaders to solitary confinement. From here the situation
continued to worsen dramatically until the experimenters called a halt after
six days of the scheduled fourteen.”
8. Christian Miller, ‘Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics’, The Journal of Ethics 7.4
(2003), pp. 365-92, Appendix.
9. See, for example, John Sabini, Social Psychology (London and New York; Norton, 2nd
edn, 1995), pp. 307-10.
10. John Sabini and Maury Silver, ‘Lack of Character? Situationism Critiqued’, Ethics
115.3 (2005), pp. 535-62 (539-40).
1 I. Summarized from the excellent website www.prisonexp.org, created and maintained
WEBBER
Virtue, Character and Situation
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Whatever this might tell us about the conduct of experiments, it cannot
provide strong evidence in favour of the fragmentation of character. Doris
implies that the behaviour of these volunteers did not conform to their own
general behaviour patterns, and that most people would behave the same
way in the same circumstances. But the experiment has never been repeated
and there were no control groups: the behaviour of these few subjects simply
cannot warrant such claims.
Although the experiment involved eighteen subjects, moreover, these did
not enter the experimental situation individually but together, split into two
rival groups. The implication that all the subjects playing the guard role were
themselves over-zealous to the point of violence is therefore unwarranted. It
is just as likely that this is true of only one or two ofthe guards, and that the
others found it too difficult to challenge him or them. Similarly, there may
have been one or two prisoners persuasive enough to convince the others to
rebel. With no repetition and no control groups, we cannot draw conclusions
about the motivations of the behaviour of individuals in this situation.
Finally, even if it is true that most people will behave unusually in such a
situation, or even that most people will behave in the same ways in such a
situation, the extremely disorienting nature of the opening stages of the experiment for the prisoners and the sheer strangeness and threatening instabi]ity ofthe situation faced by the guards make it difficult to be confident of
any extrapolation to less extreme situations. Any evidence this experiment
might provide for the fragmentation of character, therefore, would be defeated
by this concern, and so the data should be set aside.
Doris also draws attention to studies of honesty and of extraversion and
introversion among schoolchildren. In one study, more than eight thousand
subjects between the ages of eight and sixteen were observed in situations
where they had the opportunity to cheat in tests, lie about whether they had
cheated in those tests, fake a record of their athletic performance, steal a small
amount of unattended money, and so on. The study found a high correlation
between the proportion of a group of children behaving dishonestly in one
situation and the proportion of the same group behaving dishonestly in
another situation of the same type. Children who cheated in an exam, it
seems, are likely to cheat in the next exam. But it also found very little consistency across types of situation. A child who cheats in an exam seems no
more likely than any other child to steal unattended money or fake a record
of athletic performance. So among children at least, there seem to be no unifled traits of honesty or dishonesty, only narrower traits such as being an
exam-cheat or an unattended-money-thief.
Rachana ICamtekar raises a methodological concern about the use of this
data in the debate over character, asking whether it is legitimate to make inferences about adult character traits from observation of children who might be
by one ofthe organizers ofthe experiment, Philip Zimbardo. See also Doris, Laek of Character
pp. 51-53.
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3.2 (2006)
‘more impressionable, less committed to particular ideals of conduct, or less
integrated than adults’. ‘^ But this is simply unfair to Doris, who does not use
the data in this way. He is aware that ‘children with developing personalities
are plausibly thought to exhibit less behavioural consistency than fully formed
adults’, and discusses these experiments ‘not so much for their evidential role
as for the interpretive perspective they provide’.’^ In this, he is right. This
data might illuminate the development or structure of the trait of honesty,
but cannot provide evidence against the idea that adult behaviour is regulated by such general character traits as honesty, generosity and courage.”’
We will therefore set it aside.
3. Significant Evidence
The three remaining kinds of experiment do provide reliable evidence concerning adult character traits. Probably the best known, and certainly the most
dramatic, of these is the Obedienee Experiment, cited by Doris. Subjects were
assigned the role of ‘teacher’ through a rigged draw and an actor posing as a
‘learner’ was strapped into a chair with an electrode attached to his wrist. The
subject was seated before a ‘shock generator’ consisting of a line of switches
ranging from 15 to 450 volts in 15-volt increments. Some of these were
labelled: ‘Slight Shock’ at 15 volts, ‘Moderate Shock’ at 75, ‘Strong Shock’
at 135, and so on up to ‘Danger: Severe Shock’ at 360, and ‘XXX’ at 435.
The subject was told to ask set questions in sequence. If the learner gave the
wrong answer or no answer, the subject was to issue a shock, starting at 15
volts and increasing by 15 volts each time. The shocks were fake, of course.
But the shocks did not seem fake: the subject was given a genuine shock of
45 volts as a sample, and the learner grunted at 75 volts, complained that the
shocks were becoming painful at 120, refused to go on with the experiment
at 150, cried ‘1 can’t stand the pain!’ at 180, screamed at 270, refused to
answer any more questions at 300 and 315, screamed again at 330, and gave
no response at all to any of the final eight shocks. If the subject queried the
procedure or asked to stop, the experimenter replied politely but firmly:
‘Please continue’, then ‘The experiment requires that you continue’, then ‘It is
absolutely essential that you continue’, and finally ‘You have no other choice.
12. Rachana Kamtekar, ‘Situationism and Virtue Ethics on the Content of Our
Character’, Ethics 1 14.3 (2004), pp. 458-91 (466 n. 30).
13. Doris, Lack of Charaeter, p. 63.
14. Other objections to the use of this data are raised by Gopal Sreenivasan in ‘Errors
About Errors; Virtue Theory and Trait Attribution’, Mind I 11.441 (2002), pp. 47-68, and
by John Sabini and Maury Silver on pp. 540-44 of their ‘Lack of Character? Situationism
Critiqued’, Ethics 1 15 (2005), pp. 535-62. These criticisms are misplaced, as Doris rightly
does not use this data as evidence. See also note 23 below, and my ‘Character, Consistency,
and Classification’ (forthcoming).
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you must go on’. The experiment ended either after the subject had reached
the maximum shock or the subject refused to continue after the fourth reply.’ ^
This experiment was repeated with thousands of subjects in various countries across three decades, and consistently around 65 per cent of subjects
continued to administer the shocks all the way up to the maximum of 450
volts. Almost all went at least as far as 150 volts. These results remained the
same in versions in which the learner complained of the effects the shocks
had on his heart.’*
This is not evidence of widespread sadism. The subjects often displayed
‘striking reactions of emotional strain’ and afterwards often reported significant levels of stress and nervous tension. They acted against their compassionate inclinations, it seems, out of obedience to the experimenter: in a
variation where the experimenter was called away and somebody posing as
another volunteer took his place, the proportion of subjects continuing to
the maximum shock level was reduced to 20 per cent.’^
Not just any Idnd of authority figure will do, as Sabini and Silver point out.
The western societies in which these experiments were conducted were not
particularly authoritarian: students often disobeyed their teachers’ instrucUons, for example, and crime was not uncommon; members of the same
society asked to predict how the subjects would behave or asked how they
themselves would behave generally predict mass disobedience, and the actual
results surprise and dismay members of that society.’^
But this does not mitigate against the idea that the subjects were willing to
obey authority of a particular kind. The experimenter was not simply an
authority in the sense of being in charge, but also in the sense that he seemed
well-versed in the ways of psychological experiments. This impression was
reinforced by the language he used in response to protests: not ‘I would like
you to continue’, but ‘the experiment requires that you condnue’, and so on.
His expertise also conferred a certain moral authority on him: his instructions indicated what an intelligent and well-informed person thinks morally
appropriate in such a situation. This point is supported by the version of the
experiment in which there were two experimenters who disagreed at 150 volts
over whether to conrinue: all the subjects stopped at that point.’^ Although
this is usually referred to as an experiment concerned with obedience, therefore, what it uncovered might be better described as deference. In the version
15. Summarized from Stanley Milgram, Obedience to Authority: An Experimental View
(New York: Harper & Row, 1974), ch. 2.
16. See Milgram, Obedience to Authority, ch, 4 experiments I and 2, and ch. 6 experiments
5 and 8.
1 7. See Milgram, Obedience to Authority, ch. 12 and ch. 8 experiment 13.
18. Sabini and Silver, ‘Lack of Character?’, pp. 546-47, esp n. 33. See Milgram, Obedience to Authority, ch. 3.
19. Sabini and Silver, ‘Lack of Character?’, pp. 545-51, esp. 547 n. 33 and 550-51. See
Milgram, Obedience to Authority, ch. 8 experiment 15.
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JOURNAL OF MORAL PHILOSOPHY
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where the experimenter is replaced by someone who appears to be another
volunteer, this person inherits the experimental set-up and so inherits some
but not all of this deference.
The other experiments are less complicated. One of these is the Bystander
Experiment, cited by Doris to show that behaviour is significantly affected by
the presence of passive bystanders. One version of this experiment is concerned with the likelihood of a particular individual helping someone apparently in distress. Students were solicited to participate in a study of games
and puzzles. Each subject was met by a woman posing as a market research
representative, and shown into a room either alone or in the company of an
experimental confederate posing as another solicited student. From the
room, the subjects could see in an adjoining office a ramshackle bookcase
precariously stacked with papers and equipment.
Each subject was given questionnaires to complete, as was the confederate
if there was one, while the woman went into the office, and closed the door.
For a few minutes, the woman could be heard moving things around in the
office, until there was a loud crash and a woman’s scream. ‘Oh my God, my
foot…’, she cried. ‘I… I…can’t move…it. Oh, my ankle. I can’t…can’t…
can’t…getthis thingoff me’. Andsoon, for about a minute, after which she
could be heard muttering, then leaving the office by another door. All of this
was a recording playing in the office, but only 6 per cent of subjects later
reported suspecting that this was so. Of the subjects left in the tesring room
alone, 70 per cent offered to help the woman, whether by entering the office
or by calling out. Experimental confederates posing as solicited students
merely looked up on hearing the scream, then returned to the questionnaires.
Of the subjects left with a confederate, only 7 per cent offered help.^”
The final set of data is from the Samaritan Experiment, cited by all three
proponents of the fragmentation theory. Students at Princeton Theological
Seminary were asked to complete quesrionnaires in one building, then walk
to another building and give a short talk. When leaving the first building,
some were told that they were running late and should hurry, some that they
would reach the next location on time, and some that they were running
ahead of time and would arrive early. On the way to the second building, subjects encountered someone slumped in a doorway, apparently in need of help.
The differing religious and moral outlooks avowed on the questionnaires made
no staristically relevant difference to whether the subjects stopped to help.
Neither did it matter whether a subject was among those asked to talk about
the Parable of the Good Samaritan. What was relevant was the degree of
hurry the subjects were in. Of those who had been told that they needed to
hurry, only 10 per cent stopped to help; of those who had been told that
20. Summary of Bibb Latane and John M. Darley, The Unresponsive Bystander: Why
Doesn’t He Help? (New York: Meredith, 1970), pp. 57-60. See also Doris, Lack of Character.
pp. 32-33.
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Virtue, Character and Situation
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they would be on time, 45 per cent stopped; and of those who had been told
that they would be early, 63 per cent stopped.^’
4. Interpreting the Data
It is unclear exactly why proponents of the fragmentation theory take this
data to be evidence in their favour. Part of the problem is that all three give
ambiguous definitions of the position they are opposed to, the understanding of character purportedly prevalent in ethical discourse. Doris writes that a
trait as traditionally construed would be ‘reliably manifested in trait-relevant
behaviour across a diversity of trait-relevant eliciting conditions that may vary
widely in their conduciveness to the manifestation of the trait in question’.
Merritt writes that a trait as traditionally construed will ‘reliably give rise to
the relevant kind of behaviour, across the full range of situations in which the
behaviour would be appropriate, including situations that exert contrary pressures’. Goldie writes that’we tend to think of character traits as… stable and
consistent in their manifestation in thought, feeling and action across a wide
range of different situations… honest people can be relied on to act honestly
wherever honesty is appropriate’.^^ What is meant by a situation being ‘conducive’ to a certain kind of behaviour, or that kind of behaviour being ‘appropriate’ in that situation?
These could be read as moral terms: the proponents of the fragmentation
theory could be taken to be arguing that the data indicates that whether or
not one will respond correcdy to a moral demand for compassionate behaviour
depends not on whether one is disposed to do so, but on further situational
features such as instructions from an authority figure, one’s degree of hurry,
and the passivity of bystanders. Some of their critics certainly take this to be
their argument. Michael DePaul and Christian Miller, for example, have both
claimed that the data is irrelevant to characterological ethical discourse, since
that discourse does not hold virtues such as compassion to be widespread, but
to be ideals for which we should
^
21. Summary of J.M. Darley and C. Daniel Batson, ‘From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study
of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behaviour’, Journal of Personality and
Social Psychology 27.1 (1973), pp. 100-108. See also Doris, Lack of Character, pp. 33-34;
Merritt, ‘Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality Psychology’, p. 366; and Goldie, On Personality, pp. 62-63.
22. Doris, Lack of Character, p. 22; Merritt, ‘Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality
Psychology’, pp. 365-66; Goldie, On Personality, p. 50. Doris provides much the same understanding of traits in his earlier paper, where he first puts forward his argument against the
traditional conception of character: ‘Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics’, NoOs 32.4 (1998),
pp. 504-30 (506-507).
23. Michael DePaul, ‘Gharacter Traits, Virtues, and Vices: Are There None?’, in
Bernard Elevitch (ed.). Proceedings of the Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy. IX- Philosopity
ofMind (Bowling Green, OH: Philosophy Documentation Genter, 2000), pp. 150-53; Miller,
‘Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics’, §1V. See also Sreenivasan, ‘Errors About Errors’, p. 57.
Similarly, when Sabini and Silver argue that the low correlations reported in the honesty
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Some of the language Doris employs suggests that this is indeed his argument. In his discussion ofthe Samaritan Experiment, he anticipates the objection that the subjects who did not stop to help were indeed compassionate
but also had a strong concern for punctuality, and argues that this cannot be
the case since ‘the demands of punctuality seem rather slight compared with
the ethical demand to at least check on the condition of the confederate’.
This seems to assume that the point at issue is whether the subjects in the
experiment had the virtue of compassion, whether they habitually responded
compassionately to the apparent distress of others when doing so was morally
appropriate. Similarly, he describes subjects in the Obedience Experiment as
engaging in ‘destructive behaviour’, and summarizes the results of the Bystander Experiment as showing that ‘[mjild social pressures can result in
neglect of apparently serious ethical demands’,^” It seems that this language
has led critics to take his central claim to be that the experiments show that
people do not possess virtues, that they do not habitually respond in the
right way to particular morally relevant situational features.
But this is not the point of his argument. In the article in which he first
presented his view, he is careful to distinguish the ‘descriptive psychology’ of
traits from the ‘normative theory’ of virtue in the opening pages before presenting his central argument in terms of traits rather than virtues, and then
considering whether one might argue that such an attack on the traditional
notion of traits fails to impugn the notion of virtue employed in ethical discourse.^^ His book is also generally clear that his argument aims to show not
that people do not have virtues, but that they do not have any character traits
as traditionally conceived. This is also the claim made by Merritt and Goldie.
That character traits and virtues are indeed conceptually distinct will be
illustrated in more detail in the next section. Here it is sufficient to note that
the idea that one can be habitually too courageous or inappropriately honest
is a philosophical commonplace. We should therefore take the terms ‘conducive’ and ‘appropriate’ in these definitions of character traits as non-moral,
descriptive terms: the proponents of the fragmentation theory take the data
to indicate that whether or not one will respond to the apparent distress of
another person by trying to alleviate it depends not on whether one is disposed to do so, but on situational features such as instructions from an
authority figure, one’s degree of hurry, and the passivity of bystanders.
It is unclear just why they understand the data this way. Goldie does not
formulate an argument, Merritt does so, but only briefly. She claims that the
experiments are perfectly compatible with the idea that some people are consistently honest
while non-honest people are inconsistent, they are mistakenly taking Doris to he arguing
that there is no consistent virtue of honesty rather than that people generally do not act
consistently, whether this consistency he virtuous or otherwise. See their ‘Lack of Character?’, pp. 542-43.
24. Doris, Lack of Character, pp. 34, 39, 33.
25. Doris, ‘Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics’, pp, 505, 506-507, 511-13,
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data shows behavioural dispositions to be related to such ‘ethically arbitrary
situational factors’ as one’s degree of hurry or the presence of passive bystanders, and that the traditional understanding of character should lead us
to expect that this is not the case.’^^ But without further elaboration, it is
difficult to see why the traditional theory of character should lead us to expect
that people do not have commitments to punctuality or to peer-approval
strong enough to preclude their offering help in certain types of situation.
Doris is more explicit. He hinges his argument on the claim that: ‘If a person possesses a trait, that person will engage in trait-relevant behaviours in
trait-relevant eliciting conditions with markedly above chance probability
p’P We can make sense of this notion of ‘chance’ behaviour only as a comparison between the agent and the population at large: if a person possesses
a certain trait, then the probability of that person behaving in a way that
manifests that trait in a given situation is significantly greater than the probability of a randomly chosen member of the population doing so. But this
seems to imply that traits are comparative notions, and that it is incoherent
to hold that a whole population could possess any given trait. This notion is
therefore distinct from the notion traditionally employed by theories that
encourage us all to develop certain traits. But Doris does not want to provide
such a comparative theory of traits: he agrees that ‘in principle, every individual in a population could possess a [particular] trait’.^^ It seems, therefore,
that his reference to probability should not be taken as a constitutive claim,
but as an evidential one: an abnormally high probability that a given person
will seek to alleviate the apparent distress of another person indicates the
presence of the corresponding character trait, but the trait could be possessed
without that high probability being abnormal.
This reading fits well with his remark about the Obedience Experiment that
‘personality research has failed to find a convincing explanation of [these]
results that references individual differences’.^’ The traditional understanding
of traits should lead us to expect to find the subjects of these experiments
behaving in different ways according to their differing traits. Instead, he
claims, we find near-uniformity in the Obedience Experiment, since even
those who rebelled at some point had seemingly high levels of shock at the
experimenter’s instruction, and we find that the likelihood that one will help
a distressed stranger varies with one’s degree of hurry and with the presence
or absence of a passive bystander rather than varying from individual to
individual.
It seems that Doris interprets the data this way: evidence for the regularity
theory would be provided if there were a significant diversity of behaviour
among the subjects of these experiments, but there is not; therefore the
26.
27.
28.
29.
Merritt, ‘Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality Psychology’, p. 366.
Ooris, Lack of Character, p. 19.
Doris, Lack of Character, p. 19.
Doris, Lack of Character, p. 39. He defends this claim at length on pp. 46-51.
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experiments that we would expect to provide evidence for the regularity theory
fail to provide that evidence. His argument is therefore the following modus
tollens: if we possess character traits as traditionally construed, then these
experiments should yield a diversity of behaviour; but they do not, so we do
not possess character traits as traditionally construed.^”
It might be objected that at least some of the data does indicate a diversity
of behaviour. The Bystander Experiment suggests that 63 per cent of the
population will offer help to a distressed stranger in another room in the
absence of a passive bystander but not in the presence of one; 7 per cent of
the population will offer help in both situations, and 30 per cent will offer
help in neither. The Samaritan Experiment similarly suggests that 10 per cent
of the population will help a distressed stranger even when late for an appointment, 35 per cent will not do so when late for an appointment but will do so
when on schedule for an appointment or when having time to spare, 18 per
cent will not do so when late or on schedule but will do so when having time
to spare, and 37 per cent will not help at all. But this objection does not challenge the claim that the Obedience Experiment shows a remarkable uniformity
among subjects.
A stronger response is to query the notion of character traits employed in
the argument. This construes a trait in purely behaviourist terms, as the disposition to respond in a certain kind of way to a certain kind of stimulus. But
a trait might rather be construed as a disposition towards certain behavioural
inclinations in response to a particular kind of stimulus. Situations can present an array of features eliciting a variety of inclinations that cannot all be
acted upon. Subjects in the Obedience Experiment, for example, are presented
with the competing demands of concern for the wellbeing of the learner and
obedience or deference to the authority of the experimenter, and so may have
inclinations against administering the shocks, but also stronger inclinations
towards obedience or deference. The emotional strain manifested by some of
the subjects sweating, shaking, stammering, and even crying as they obeyed
the experimenter is evidence of their inclinations against administering the
shocks. One’s overt behaviour is the result of the relative strengths of one’s
30. See also his statement of this argument in ‘Persons, Situations, and Virtue Ethics’:
‘we are justified in inferring the existence of an Aristotelian personality structure when a
person’s behaviour reliably conforms to the patterns expected on postulation of that structure. In the psychological lexicon, we can say that trait attribution requires substantial crosssituational consistency… If I am right about the experimental data, systematic observation
typically reveals failures of cross-situational consistency’ (p. 507, italics original). When
Sreenivasan objects that Doris mistakes evidence of flaws in our everyday trait-attributions
for evidence that there are no traits as ordinarily construed {‘Errors About Errors’, p. 54), he
therefore fails to engage with the central argument Doris provides (but see also p. 56). When
Kamtekar claims that such empirical arguments against ‘virtue ethics’ wrongly suppose that
traits must be distinctive to the individuals possessing them (‘Situationism and Virtue Ethics
on the Content of Our Character’, pp. 467-68), she similarly fails to engage with this
argument.
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competing inclinations, on this picture, and the differences between the
levels at which different subjects ended the experiment reflect differences in
the relative strengths of their competing inclinations just as do their differing
manifestations of stress.
We might term this understanding of character the ‘regularity’ theory,
since it claims behaviour to be regulated by long-term dispositions to have
inclinations of certain strengths to behave in certain ways in response to
certain kinds of stimuli, and the patterns we discern in the behaviour of individuals over time to reflect these dispositions. In order to count as a character trait, such a disposition must yield an inclination of about the same
strength whenever the subject is confronted with the relevant kind of situational feature where this is described in non-normative terms, though as we
shall see in the next two sections this inclination need not necessarily be
consciously felt in order to play the explanatory role required of it.
If we employ this regularity theory when interpreting the data, we find the
positive evidence in favour of differing character traits that Doris urges us to
look for: as we have seen, the subjects of the Samaritan Experiment differ in
their inclinations towards helping a distressed stranger and towards punctuality; the subjects in the Bystander Experiment differ in their inclinations
towards helping an apparently distressed stranger and towards winning or
maintaining peer-approval; and the subjects in the Obedience Experiment
differ in their inclinations towards obedience to authority and their inclinations against inflicting pain.^’
As we will see in the next section, moreover, the regularity theory underlies
key aspects of Aristotle’s ethics and of some prominent recent works influenced by it. The argument against characterological ethical discourse mounted
by Doris therefore misses its target: so long as that discourse retains the
regularity theory, the data Doris cites will present no threat to it. But this is
not yet to show that there is any positive reason to prefer the regularity theory
to the fragmentation theory, which will be shown in section six.
5. Character in Ethical Discourse
Various key aspects of characterological ethical discourse involve this notion
of a trait as a relatively stable disposition to be inclined with a certain
strength towards a certain kind of behaviour in response to a certain kind of
31. As we saw in section 3, the authority involved in the Obedience Experiment is that
of an institutional expert and moral guide, not simply that of the person in charge. Sabini
and Silver question whether the behaviour of the subjects in the Samaritan Experiment
should he described in terms of punctuality, preferring instead to invoke potential embarrassment at arriving late (‘Lack of Character? Sittiationism Critiqued’, p. 558). But these
explanations seem complementary rather than contrary. Potential embarrassment could
enforce one’s acting on one’s commitment to punctuality, and without that commitment it
is difficult to see why somebody would be embarrassed by being late rather than proud of
having stopped to help.
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situational feature. The wellspring of the tradition, Aristotle’s Nicomachean
Ethics, contains a number of prominent examples, and descendents of these
ideas prominent in recent literature retain the conception of trait they
involve, as we shall see.
Aristotle makes it abundantly clear that the kinds of traits that he recommends as virtuous are certainly not dispositions to behave in a certain kind
of way whenever or almost whenever a certain kind of situational feature is
present. He considers such traits to be vices of excess: giving money away at
every or almost every opportunity is not generosity, but profligacy; never or
hardly ever recoiling from danger is not courage, but foolhardiness; and so
on. The vice consists not just in behaving in a certain way too often, but in
behaving in that way on inappropriate as well as appropriate occasions. Possessing a specific virtue, on the other hand, means that one will act in a certain way ‘when one should, towards the things one should, in relation to the
people one should, for the reasons one should, and in the way one should’.^^
Someone might commit murder in the face of real danger, but would not
thereby display the virtue of courage, since the intrepid act was inappropriate for other reasons. Someone who tells the truth even in situations where
the demands of compassion make it inappropriate does not fully possess the
virtue of honesty.
Underlying this theory is the idea that each trait leads one to be inclined
with a certain degree of strength towards certain kinds of actions in certain
kinds of situations, and that such traits are virtues only if these inclinations
are tempered by other inclinations that constrain the range of occasions on
which they will result in action. This explains why Aristotle takes the full
possession of one virtue to require full possession of all virtues, and to hold
that ‘virtue in the primary sense’ consists in this possession of full virtue.
There is, for Aristotle, a single web of interdependent virtues: full possession
of any one virtue means habitually being inclined to behave in a certain way
with the right degree of strength in the presence of a certain situational
feature, where what is right is relative to the strength of one’s other habitual
inclinations in response to other possible situational features.^^
John McDowell has argued for a similar position on the grounds that
‘virtue issues in nothing but right conduct’.^” Philippa Foot, on the other
hand, has disagreed with such a stringent criterion for virtue, arguing that a
trait counts as virtuous so long as it usually issues in right conduct. On the
occasions when it does not, it is not ‘operating as a virtue’ because its manifestation ought to have been precluded by another trait, which the agent
32. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, translated by Christopher Rowe, with introduction and
commentary by Sarah Broadie (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002). Quotation is from
lI06b21-23; see also 1115bl5-20.
33. Nicomachean Ethics, 1144b32-l 145a2.
34. )ohn McDowell, ‘Virtue and Reason’, Monist 62 (1979), pp. 331-50. Reprinted in his
Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 1998), §2.
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unfortunately lacks. But one can, according to Foot, possess a virtue that does
not always operate as a virtue.^^ McDowell and Foot nevertheless agree that
the traits in question are dispositions to be inclined with a certain degree of
strength to a certain kind of action in response to a certain kind of situational feature; they disagree only over the criteria for such traits to be
counted as virtuous. Where McDowell holds that the murderer’s trait of
courage cannot be virtuous because it is not accompanied by the right level
of aversion to killing. Foot holds that it is virtuous so long as it is usually
manifested in good behaviour.
Aristotle’s discussion of self-control and weakness of will also seems to
involve this notion of character trait. The difference between genuine virtue
and mere self-control, he claims, is that only the latter involves a struggle to
overcome contrary inclinations; the difference between vice and mere weakness of will is that only the latter involves such a struggle; and the difference
between self-control and wealcness of will is that the inclination one believes
one ought to act on wins the struggle in the former case, loses it in the latter.
The picture is complicated, of course, by the fact that one might have an
additional disposition towards being inclined to do whatever one believes
one should do. But even when such a trait is in play, it seems that weakness
of will results from the inclination acted upon being stronger than the combination of the inclination one believes one should act on and the inclination
to do whatever one believes one should do. Self-control results from this
combination being stronger than the inclination to behave otherwise.
McDowell has recently echoed this view, claiming that the virtuous person
acts for a reason that ‘is apprehended, not as outweighing or overriding any
reasons for acting in other ways…but as silencing them’.^^ The virtuous person pursues the right course of action without consciously considering any
other. One might disagree and argue that an action is virtuous even when the
right reason is apprehended as more important than reasons for contrary
actions, whereas merely self-controlled action involves a genuine struggle to
act on the right reason. But it would remain that virtue and vice involve a
greater difference between the strengths of competing inclinations than do
strength and weakness of will.
This difference between acting as a result of conscious consideration and
acting without such conscious consideration reflects the difference between
the two ways in which Aristotle and his followers think that traits lead to
action. When faced with a situation that seems to call for mutually exclusive
responses, these responses reflect different if overlapping sets of one’s values
and attachments. One will therefore need to deliberate, to consider which of
the conflicting values one attaches most weight to, which one is most strongly
35. Philippa Foot, ‘Virtues and Vices’, in her Virtues and Viees and Other Essays in Moral
Philosophy (Oxford: Blackvvell, 1978), §111.
36. Aristotle, Nieomachean Ethics, book 7 chapters 1-10. esp. 1146b31-5; McDowell,
‘Virtue and Reason’, §3.
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inclined to act upon.^^ But sometimes it just seems to one without conscious
deliberation that a certain course of action is the right one to pursue. Aristotle considered character to be reflected in such instances no less than in
the outcomes of deliberation, and this idea is emphasized by McDowell along
with Iris Murdoch, David Wiggins, and Martha Nussbaum, among others.^^
An inclination to behave in a certain way need not result directly from a
disposition to have that kind of inclination in response to a certain kind of
feature, therefore, since it could result from the combination of a number of
dispositions elicited by different features of the situation. One may be less
strongly inclined to tell the truth to someone who might be upset by it than
one would be otherwise, but be inclined to do so nonetheless; one’s inclination would therefore result from one’s disposition towards a strong inclination
to tell the truth in conjunction with one’s disposition towards a less strong
inclination not to upset people. This resulting inclination could result from
conscious deliberation, or from the processing underlying one’s perception of
the situation. In the latter case, one need not even consciously feel the inclination not to upset people.
The ideas surveyed in this section, drawn from Aristotle and prominent
recent discussions of virtue involve the same idea of a character trait, one
that stands in contrast to the conception employed by the proponents of the
fragmentation theory of character. We have already seen that the claim that
people differ in character is positively confirmed by the data cited against it so
long as we interpret that data using this notion of traits commonly employed
in characterological ethical discourse, rather than the behaviourist notion
employed by the critics of that discourse. But this leaves open the question
of which of these conceptions we should prefer. The next section presents an
argument in favour of retaining the traditional notion employed by Aristotle
and his followers, rather than replacing it with the behaviourist notion
employed by Doris, Merritt, and Goldie.
6. Explanation and Prediction
The traditional conception of a character trait as a disposition towards a certain inclination in the presence of a certain situational feature is preferable
37. See Bernard Williams, ‘Internal and External Reasons’, in his Moral Luck: Philosophical Papers ;973-/980 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981), p. 104. Aristotle’s
lengthy and scattered thoughts on deliberation are discussed in: Richard Sorabji, ‘Aristotle
on the Role of Intellect in Virtue’, pp. 205-207; David Wiggins, ‘Deliberation and Practical
Reason’, pp. 231-37; both in Essays on Aristotle’s Ethics, ed. Amelie Oksenberg Rorty
(Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1980).
38. Nieomachean Ethics, 1143bl 1-14; see also 1 109bl8-23, 1126b2-4and 1142a27-30;
Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty ofCood Over Other Concepts (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1967), p. 20; McDowell, ‘Virtue and Reason’, §2; Wiggins, ‘Deliberation and
Practical Reason’, pp. 232-33; Martha C. Nussbaum, ‘The Discernment of Perception: An
Aristotelian Conception of Private and Public Rationality’, in her Love’s Knowledge: Essays on
Philosophy and Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), esp. pp. 74 and 79.
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to its beliaviourist riva] for ihe pragmatic reason that it provides a deeper
]eve] of exp]anation, and so has greater predictive power. The behaviourist
notion explains an action by the trait of responding in a certain way to a certain combination of environmental stimuli, such as sailing in rough weather
with friends or passing a distressed stranger while in a hurry. The traditional
notion, however, can allow us to explain why that combination of stimuli
leads to that behaviour from that person. It does so by referring to a number
of inclinations and their relative strengths elicited in that person by that
situation. We can therefore predict that person’s behaviour in a novel situation that combines only features already observed, by considering the outcome ofthe combination ofthe traits known to be elicited by those features.
The behaviourist notion, on the other hand, requires us to consider the novel
situation as eliciting a trait not previously observed, and therefore unknown.
Advocates of the behaviourist notion might argue that this deeper level of
explanation is simply not available, that we can do no more than observe
overt action in response to environmental stimuli. They might further claim
that belief in this deeper level of explanation is the reason why predictions of
behaviour often fail. One way to decide whether this is true would be to
undertake longitudinal studies. If consistent observation and classification of
the actions of a few individuals over significant stretches of time were to yield
reliable predictions of their behaviour in novel situations, then the traditional
notion would be shown to be preferable to the behaviourist notion. If it were
to yield no such reliability, then the traditional notion would have no such
advantage.
Such longitudinal studies would require long-term detailed surveillance of
the public and private lives of people unaware of being under surveillance
and are therefore unavailable to professional psychologists for both logistical
and ethical reasons,^’ But these kinds of studies are not necessary for settling
this issue. Latitudinal studies, in which different subjects are tested in the
same situation, can provide evidence of this deeper level of explanation, and
hence also evidence of character traits as traditionally construed.
One study that provides such evidence was originally designed to explain
the following difference in homicide rates between the northern and southern
regions of the USA: white males in large southern cities are no more likely to
commit homicide than are their counterparts in large northern cities, but
those who do commit homicide are significantly more likely to do so as a
result of an argument; and white males in rural areas and small urban areas
in the southern states are no more likely to commit homicide as a result of a
39. Some philosophers argue that longitudinal studies are available in the form of novels
and the writings of other acute observers of human behaviour. I defend this view in ‘Character, Common-Sense, and Expertise’. But since the traditional notion of a character trait can
be shown to be preferable to its behaviourist rival by reference to recent experimental data,
there is no need to make a more controversial appeal to non-experimental literature here.
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crime than are their northern counterparts, but are twice as likely to commit
homicide as a result of an argument.'”^
The experimenters tested the hypothesis that these differences were due to
a southern culture of honour, more pronounced in rural and small urban areas
than in larger, more cosmopolitan cities. Their subjects were white, nonJewish, non-Hispanic, male citizens ofthe USA studying at the University of
Michigan. They were divided between ‘southerners’, defined as having lived
in ‘southern’ states for at least six years, and ‘northerners’, who had lived in
‘southern’ states for less than six years if at all. On average, the southerners
had lived in ‘southern’ states for 80 per cent of their lives, the northerners
for 5 per cent.”’ Evidence of a southern culture of honour would be provided
if southerners were shown to he significantly more likely than northerners to
react violently to insults.
Each subject was asked to complete a questionnaire, deliver it to a room at
the end of a long corridor, and return. Some subjects passed someone in the
corridor who had to close a filing cabinet to let them pass, then had to do so
again on their return, and so bumped them with his shoulder and insulted
them as they passed. For control subjects, the corridor was empty. There are
three variations of the experiment. In one, subjects were then asked to complete a story, which began at a party with Jill telling her fiance Steve that a
mutual friend Larry, who knew that Jill and Steve were engaged, had been
making passes at her, and stopped with Steve seeing Larry trying to kiss Jill.
75 per cent of insulted southerners ended the story with Steve injuring or
threatening to injure Larry, whereas only 20 per cent of control southerners
did so. Having recently been insulted made no statistically relevant difference to how northerners ended the story.
In the second variation, saliva tests were taken before the questionnaires
were filled in and after the subject returned from dropping off the questionnaire. Differences in levels of two hormones were measured: cortisol, associated
with high levels of stress, anxiety and arousal; and testosterone, associated
with aggression and dominance behaviour. The cortisol levels of insulted
southerners rose by an average of 79 per cent during the experiment, whereas
those of control southerners rose by an average of 42 per cent. The cortisol
levels of insulted northerners rose by an average of 33 per cent, compared
with the control northerners’ average of 39 per cent. Similarly, testosterone
levels rose 12 per cent for insulted southerners and only 4 per cent for control southerners, where these rose 6 per cent for insulted northerners and 4
per cent for control northerners. So there is a significantly larger average
40. See Richard E. Nisbettand Dov Cohen, Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in
the South (Oxford and Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1996), p. 21.
41. For more on the definitions of ‘northern’ and ‘southern’ used here, see Nisbett and
Cohen, Culture of Honor, Appendix C.
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increase in both cortisol and testosterone levels during the experiment for
insulted southerners than for control southerners or any northerners.
In the third, ‘chicken’ variation, the subject returning along the corridor
was faced with somebody coming the other way, who was six feet and three
inches (one metre and 90 centimetres) tall, weighed 250 pounds (17 stone
and 12 pounds; 114 kilograms), and played college football. All subjects gave
way. They differed in the distance at which they did so. Insulted southerners
yielded at an average of around three feet (90 centimetres), control southerners at about nine feet. Insulted northerners yielded at around six feet,
control northerners at around five and a half. The insults therefore made a
significant difference in the case of southerners, but not in the case of northerners,*^
If we adopt the behaviourist notion of traits, these experiments suggest
only that none of the subjects have the trait of responding violently to insults
in experimental situations, that southerners are more likely than northerners
to have the trait of completing the story violently after being insulted in an
experimental situation, and that southerners are more likely than northerners to have the trait of displaying increased bravado shortly after being
insulted in experimental conditions. These are distinct traits. The data concerning cortisol and testosterone levels does not report any behaviour, and so
does not indicate any difference in traits. The traits that are indicated, moreover, cannot be linked to any data concerning homicide occurring outside
experimental conditions, since the traits manifested are relative to those conditions. Indeed, since homicide is committed in a wide range of situations,
the behaviourist notion of traits precludes any explanation of the homicide
data in terms of trait differences between southerners and northerners.
The traditional notion of traits, on the other hand, allows us to explain the
homicide data and the data from the story and chicken variations of the
experiment in terms of a trait prevalent among southerners but not northerners: a disposition to be strongly inclined to respond violently when
insulted. Evidence of the inclination elicited by insults is provided by the
saliva tests. The fact that nobody actually did respond violently can be
explained by the other relevant inclinations in play in the experimental situation. This information allows predictions of results of future experiments that
also test reactions to insults or slights among northerners and southerners, but
test these in different ways. The traditional notion of traits therefore genuinely does have an explanatory and predictive power that the behaviourist
notion lacks. We should therefore choose to interpret data using this traditional notion.
42, Nisbett and Cohen, Culture of Honor, ch, A. For further data in support of the theory
of a southern culture of honour, see chs, 3 and 5; for more on what this culture involves, see
chs, 1 and 6.
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7. Conclusions and Implications
At issue between the regularity and fragmentary theories of character is a
conceptual question: should we prefer the traditional notion of traits that
leads to the regularity theory, or the behaviourist one that leads to the fragmentary theory? We have seen that the traditional notion is preferable
because it allows for a deeper level of explanation, and therefore has greater
explanatory and predictive power.
Evidence of this deeper level of explanation is provided by a set of experiments that measure not just overt behavioural responses to environmental
stimuli, but also inner events mediating between stimulus and response: the
saliva tests measure physiological priming for aggression and dominance
behaviour, and the story experiment measures cognitive priming for such
behaviour; neither measures such behaviour itself. The chicken variation
measures subtle dominance behaviour indicative of violent inclinations, but
not violent behaviour. The Samaritan and Bystander Experiments, on the
other hand, report only stimuli and overt behavioural responses, and the
Obedience Experiment measures only these things. There is a methodological
lesson in this: if we are to retain the regularity theory of character and the
related notion of traits as dispositions to behavioural inclinations, then
empirical data employed in philosophical discussions of character should be
drawn from experiments reporting inner mediating events, not those reporting only behavioural responses to stimuli, since inclinations are not always
manifest in behaviour. In addition to this, there are further implications for
the philosophical discussion of character and virtue to be drawn from the
foregoing discussion.
First, the data concerning responses to insults also indicates that the relevant dispositions vary with cultural background, which shows that we could
in principle inculcate a particular kind of habitual response to insults in our
children, at least by manipulating their cultural background. Whether an
adult’s habitual response to insults can be altered is another issue. Perhaps it
is impossible, perhaps it requires relocation to another culture, or perhaps it
is possible without relocation. Perhaps it is possible but extremely difficult,
either with or without relocation. This is an empirical issue. Whether adults
can be enjoined to inculcate in themselves a particular kind of habitual
response to insults, and if so how this might most expediently be done, are
therefore matters requiring further empirical investigation.
It may be, of course, that some traits do not vary with cultural background,
while others do. Perhaps our levels of obedience or deference to certain types
of authority, for example, are hard-wired. If so, ethical theories enjoining
inculcation of any contrary inclination would be unacceptable, though ones
urging us to resist inclinations issuing from such hard-wired traits would not.
Ethical theories of character-development would also have to consider the
behaviour likely to result from the combination of each recommended trait
WEBBER
Virtue, Character and Situation
213
with this set level of obedience or deference to certain types of authority. Further empirical research is required, therefore, to discern whether any traits
are inherent and unchangeable.
Where the recent philosophical literature on ethics and empirical psychology has discussed character in general, moreover, it seems necessary to treat
traits severally. Perhaps concern for peer approval is unalterably high in
humans, for example, where concern for the welfare of others is culturally
variable. Perhaps concern for punctuality is very difficult to change in adult
life, but concern for keeping one’s word is not. Ethical injunctions and their
implementation will need to take account of such differences between traits.
But this is not so straightforward as it might seem, since there seems no obvious reason to believe that the folk psychological terms employed in ordinary
English individuate traits correctly. If traits are dispositions towards certain
inclinations of certain strengths in response to certain environmental stimuli,
their individuation requires reference to the range of stimuli that elicit them.
Discussion ofthe individuation of traits should also draw on empirical investigation.
Philosophical discussions of the ethics of character therefore require a
considerable amount of empirical information. Two ofthe proponents ofthe
fragmentation theory have also argued, as we have seen, that the project of
character-development should be replaced with one of situation-management.
It might turn out that this advice is right, even though the fragmentation
theory of character need not be embraced. It might simply be that characterdevelopment is not feasible, either generally or with respect to certain traits.
Whether or not situation-management is preferable to character-development,
therefore, is an issue to be settled by the same kinds of empirical investigation involved in the discussion of the individuation and development of
behavioural inclinations.
This is not to deny, of course, that ethics is an irreducibly normative discipline. It is not to suggest that psychology is a guide to moral value. It is
just to point out that since a practical ethical recommendation is acceptable
only if it is reasonable to expect people to follow it, theories that recommend
character-development should be formulated and assessed with reference to
empirical studies of the nature of behavioural inclinations, studies that are
becoming increasingly available.

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