Skepticism about Character Traits
The Journal of Ethics
By Gilbert Harman.
"The first part of this article discusses
recent skepticism about character traits. The second describes various
forms of virtue ethics as reactions to such skepticism. The philosopher
J.-P. Sartre argued in the 1940s that character traits are pretenses, a
view that the sociologist E. Goffman elaborated in the 1950s. Since
then social psychologists have shown that attributions of character
traits tend to be inaccurate through the ignoring of situational
factors. (Personality psychology has tended to concentrate on people’s
conceptions of personality and character rather than on the accuracy of
these conceptions). Similarly, the political theorist R. Hardin has
argued for situational explanations of bloody social disputes in the
former Yugoslavia and in Africa, rather than explanations in terms of
ethnic hatred for example. A version of virtue ethics might identify
virtues as characteristics of acts rather than character traits, as
traits consisting in actual regularities in behavior, or as robust
dispositions that would manifest themselves also in counterfactual
Read the article.
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(My publication)Posted: Monday, September 14, 2009