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Virtue and Empirical Psychology


This dissertation analyzes the relationship between empirical social psychology and the philosophical tradition of virtue ethics. It argues that social psychology is conceptually important for virtue ethics, that their relationship has been misunderstood by some prominent philosophers, and that a wide variety of evidence from social psychology is useful and inspirational for virtue ethics. First, it offers several novel criticisms of a well-known critique of virtue ethics. This critique claims that the body of evidence in situationist psychology shows that humans are incapable of possessing general dispositions of characters, of which virtues are a subset, and that therefore virtue ethics is empirically inadequate. This critique is mistaken because it fails to distinguish between moral competence and moral performance, it fails to appreciate the difference between the moral psychology of virtue and that of vice, and it fails to acknowledge the wide breadth of psychological evidence that paints a more nuanced picture of human capacity to possess a general character disposition. Second, this dissertation takes some of the evidence grounding the situationist critique and analyzes it within the virtue ethics framework. This evidence, along with historical traditions valuing mindfulness in Stoicism and non-Western philosophy, suggests that virtue ethics ought to entertain mindfulness as a potential virtue. Rather than grounding an argument against the possibility of virtue, this evidence can be used to help illuminate a key aspect of practical wisdom. Third, this dissertation takes further topics in social psychology, unrelated to the situationist critique, as evidence for the importance of the disposition of humility.

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