Are Character Traits Reliable?

Published: 2021-07-21 20:40:08
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Category: Metaphysics, Virtue, Character Traits

Type of paper: Essay

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Amanda Thomas Philosophy 103 November 19, 2012 Paper No. 2 In the book “Experiments in Ethics” by Kwame Anthony Appiah he states that “Individual moments of compassion and honesty makes our lives better, even if we are not compassionate through and through”. (Appiah 70) He also continues on to say that “[w]e can’t be content with knowing what kind of people we are; it matters, too, what kind of people we hope to be” (Appiah 72). He discusses the relationship between moral philosophy and scientific research.
He used some research experiments such as Milgrams and The Good Samaritan to further explain this quote. During these discussions he explains the difference between situationist and globalist/virtue ethics. Situationists are people who feel that what predicts behavior are situational factors instead of character traits. Globalists disagree with that statement and argue that character traits predict behavior. They also propose that good actions are defined as those done by people with the proper virtues and that virtues exist as part of individuals’ character makeup.
A variety of psychological studies doubt these premises. The main issue is whether we have stable personality and character traits. Appiah uses modus tollens to give a logically from of the situationist argument. If the juice is made with sugar, then the juice is sweet. The juice is not sweet. Therefore, the juice is not made with sugar. One premises using modus tollens that a situationist could agree on is that if virtue ethics is true, then character traits predict behavior. Character traits don’t predict behavior; therefore virtue ethics is not true.



Appiah takes the Milgram experiment to rule out certain strong forms of virtue ethics. He notes that virtue ethics can still serve as a guide to life, defining the ideals that should serve as our aims, even thought we rarely live up to them. Moral psychology imposes limits on the kind of people we can become. Appiah uses a phrase that is, of course, necessary to consider in combination with the quote just mentioned, which is this “We imperfect creatures …” (Appiah 53). Darley and Batson’s ‘Good Samaritan’ study was conducted by viewing helping behavior in which students at the Princeton
Theological Seminary were asked to make individual presentations on the story of “The Good Samaritan”. The accomplice was slumped in a doorway in need of help. Unrushed seminarians helped the accomplice over 60% of the time. When seminarians were told beforehand that they were late for their presentation the helping rate dropped dramatically. Appiah accepts that if the situationist case is as right, then globalism needs to be rejected. However, he argues that virtue ethics can live on even with the end of globalism, or at least he argues that virtue still matters in a world in which situationist lessons are learned.
We hope to develop consistent character traits and to obtain a highly assimilated character, the efforts of attempting to behave in ways show that virtues is one that is worth making. It makes our lives better if we help others a bit more when we are in a hurry than we would if we were unconcerned about attempting to obtain the virtues. He also feels that one can take and embrace the truth in both virtue ethics and situationist by putting people in situations where their virtue is maximized. He feels that the premises aren’t necessarily all true.
Appiah believes that experimental research has an even deeper connection to morality. To some extent, we have to trust our gut feelings when determining what is right and wrong. He states in Chapter 1 that “The conjunction of virtue ethics and situationism urges us to make it easier both to avoid doing what murderers do and to avoid being what murderersare. ”I believe that Appiah’s view on virtue ethics and situationist is true. Character traits aren’t completely reliable and certain character traits can help determine how you act in a certain situation but, also certain situations can completely dismay your character traits.

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