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In this paper I want to explore, and suggest a theoretical explanation of, an apparent asymmetry governing some of our most basic ethical judgments. I also want to use this asymmetry to probe into the relative plausibility of ‘moral character’ and ‘volition’ based accounts of moral responsibility. Briefly, my argument will be that, with suitable modifications, the latter type of account succeeds just where the former, the more Aristotelian approach, breaks down.
Consider, first, a series of acts exemplifying the same vice.A person, say, is repeatedly late or is consistently selfish. Now our tendency here, surely, would be to view such acts as increasingly blameworthy — increasingly worthy, one might say, of some form of punishment (or, perhaps better to say, worthy of increasingly severe punishments) — as they are repeated.
Jonathan Bennett, Nomy Arpaly, and others see in Huckleberry Finn's apparent praiseworthiness for not turning Jim in (even though this goes against his own moral judgments in the matter) a model for an improved, non-intellectualist approach to moral appraisal. I try to show – both on Aristotelian and on independent grounds – that these positions are fundamentally flawed. In the process, I try to show how Huck may be blameless for lacking what would have been a praiseworthy belief (that I should help Jim), hence, blameless for not acting on this belief; but being ‘blamelessly unpraiseworthy’ is not the same thing as being praiseworthy.
This paper examines the relative voluntariness of three types of virtue: ‘epistemic’ virtues like open-mindedness; ‘motivational’ virtues like courage, and more robustly ‘moral’ virtues like justice. A somewhat novel conception of the voluntariness of belief is offered in terms of the limited, but quite real, voluntariness of certain epistemic virtues.
Gilbert Harman and John Doris (among others) have maintained that experimental studies of human behaviour give good grounds for denying the very existence of moral character. This research, according to Harman and Doris, shows human behaviour to be dependent not on character but mainly on one's ‘situation.’ My paper develops a number of criticisms of this view, among them that social science experiments are ill-suited to study character, insofar as they do not estimate the role of character in continuously shaping the direction of one's life—including what situations one is apt to get into in the first place.
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