The problem of character

Authored by: Christian Miller

The Handbook of Virtue Ethics

Print publication date:  November  2013
Online publication date:  September  2014

Print ISBN: 9781844656394
eBook ISBN: 9781315729053
Adobe ISBN: 9781317544777


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In the recent literature there has been a widely discussed attack on using what I will call “traditional” character traits in ethical theorizing. These character traits include the classic moral virtues such as compassion, honesty and courage, along with the classic moral vices such as cruelty, dishonesty and cowardice. The main philosophers leading this attack have been Gilbert Harman (in a series of papers dating back to 1999), and John Doris in several papers and most importantly in his Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior (2002). 1 In this chapter, I first summarize the main line of argument used by Harman and Doris against Aristotelian virtue ethics in particular. In the following section I present what seems to me to be the most promising response to their argument. Finally I briefly review and assess the other leading responses in the now sizable literature that has developed in this area.

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