John Doris’s criticism of Aristotelian virtue ethics utilizing and supporting Situationist experiments is an interesting position but I argue that the points brought forth by Kamtekar in response to situationist criticisms are superior, supporting the ideals of virtue ethics on character. I will first explain Aristotle’s views regarding virtue ethics and the criticisms that empirical psychology brings up and attempts to support with the consequences of several situationist experiments discussed by John Doris.
Aristotle is a virtue ethicist who argues that a person’s virtue or vice is a type of characteristic that one possesses and that is distinct from their emotions because of their association with the choices we repeatedly decide to make (171). These virtues or vices as he argues aid in the way individuals choose to act, whether it is good or bad. He argues that the soul contains both rational and irrational aspects, which coincide with that of a person’s virtue all of which can be formed or altered through repetition and habit (173). Focusing on virtue Aristotle explains that there are two specific types, intellectual virtues and the second moral virtues (173). The ladder of the two refers to the character traits of a person, traits in which a person’s character is identified with as being kind, or self-reliant (173). Aristotle argues that moral virtues are unique to us, as people have the tools to implement them, but it is only through continued use forming virtuous habits can they be perfected. People are born with this ability and like muscles, they must be exercised in order to achieve the desired results. Similarly only through experience gained over a period of time can intellectual virtues come to be. In order to implement morally virtuous actions into ones life they must first understand what being virtuous means. By first understanding one can better react to certain situations that might illicit emotions such as anger, helping them to practice self-control instead of indulging in a less morally virtuous action. People in the face of certain pleasures and desires are faced with choices and by being equipped with practical wisdom combined with virtues will help that individual make the right decision with respect to themselves, others and their overarching goals. Aristotle’s criteria for being morally virtuous rely on several factors that one does in the face of certain circumstances and not because of obligation. Without external influences one must decide to act for their own sake and it should resemble their own character without fault and without hesitation (175). Aristotle is arguing that virtue is a characteristic and the wisdom obtained from experience is necessary for the purpose of guiding that characteristic.
John Doris uses several situationist experiments so as to demonstrate certain problems within Aristotelian approaches to ethics, arguing that character traits are not cross- situationally consistent. Using these experiments Doris shows the lack of behavioral reliability when persons are subject to certain situations straying away from their predisposed character-traits and instead suggests that individuals should avoid placing themselves in situations that will make them inconsistent with their character. In terms of ethics Doris argues that being fully virtuous is rare and not a sufficient method to strive for and instead what should be focused on is the altering of ones environment to support ones character and goals.
Doris uses a well-known Situationist experiment by Isen and Levin Helping for a Dime (1972) that assesses the behavior and actions of individuals within a payphone. The individuals within the payphone were divided into two groups one group found a dime and the other half did not and upon leaving they would come a cross another person in need. The results according to situationist argue that the individuals that found the dime were…