Intersections : Character-trait Ascriptions in Ethics and Epistemology . Guy Axtell, University of Nevada, Reno Virtue and Vice, Moral and Intellectual Conference Cal. State Fullerton, 06/26/2008. Section 1. Introduction: Major Problems with Trait-Ascriptions.
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Intersections:Character-trait Ascriptions in Ethics and Epistemology
Guy Axtell, University of Nevada, Reno
Virtue and Vice, Moral and Intellectual Conference
Cal. State Fullerton, 06/26/2008
—A genealogical question. There is no single level at which trait-ascriptions aim. So when and for what purposes do we use narrowly and broadly-typed reliability ascriptions?
NTR: Narrowly-typed Reliability
— Low-level virtues (faculty virtues). Dispositions construed as genetically-endowed abilities cognitive capacities.
—Best suited to evaluating the etiology of a single belief or narrow range of beliefs; tells us nothing about an agent’s other beliefs.
—The value of low-level virtues is transmitted directly to their products and only indirectly to the agents who have them.
BTR: Broadly-typed Reliability
— High-level virtues (reflective virtues). Best suit to tell about the agent’s abilities and practices in a certain domain/area.
— Best suited to holistic evaluation of agents, including the quality of their activities of inquiry.
— The value of high-level virtues attaches directly to their possessor
but only tenuously to their products.
“There are prima facie important differences between these two categories and the sort of evaluations they are involved in…It appears that the value of low-level virtues is transmitted directly to their products and only indirectly to the agents who have them, while the value of high-level virtues attaches directly to their possessor but only tenuously to their products” (Lepock, Ch 3, 11).
Two claims to help ‘put the generality problem to work’:
— Salience contextualism: reliability is contextual in epistemology (Greco/Lepock)
— Interconnectedness of BTR and the NTR in the epistemic evaluation of agents and their beliefs.
A Primer on Situationism:
Situationists hold that numerous studies of behavior show that:
— Relatively minor situation manipulation with no obvious moral significance exerts a major influence on people’s moral behavior, and
— No personality variable seems to exert such influence.
Empirical studies of moral behavior situationists cite:
—Milgram’s obedience study, and the Levin, Darley and Bateson, and Hartshorne and May’s study of child honesty.
— “Situational trait ascriptions like ‘dime-finding,’ or ‘dropped-paper’ compassionate.”
—“Highly general trait ascriptions like ‘honest’ or ‘compassionate.’”
Localist(Situationist ) View
—Posits character as “an evaluatively inconsistent associations of large numbers of local traits.”
—Posits character as “an integrated association of robust traits and evaluatively consistent personality structures.”
—A virtue or vice concept is attributed “locally” just in case it is applied to “specific acts or mental states such as occurrent desires or feelings” (69).
—A virtue or vice concept is attributed “globally” just in case it is applied to “persons, stable character trait or dispositions” (69).
— Attribution concerns only one’s current motives
— Virtues treated and defined “atomistically.”
— Attribution concerns primarily stable, standing traits
— Virtues treated and defined holistically
Their associated primacy questions/claims: Which uses, local or global, occurrent or dispositional, are conceptually primary?
—Hurka’s example in support of Occurrentism:
The Medal of Honor case.
—Some strong analogies between intellectual & moral trait-ascription, but the intersections remain difficult to see.
— Lepock and Hurka on Trait-ascription in ethics and epistemology.
Thesis: The Lepock/Hurka approaches to intellectual and moral trait-ascription, are strongly analogous, up to a point. They (rightly) both hold:
(a) that there is no single level of generality at which trait-ascriptions in their subfield of philosophy are aimed;
(b) that attribution varies across a narrow/broad spectrum
(c) that the uses of trait concepts at different levels are clearly connected;
(d) that a philosophical account of virtue should explain this connection,
(e) that there are different ways of doing this, and
(f) that this often fuels debate between competing accounts of
virtue based on the primacy of uses of trait concepts at one
end of the spectrum or the other.
— Lepock and Hurka, again.
— Hurka and Zagzebski in debates between Occurrentism and Dispositionalism.
A Deflationary Conclusion