Intersections character trait ascriptions in ethics and epistemology
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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. Section 1. Introduction: Major Problems with Trait-Ascriptions.

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Intersections : Character-trait Ascriptions in Ethics and Epistemology

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Intersections character trait ascriptions in ethics and epistemology

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

Section 1. Introduction: Major Problems with Trait-Ascriptions

  • The Generality Problem. If every token of a belief-forming process belongs to many different types of such processes, there may be no principled way to select the proper level of generality to describe the process token that produced the belief.

  • The Global-Trait Problem. If moral psychologists or philosophers attribute stable moral character traits to agents as predictors and explainers of their moral behavior, the theory makes empirical claims about “global” traits that might be unsustainable in light of empirical psychology.


Section 2 the logic of intellectual trait attribution and the generality problem

Section 2. The Logic of Intellectual Trait-Attribution and the Generality Problem

—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?


Lepock s narrow broad spectrum of intellectual character trait attributions

Lepock’s Narrow-Broad Spectrum of intellectual character-trait attributions

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.


Intersections character trait ascriptions in ethics and epistemology

“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.


Section 3 the logic of moral trait attribution and the global trait problem

Section 3. The Logic of Moral Trait Attribution and the Global Trait Problem

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.


Doris narrow broad distinctions

Doris’ Narrow/Broad Distinctions

Local Use:

— “Situational trait ascriptions like ‘dime-finding,’ or ‘dropped-paper’ compassionate.”

Global Use:

—“Highly general trait ascriptions like ‘honest’ or ‘compassionate.’”


Doris contrast of localist and globalist accounts of moral traits

Doris’ Contrast of Localist and Globalist Accounts of Moral Traits

Localist(Situationist ) View

—Posits character as “an evaluatively inconsistent associations of large numbers of local traits.”

Globalist View

—Posits character as “an integrated association of robust traits and evaluatively consistent personality structures.”


Hurka s narrow broad distinctions

Hurka’s Narrow/Broad Distinctions

Local Use

—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).

Global Use

—A virtue or vice concept is attributed “globally” just in case it is applied to “persons, stable character trait or dispositions” (69).


Hurka s contrast of occurrentist and dispositionalist accounts of virtue

Hurka’s Contrast of Occurrentist and Dispositionalist Accounts of Virtue

Occurrentism

— Attribution concerns only one’s current motives

— Virtues treated and defined “atomistically.”

Dispositionalism

— 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.


Section 4 comparisons contrasts and a deflationary conclusion

Section 4. Comparisons, Contrasts, and a Deflationary Conclusion

Summary Comparisons

—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.


Intersections character trait ascriptions 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.


Section 4 comparisons contrasts and a deflationary conclusion1

Section 4. Comparisons, Contrasts, and a Deflationary Conclusion

Contrasts

— Lepock and Hurka, again.

— Hurka and Zagzebski in debates between Occurrentism and Dispositionalism.

A Deflationary Conclusion


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