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No Character or Personality


Solomon argues that, although recent research in social psychology has important implications for business ethics, it does not undermine an approach that stresses virtue ethics. However, he underestimates the empirical threat to virtue ethics, and his a priori claim that empirical research cannot overturn our ordinary moral psychology is overstated. His appeal to seemingly obvious differences in character traits between people simply illustrates the fundamental attribution error. His suggestion that the Milgram and Darley and Batson experiments have to do with such character traits as obedience and punctuality cannot help to explain the relevant differences in the way people behave in different situations. His appeal to personality theory fails, because, as an intellectual academic discipline, personality theory is in shambles, mainly because it has been concerned with conceptions of personality rather than with what is true about personality. Solomon’s rejection of Doris’s claims about the fragmentation of character is at odds with the received view in social psychology. Finally, he is mistaken to think that rejecting virtue ethics implies rejecting free will and moral responsibility.

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J. M. Darley 1973. “From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27: 1008.

J. Doris 2002. Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. New York: Cambridge University Press.

D. C. Funder 2001. “Personality.” Annual Review of Psychology 52: 197221.

G. Harman 1998–99. “Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99: 31531.

G. Harman 1999–2000. “The Nonexistence of Character Traits.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100: 2236.

A. M. Isen , and P. F. Levin 1972. “Effect of Feeling Good on Helping: Cookies and Kindness.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 21: 3848.

M. Merritt 2000. “Virtue Ethics and Situationist Personality Psychology.” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3: 36583.

G. A. Miller , and N. Cantor 1982. Review of Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. In Social Cognition 1: 8393.

R. Solomon 2003. “Victims of Circumstances? A Defense of Virtue Ethics in Business.” Business Ethics Quarterly 13(1): 4362.

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Business Ethics Quarterly
  • ISSN: 1052-150X
  • EISSN: 2153-3326
  • URL: /core/journals/business-ethics-quarterly
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