Though it’s taken awhile, my chapter “Virtues and Psychology: Do We Have Virtues and How Can We Know?” is now available (somewhat) online. It is part of the Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management (Alejo José G. Sison, ed.). It is currently preview only, but your library may have access. Either way, here’s the abstract:
Attribution of virtues and vices is commonplace. Saying someone has a virtue helps us explain her behavior and form expectations about how she will behave in the future. Built on the universality of these attributions, virtue ethics has had a long tradition in philosophy, with Aristotle standing at the pinnacle, as well as a modern resurgence. Recently, however, empirical evidence has cast doubt on the existence of virtues and vices. People’s behavior, it seems, is governed more by morally irrelevant situational factors than by robust, internal dispositions like virtues. Yet a new line of argument is beginning to emerge that virtue ethics is still relevant even if virtues do not exist.
I have a new publication, “Human values and the value of humanities in interdisciplinary research,” recently published in Cogent Arts & Humanities. It’s open access, so check it out!
The timing was rather fortuitous that as I finish final revisions for my forthcoming article on gossip in The Monist (“Character, Caricature, and Gossip”), news breaks about soon-to-be-released app Peeple. The Washington Post billed it as “Yelp, but for humans.”
This is a terrible idea, as the internet quickly pointed out [here, here, here, here, and here]. Others can review you whether or not you’ve created a profile on the site. You can’t opt-out. You can dispute a negative comment or rating, but not remove it.
Rather than rehashing all reasons that Peeple is a terrible idea (and see here for a prior comedic exploration of why it is), I want to focus on what this tells us about the importance of context for gossip.
My article “Reversing the Side-Effect Effect” has just come out in Philosophical Studies 172 (1): 177-206. This was authored with Paul Stey and Mark Alfano. In the paper, we demonstrate that we can control the effect by changing what norm is made salient. Norms set expectations it appears. If one’s side effect violate those norm-based expectations, we tend to say that side effect was intentional. There are a number of philosophical issues this raise pertaining to intentionality and other psychological states like belief, knowledge, and desire. You can read the extended summary here in my previous post.
Good news, everyone! Markus Christen, Mark Alfano, and I have another paper forthcoming from our Intellectual Humility Grant. Next month, we will present our paper “The Semantic Space of Intellectual Humility” at the European Conference on Social Intelligence in Barcelona. It will then be published in the conference’s proceedings.
In this paper, we employ psycholexical approach to the study of intellectual humility (IH). This method collects a term’s synonyms and antonyms and then compares the similarity of all those terms. As you can see from the image here (larger version available in the paper), we can then map the terms based on their similarity with each other. In this mapping procedure (superparamagnetic agent mapping) terms are attracted to other similar terms and repel those that are different. Clusters emerge. Looking just at the synonyms, we found three clusters that we labeled the Discreet Self, the Inquisitive Self, and the Sensible Self. Each provides insight into different ways one can be intellectually humble. Put another way, IH is a multi-faceted virtue and our method has revealed three of those facets.
For more (especially about IH’s antonyms), check out the paper. It turns out that IH can also be understood as situated in the mean between various vices. This is close to what Aristotle might have predicted, only we found there were more than two vices.
Over the summer I posted about my co-authored paper on Bragging. I’m happy to report that the paper has been accepted for publication by Thought: A Journal of Philosophy. This is the first paper to come out of the Intellectual Humility grant my research team and I received.
The paper supplies a conceptual analysis of the speech act of bragging. Bragging (or boasting), we claim, is a kind of asserting. When you brag, you assert something, but you also aim to impress your audience with something about yourself. Adopting a Gricean framework of defining speech acts based on speakers’ intentions, we define bragging this way. We think that a speaker brags iff she intends by making an utterance:
- to produce in the addressee the belief that p,
- that the addressee should recognize the speaker’s intention (1),
- that the addressee should base her belief that p on her recognition of (1), and
- that the addressee’s belief that p lead her to be impressed with the speaker.
We then offer a few remarks on the recent neologism ‘humblebrag.’ which is brag that tries to hide with corresponding self-deprecation. A good example is the tweet by @johnmoe, “The fact that Wikipedia lists me as a notable alumnus of my college speaks ill of the reliability of crowd sourced information.”
Finally, we suggest instead a three-way taxonomy of brags: (a) brazen brags, where the speaker intends the addressee to recognize that she’s trying to impress, (b) humblebrags, where the speaker intends the addressee to fail to recognize that she’s trying to impress, and (c) indifferent brags, where the speaker doesn’t intend one way or the other.
Some of you are already familiar with the Side-Effect Effect by now. In a new article forthcoming in Philosophical Studies, Paul Stey, Mark Alfano, and I demonstrate that we can reverse the effect and therefore explain what the effect is as never before possible.
Tony Hayward – former CEO of BP (credit: Justin Thomas)
First discovered by Joshua Knobe (and hence sometimes called the Knobe Effect), the effect’s hallmark is an asymmetric attribution of some psychological state or other. In Knobe’s original study, the chairman of the board alternately harms or helps the environment as a side-effect of a new profit-increasing program. Knobe found an asymmetric pattern of attributions of intentionality in the two cases: the folk said he intentionally harmed the environment, but he didn’t intentionally help it. Since this seminal work, a literature on the effect has developed, expanding it in terms of the states asymmetrically attributed (intentionality, desires, beliefs, knowledge, etc.) and the type of norm involved (moral, legal, prudential, aesthetic, descriptive, etc.). As the literature on the effect has expanded, it has become increasingly difficult to precisely characterize the nature of the effect. While it initially looked like people were more willing to say a morally bad side effect was intentional, that interpretation doesn’t hold up since the asymmetry is present in studies involving on non-moral norms. So what is the Side-Effect Effect anyway? How do we describe it? We can already say that the effect refers to the asymmetric attribution rates for various psychological states, but based on what? When are the attribution rates higher or lower? Continue reading
Philosophical Studies has just accepted my co-authored paper “Reversing the Side-Effect Effect: The Power of Norm Salience.” I am the lead author with Paul Stey (Notre Dame) and Mark Alfano (Oregon). I’ll post more later in the week about the paper.
I have recently accepted an invitation to contribute a chapter to the forthcoming Handbook of Virtue Ethics in Business and Management edited by Alejo Sison and to be published by Springer. My chapter will be titled: “Virtues and Psychology: Do We have Virtues and How can We Know?” Here’s the abstract:
In this chapter I will first briefly review the Neo-Aristotelian conception of a virtue, primarily as espoused by Hursthouse, MacIntyre, Annas, and Sreenivasan. In short, a virtue is a multi-track disposition to reliably exhibit a certain type of behavior (e.g., honesty) in a wide variety of situations in the right circumstances. Second, I will present two independent challenges arising from social psychology to the empirical plausibility of the Neo-Aristotelian account: situationism and the fundamental attribution error. The situationist John Doris and Gilbert Harman offer a host of psychological findings that collectively dispute the idea that people can demonstrate cross-situational reliability in their behaviors. Situational factors, such as whether we just found a dime or how much spare time we have, tend to dictate our behavior much more than any supposed character traits like virtues (or vices). Social psychology has also demonstrated that people have a strong tendency to attribute character traits (including virtues and vices) to others far too quickly and on far too little evidence, including on the basis of a single action. This common error (known as the fundamental attribution error) then raises the larger question of how much evidence is required to know that someone else does possess a virtue. Third, I will sketch various responses to these challenges raised by social psychology. The Neo-Aristotelians (Annas and Hursthouse, for instance) have generally responded by claiming that their notion of virtue has been misunderstood and remains empirically plausible. Christian Miller, on the other hand, has undertaken a reconstruction of virtues that accords with these empirical findings. Finally, Mark Alfano has argued that even if virtues don’t exist, publicly attributing them to people can produce moral behavior.