Character in Kant’s Moral Psychology: Responding to the Situationist Challenge

Patrick Frierson 1
  • 1 Department of Philosophy, Whitman College, Walla Walla, Walla Walla, WA, USA
Patrick Frierson
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  • Department of Philosophy, Whitman College, Walla Walla, 345 Boyer Ave, Walla Walla, WA, USA
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In recent years, several philosophers have used “situationist” findings in social psychology to criticize character-based ethical theories. After showing how these criticisms apply, prima facie, to Kant’s moral theory, I lay out a Kantian response to them. Kant admits the empirical reality of situation-dependence in human actions but articulates a conception of “ought implies can” that vindicates his character-based moral theory in the face of rarity of character. Moreover, he provides an interpretive framework for the situation-dependence of human motivation in terms of humans’ “propensity to evil.” He also provides a framework for highlighting empirical bases for moral hope, a framework that makes it possible to see lack of character as something human beings can overcome. And he outlines a “moral anthropology” that develops something akin to what Mark Alfano calls “moral technologies,” but in Kant’s case, these technologies focus on cultivating character as such rather than merely good behavioral outcomes.

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