Nancy Snow - December 2015 Meeting Topic

Nancy E. Snow Abstracts

(1) Virtue Measurement: Theory and Application


Nancy E. Snow, Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing, University of Oklahoma

Jennifer Cole Wright, Department of Psychology, College of Charleston

(Book proposal being developed)

The last thirty years has seen a resurgence of interest in virtue among philosophers and psychologists. Virtue ethics, an approach to normative theory that focuses on the character of the agent, has established itself as a legitimate alternative to other ethical theories, such as consequentialism and deontology (e.g., Zagzebski 1996; Hursthouse 1999; Slote 2001; Swanton 2003; Russell 2009).  Central to most virtue ethical approaches is the idea that virtues are robust or global traits—that is, traits that are enduring, manifested in mental states and behaviors across many different types of situations.  A courageous person, for example, can be expected to show courage on the battlefield, when combating serious illness, when defending the weak, and so on.  Some philosophers, calling themselves “situationists,” adduce evidence from empirical psychology to contest the idea that people have global or robust character traits, thus challenging the empirical viability of virtue ethics at its core (e.g., Merritt, Doris, & Harman 2010; Doris 2002, 1998; Merritt 2000; Harman 1999). This has prompted a robust literature in response, some of which defends virtue on empirical grounds (Snow 2010; Russell 2009; Miller 2003).

The situationist critique has prompted a lively interest in work at the intersection of philosophy and psychology.  In the spirit of this interdisciplinary interest, our objective for this volume is twofold.  First, we will offer an account of virtue and character that is theoretically-robust and philosophically respectable, while at the same time able to be operationalized into empirically measurable variables. Second, we will offer a range of strategies for how virtue and character (so conceived) can be systematically measured, relying on the insights from the latest research in personality, as well as social and developmental, psychology. It is our position that a case can be made for robust, global virtue traits and character that is both philosophically and psychologically reasonable—i.e., that can be supported both theoretically and empirically. 

We also believe that while our view is largely compatible with an Aristotelian approach to virtue, it is sufficiently ecumenical to be meaningful for many varieties of virtue ethical theories.  Consequently, our work on virtue measurement should have cross-theoretical implications and appeal. 

(2) “From ‘Ordinary’ Virtue to Aristotelian Virtue”

Author: Nancy E. Snow, University of Oklahoma

 (Paper to be read at the Jubilee Centre Conference, Oxford, England, January 2016)

In two earlier papers, I began to explore how “ordinary people” acquire virtue.  By “ordinary people,” I mean people who are not specifically or directly concerned with becoming virtuous, but who have goals or aims the pursuit of which requires them to develop virtue.  E.g., parents acquire patience and generosity in the course of pursuing their goal to be good parents; those concerned with being peacemakers acquire tact and diplomacy in the pursuit of that goal, and so on.  In this paper, I explore two different pathways by means of which ordinary virtue can develop into Aristotelian virtue.  The first is via the development of sensitivities or responsiveness to different kinds of value.  I hypothesize that as people grow in virtue, they become more aware of differences in value, specifically, more sensitive to, and appreciative of, differences in instrumental, constitutive, and intrinsic value.  The second pathway, which is likely interrelated with the first, is the development of phronetic capacities, that is, capacities of thought and reflection that come to inform and shape ordinary virtue, transforming it into the reason-infused virtue that Aristotle regards as full virtue.  These capacities are quite complex and here I focus on only two types: capacities of self-knowledge and self-appraisal.  I conclude with two final contentions about the deeply social nature of virtue and about kinds of flourishing.  First, were we not social animals, as Aristotle claimed, we would not be able to develop any kind of virtue, ordinary or otherwise.  Second, though ordinary virtues allow for a kind of flourishing, that flourishing is deepened and amplified through the attainment of full, Aristotelian virtue.

Works Cited

Doris, J. 2002.  Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).

Doris, J. 1998. “Persons, situations, and virtue ethics.” Nous 32:4: 504-530.

Harman, G. 1999. “Moral philosophy meets social psychology: Virtue ethics and the fundamental attribution error.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99: 315-32.

Hursthouse, R. 1999.   On Virtue Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Merritt, M.  2000. “Virtue ethics and situationist personality psychology,” Ethical Theory and Moral Practice 3: 365-383.

Merritt, M., J. Doris and G. Harman. 2010.  “Character.”  In The Moral Psychology Handbook. Ed. J. Doris and the Moral Psychology Research Group.  (New York: Oxford University Press), 355-401.

Miller, C.  2003. “Social psychology and virtue ethics,” The Journal of Ethics 7: 365-392.

Russell, D. 2009. Practical Intelligence and the Virtues (New York: Oxford University Press).

Slote, M. 2001. Morals From Motives (New York: Oxford University Press).

Snow, N. 2010. Virtue as Social Intelligence: An Empirically Grounded Theory (New York: Routledge Press).

Swanton, C. 2003. Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View (Oxford: Oxford University Press).

Zagzebski, L.  1996.  Virtues of the Mind: An Inquiry into the Nature of Virtue and the Ethical Foundations of Knowledge (New York: Cambridge University Press).