Review Of "Moral Character: An Empirical Theory" By C. B. Miller

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A central thesis of this essay in experimental philosophy is that character traits pertaining to moral categories exist, but none are virtues--at least not as traditionally understood. Instead, Miller (Wake Forest) proposes a "mixed trait" framework. Appealing to psychological studies, for example, Miller argues that most Westerners are typically compassionate or not depending on the presence of enhancers. If, e.g., an experimental subject is made to feel guilty about something (like breaking a camera), then on another unrelated occasion close in time, the subject will be inclined to help someone who has unknowingly dropped some candy; feelings of guilt are enhancers, as are embarrassment and positive moods. Miller uses psychological studies extensively, knows the philosophical literature well, and shows admirable caution about what remains to be known. This book should be read with Miller's forthcoming Character and Moral Psychology, which elaborates on these themes. This reviewer wonders, first, whether nearly every moral philosopher since Aristotle could have missed that virtually no one is compassionate, honest, or courageous. Second, Miller sets the criteria for possessing a virtue extraordinarily high, which may account for his startling conclusion. Third, Miller is wedded to the belief-desire model of practical reason--itself highly contested. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Graduate students/faculty interested in moral motivation/character/virtues.


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