Posts tagged Virtue ethics

Shocking results

Many psychological situationists[1] like to push social-psychology experiments as proof that most people don’t have, or perhaps even couldn’t have, robust character traits. So, for example, they’ll cite the Milgram experiment, supposedly to show how people mostly do not stick to traits of compassion or kindness towards the learner when the lab-coat authority tells them that they have to hurt him.

And maybe this does show that a lot of middle-class Americans lack a particular character trait. Perhaps a lot of middle-class Americans aren’t as reliably compassionate and as kind as you might hope. But hell man, I already knew that. On the other hand, if you’re trying to push the idea that studies like Milgram undermines the idea that people have, or that they could could form, robust character traits, that seems like a non sequitur. One of the obvious results that Milgram himself took from his study is that a lot of people (including a lot of middle-class Americans) have a really robust, situationally-insensitive character trait of obedience, a trait which is so robust that for a large minority it persisted even up to the point where they honestly believed they were torturing or killing a person in the other room.

The fact that this character trait is a vice doesn’t mean it’s not a robust and stable character trait. It looks like quite a robust and stable character trait. The question is whether it’s possible to make that trait less robust; and also and whether it’s possible to cultivate different traits, which might look more like decency and virtues. If it’s possible to be so hella committed to obedience at all costs, then maybe it’s possible to become committed to other things which are not genocidally awful.

Friday Lazy Linking

  • Winter Soldier: Just Another Tuesday. From Ryan Endicott, formerly a United States government Marine stationed in Iraq.

    Via Clay Claibourne, L.A. I.M.C. (2009-05-13): Winter Soldier Southwest on YouTube #1

  • The regulatory State versus freed markets and the human future: A quote from Anne Robert Jacques Turgot, via B.K. Marcus at Mises Economics Blog:

    To expect the government to prevent such fraud from ever occurring would be like wanting it to provide cushions for all the children who might fall. To assume it to be possible to prevent successfully, by regulation, all possible malpractices of this kind, is to sacrifice to a chimerical perfection the whole progress of industry; it is to restrict the imagination of artificers to the narrow limits of the familiar; it is to forbid them all new experiments; it is to renounce even the hope of competing with the foreigners in the making of the new products which they invent daily, since, as they do not conform to our regulations, our workmen cannot imitate these articles without first having obtained permission from the government, that is to say, often after the foreign factories, having profited by the first eagerness of the consumer for this novelty, have already replaced it with something else. … Thus, with obvious injustice, commerce, and consequently the nation, are charged with a heavy burden to save a few idle people the trouble of instructing themselves or of making enquiries to avoid being cheated. To suppose all consumers to be dupes, and all merchants and manufacturers to be cheats, has the effect of authorizing them to be so, and of degrading all the working members of the community.

    — Turgot, Éloge de Gournay (1759), translated by P.D. Groenewegen




  • On dialectical jujitsu: Roderick Long, Austro-Athenian Empire (2009-05-19): How to annoy a conservative

  • Ownership failures, not market failures Chris Dillow, Stumbling and Mumbling (2009-05-01): Markets, the poor & the left. Dillow makes two really important distinctions: one of them the familiar left-libertarian distinction between freed markets, on the one hand, and actually-existing corporate capitalism, on the other; the other a less familiar, but very important, distinction between market processes and patterns of ownership. Quote: In many ways, what look like ways in which markets fail the poor are in fact merely ways in which a lack of assets fail the poor. Exactly; and the many cases where there are not really market failures, but rather ownership failures, have everything to do with feudal, mercantile, neoliberal, and other politically-driven seizures and reallocations of poor people’s land, livelihoods, and possessions — and nothing to do with genuine market exchange.