/ Minor Tweaks, Major Payoffs: The Problems and Promise of Situationism in Moral Philosophy
In this paper, I argue that something similar holds true in the realm of interpersonal morality. Our interactions with others can also be shaped by small details of our situations, and the effects can be just as considerable. Indeed, our sensitivity to immediate situational triggers has not escaped the notice of recent moral philosophers, who have explored the issue in the form of situationist social psychology, or situationism — the thesis that we routinely underestimate the extent to which minor situational variables influence morally significant behavior. Situationism has been seen as a threat to prevailing lay and philosophical theories of character, personhood, and agency, leading many philosophers to advocate what I call a seek/avoid strategy — an admonition to carefully select one’s situational contexts in order to regulate one’s behavior. Since situations influence our behavior, we ought to seek out situations enhancing moral behavior and avoid those compromising it (see, e. g., Doris 2002; Harman 2003; Merritt 2000; Samuels & Casebeer 2005). While this strategy has much to recommend itself, it is limited in application to those situations that admit of such straightforward predictions; alas, many of the situations we encounter elicit neither bad nor good behavior simpliciter. More importantly, the strategy accentuates a person/situation dichotomy that is untenable; we do not simply react to external situations, but we also shape our situations through the variables we ourselves introduce.
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