Out of Character: A Reassessment of Virtue Ethics in Light of Contemporary Research on Character and Happiness



Description of Fossheim's project as a postdoc at the Ethics Programme 2008-2011:

(14.4.09) My postdoc project, Out of Character, takes up certain challenges to virtue ethics posed not least by empirical research. Each of the four investigations that define the project deals with a central topic in virtue ethics—character, happiness, responsibility, and paradigmatic human goodness. The challenges are as follow.
(i) The very existence of ethical character, crucial to all forms of virtue ethics, has been put in serious doubt by findings and interpretations stemming not least from situationism in social psychology. (ii) To the extent that it is possible in today’s state of affairs to see the exact relations between the terminologies of the various areas of research, the implication seems to be that happiness is not readily available to human agents. (iii) Given this radical critique of character as a psychological instance offering the agent views of, and motivations for, one’s actions in relation to a bigger picture of the practical field, or of one’s life as a whole, it is suddenly an open question just how responsibility is to be legitimately ascribed to the agent within a recognisable virtue ethical framework. (iv) In the same vein, but coming primarily from other strands of moral inquiry, is the charge that virtue ethics’ recourse to paradigmatic human goodness reveals a form of elitism which is deeply ingrained in its manner of argument as well as in its ideals.
Seen separately, each issue poses a serious threat to virtue ethics as a viable option in moral inquiry. Out of Character constitutes a sustained effort to form replies that do not ignore or belittle the import of the criticism. Together, the four investigations attempt to articulate and defend a virtue ethics which manages to face up to the challenges, and allows itself to be transformed in the process, without entirely loosing sight of the long historical tradition on which it continuously builds.


Some recent publications (2006-2009)

“On Plato’s Use of Socrates as a Character in his Dialogues”, forthcoming in Rhizai

“Method in the Philebus”, forthcoming in an International Plato Society volume edited by Luc Brisson & John Dillon

“The Limits of Rational Discourse: Socrates’ Dialectical Practice in Some Early Dialogues by Plato”, The European Legacy vol 13 (2008), 851-861

“The Role of Magic in Republic X”, Norsk Filosofisk Tidsskrift vol 43 (2008), 129-136

“The Intellectual Life”, in Ann Ward (ed.), Socrates: Reason or Unreason as the Foundation of European Identity, Cambridge Scholars Publishing (2007)

“Habituation as Mimesis”, in T. Chappell (ed.), Values and Virtues: Aristotelianism in Contemporary Ethics, Oxford University Press (2006)

Hallvard Fossheim

Dr.art (filosofi)

Leder av Forskningsetisk komité for samfunnsvitenskap og humaniora

Forskningsetiske komiteer
Postboks 522 Sentrum, 0105 OSLO

Prinsensgate 18, OSLO

E-post: hallvard.fossheim@ifikk.uio.no

Telefon: 23 31 83 02

Fossheims CV