Business Ethics Quarterly

Response Article

No Character or Personality

Gilbert Harman


Solomon argues that, although recent research in social psychology has important implications for business ethics, it does not undermine an approach that stresses virtue ethics. However, he underestimates the empirical threat to virtue ethics, and his a priori claim that empirical research cannot overturn our ordinary moral psychology is overstated. His appeal to seemingly obvious differences in character traits between people simply illustrates the fundamental attribution error. His suggestion that the Milgram and Darley and Batson experiments have to do with such character traits as obedience and punctuality cannot help to explain the relevant differences in the way people behave in different situations. His appeal to personality theory fails, because, as an intellectual academic discipline, personality theory is in shambles, mainly because it has been concerned with conceptions of personality rather than with what is true about personality. Solomon’s rejection of Doris’s claims about the fragmentation of character is at odds with the received view in social psychology. Finally, he is mistaken to think that rejecting virtue ethics implies rejecting free will and moral responsibility.

GILBERT HARMAN is Stuart Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He regularly co-teaches interdisciplinary courses in “The Philosophy and Psychology of Rationality,” “Epistemology and Learning Theory,” “Human Machine Interactions,” and “The Psychology and Philosophy of Ethics,” with professors from Psychology, Linguistics, the Woodrow Wilson School, Electrical Engineering, Operations Research and Financial Engineering, and Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering. He has been co-director (with George Miller) of the Princeton University Cognitive Science Laboratory and is Chair of the Faculty Committee for Cognitive Studies. He is author of Explaining Value and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Oxford, 2000) and Reasoning, Meaning, and Mind (Oxford, 1999). E-mail: