Consistent egoists and situation managers: Two problems for situationism

Pauline Kleingeld*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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According to philosophical situationism, psychological evidence shows that human action is typically best explained by the influence of situational factors and not by global and robust character traits of the agent. As a practical implication of their view, situationists recommend that efforts in moral education be shifted from character development to situation management. Much of the discussion has focused on whether global conceptions of virtue and character, and in particular Aristotelian virtue ethics, can be defended against the situationist challenge. After several rounds of debate, both sides claim victory, and they seem to have reached a stalemate. In this paper, I refocus the debate on the arguments offered in support of situationism itself. I argue that two serious problems have so far gone unnoticed in the literature. First, the argument in support of situationism is unsound. It is based on evidence that agents' morally relevant behavior reliably covaries with morally irrelevant situational variables. Using the example of egoism, I show that this evidence does not warrant the situationist inference because the evidence permits a plausible alternative interpretation. Second, I argue that the situationists' advocacy of situation management is at odds with their core thesis because situation management requires exactly the type of agency they reject as unrealistic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)344-361
Number of pages18
JournalPhilosophical Explorations
Issue number3
Early online date16-Jun-2015
Publication statusPublished - 2-Sep-2015


  • situationism
  • moral psychology
  • character
  • practical reason
  • situation management

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