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A contextual account of character traits

Candace Louise Upton, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


According to traditional accounts, a character trait is a relatively stable disposition to behave in ways characteristic of the trait, virtually irrespective of situational features which might tempt its possessor to behave otherwise. For example, a courageous person would almost always behave courageously if provided the appropriate stimuli. However, since character traits as traditional accounts represent them are not context-sensitive, these accounts fail to encompass several intuitions about the moral credit that people merit, and also contravene the plausible metaphysical thesis that something cannot gain a disposition just by virtue of undergoing a contextual change. In this dissertation, I develop and defend a contextual account of character traits, whose fine-grained structure enables it to grant moral credit where, intuitively, it is due and also to cohere with what I call the Liberal Account of Dispositional Attribution. Strikingly, it follows from the Contextual Account of Character Traits that someone can be courageous in a sense, even if the courageous behavior she would otherwise exhibit is consistently masked by the presence of psychological states such as nervousness or fear. ^

Subject Area

Philosophy|Psychology, Personality

Recommended Citation

Upton, Candace Louise, "A contextual account of character traits" (2000). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI9992012.