Spontaneity, Intuition, and Humean Virtue
Empirical data from moral psychologists suggests that we may have very little rational, intentional control over how we perceive many situations and, consequently, how we respond to them. This data poses a challenge to any virtue theory that relies on the intentional cultivation of stable, causally efficacious character traits. I argue that a Humean view of virtue is uniquely suited to accommodate this data by taking habitual mental associations, which are often non-conscious, to be constitutive of character traits. This account has explanatory power for attributing traits to people as well as for explaining their behavior in various situations as exhibiting stable traits or not. It also easily upholds a further aspiration of virtue ethics, namely that it can explain and justify our valuation of the virtuous agent’s apparent capacity to be spontaneously virtuous. Finally, this account of virtue, taking into consideration developments in moral psychology, offers an explanation of what is required to develop character traits and highlights the extent to which this might involve our social environment.