Today we began by considering utilitarianism (or consequentialism) a little further. We talked about the difference between act utilitarians, who ask whether each individual action will maximize happiness, and rule utilitarians, who argue that we should select rules that, if followed, will maximize happiness.
We then discussed an article by Gilbert Harman which put the very existence of character traits in question. The Milgram experiments (and other experiments in social psychology)seem to show that ordinary human beings will perform evil acts under the right circumstances. Harman concludes that situations, not character traits, explain our actions. As we saw, Harman intends this as an attack on Aristotle's virtue ethics, which depend on attributing character traits to people. Harman also intends his view to support a new theory of ethics: situationism. According to situationism, every action is produced by our situation, not character traits. The defender of virtue ethics will need to answer Harman.