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Gilbert Harman `Ethics and Observation`

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Gilbert Harman and ethics

According to Gilbert Harman , lay attributions of character traits tend to be wildly incorrect (1999 :329 ) and are often deeply misguided (1999 :316 . Because the attribution of highly inaccurate character traits leads to much evil , he recommends that we should try to educate ourselves and others to stop doing it (Harman , 1999 :315 .1 Harman follows the lead provided by prominent social psychologists Ross and Nisbett (1991 , in explaining the alleged inaccuracy of lay attributions of character or personality

traits2 by appeal to the effect of an allegedly pervasive error in person perception . This is the Fundamental Attribution Error (henceforth FAE . Harman 's case against a warrant for lay character trait attributions is grounded on the results of a number of experiments interpreted by him and others as directly demonstrating the existence of a pervasive FAE , as well as some studies that examine differences in individual behavior , such as Hartshorne and May (1928 , which he interprets as failing to provide support for the existence of character traits (1999 :316 . Harman sees the FAE as the principal cause of a systematic distortion in folk social psychology (1999 :16 ) analogous to the systematic distortions in folk physics unearthed by McCloskey (1983 ) and others . Harman appears to believe that a pervasive FAE is an established scientific result identified by social psychologists , akin to other entrenched results in science , such as the law of gravity and the theory of evolution . He refers to the conclusions of social psychology (2000 :224 , which he takes to be authoritative . His skepticism about character traits derives directly from his understanding and acceptance of these conclusions . If the FAE was a pervasive phenomenon , as Harman alleges , following Ross and Nisbett (1991 , then it seems that our ordinary source of warrant for the attribution of character traits would be altogether undermined and there would be no reason to believe that our ordinary explanatory appeals to the existence of character traits would ever be successful Note that it would not follow from this that all possible sources of warrant for belief in the existence of character traits would be undermined . Nor would it follow that lay inferences to the existence of aspects of personalities other than character traits are unwarranted . We will have more to say about how best to understand character traits and about the relation of character trait attribution to the FAE in Section 3 of the .5 Harman appears to believe that the case for the pervasive FAE is properly described in a particular book Ross and Nisbett 's The Person and the Situation (1991 . His case against there being evidence for the existence of character traits is specifically described , as an instance of summarizing Ross and Nisbett (1991 (Harman , 2000 :223 (Clarke 350-68 ) Other philosophical proponents of the FAE also rely heavily on Ross and Nisbett (1991 , Ross (1977 ) and a number of other works by Ross and his collaborators .6 Ross and Nisbett are leading...

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