[A]s the book’s subtitle attests, one of Brooks’ principal themes is the importance of characterof entrenched, stable habits of attention and behavior. Another of Brooks’ themes is the powerful, unconscious influence of physical and social context on behavior. Either he does not know, or he omits to mention, that many psychologists and science-minded philosophers hold that well-confirmed “situationist” accounts of context-sensitive behavior imply either that there is no such thing as character, or that character plays only a minor role in the best scientific explanation of human action. (John Doris’ book Lack of Character is an excellent exploration of this line of thinking.) Consider one illustrative study. Only 15% of unwitting subjects stopped to help a man who had dropped some books when a loud lawnmower was running nearby; when there was no unusual noise, 80% of subjects stopped to help. What is character if it flees like a startled doe from a mild racket?
2006-2011 archives for The Daily Dish, featuring Andrew Sullivan