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Meditation and the cultivation of virtue

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In recent decades, social psychology has produced an expansive array of studies wherein introducing a seemingly morally innocuous feature into the situation a subject inhabits often yields morally questionable, dubious, or even appalling behavior. Several fascinating lines of philosophical enquiry issue from this research, but the most pragmatically salient question concerns how we ought most effectively to develop and maintain the virtues so that such putatively morally problematic behavior is less likely to occur. In this paper, I examine four empirically embedded accounts of virtue cultivation: Hagop Sarkissian’s social signaling, Mark Alfano’s virtue labeling, Nancy Snow’s self-punishment, and Peter Railton’s implementation intentions. But none of these accounts of virtue cultivation provides adequate resources for regulating our affective states, whose attention-constricting and behavior-priming functional roles are likely at the root of much of our less than virtuous behavior. Instead, I defend an account of virtue cultivation that proceeds via meditation, which can help us to identify and regulate our emotions and moods. Further, meditation enables us to develop the attentional focus, emotional intelligence, and sense of social connection that ground (many of) the virtues and, thus, our virtuous behavior.
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Keywords: Affect regulation; ethics; meditation; situationism; virtue cultivation; virtue ethics

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, University of Denver, Denver, CO, USA

Publication date: 19 May 2017

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