Manipulation, character, and ego depletion: A response to Michael Cholbi

Aaron D. Brooks


Michael Cholbi argues that moral character plays no role in ego-depleted, manipulated action (2014). He bases his claim on ego depletion studies in the psychological literature. Using an Aristotelian account of virtue and moral character, I will give two arguments as to why Cholbi’s conclusion is too quick. While conceding the possibility of ego depletion and its potential influence in a manipulated environment, I first argue that character plays precisely the role that Aristotle believed it to play for at least two character types. Indeed, ego depletion studies may be good indicators of these types of character. Second, I argue that Cholbi has made a mistake in causal reasoning – because these ego depletion studies have not controlled for the influence of all-things-considered judgment in the participant’s deliberation – judgments which are central to Aristotle’s understanding of character – Cholbi is not justified in concluding that character plays no role in ego-depleted, manipulated action.

Keywords: manipulation, action theory, ego depletion, character, virtue ethics, Aristotle, Cholbi.

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