Denise Vigani


I am currently an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Philosophy at Drew University. I recently earned my Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Certificate in Women's Studies from The Graduate Center, City University of New York. My primary areas of research are virtue ethics and moral psychology.

My research focuses on the implications for neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics of understanding virtue as a cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS), whereby the virtues are conceptualized as sets of dynamically interrelated schemas, including beliefs and affects, which influence an individual’s subjective construal of situations. In my dissertation, Construing Character: Virtue as a Cognitive-Affective Processing System, I develop and defend an empirically plausible account of neo-Aristotelian virtue that, I argue, supports some key aspects of virtue ethics that have been previously criticized, namely, John McDowell’s analogies between virtue and perception and Aristotle’s doctrine of the reciprocity of the virtues. Going forward, my aim is to expand the account of practical reasoning that I elaborate in my dissertation into an empirically plausible moral psychology of neo-Aristotelian virtue.


2016. “Moral Judgments and Motivation: Making Sense of Mixed Intuitions,” Ethical Perspectives, 23(2): 209-230.

This paper suggests an approach to the debate between motivational judgment internalism and motivational judgment externalism that can accommodate the fact that most individuals seem to hold a mix of internalist and externalist intuitions. Drawing on psychologist Augusto Blasi’s ‘self model,’ I contend that the notion of identity-based motivation can provide a straightforward story about moral judgments and motivation in a way that makes sense of our mix of intuitions. Despite not appearing to fit neatly under either internalism or externalism, the resulting view seems able to account for many of the longstanding concerns of the debate.

“Is Patience a Virtue?”

‘Patience is a virtue,’ so the saying goes. But there are actually significant challenges to developing a neo-Aristotelian account of a virtue of patience. First, on an Aristotelian understanding, virtue is both instrumentally good and good in itself. Yet, with the exception of Christian ethics, a primarily—and often, exclusively—instrumental view of patience is pervasive in the philosophical literature. Can we provide a secular account of patience as not merely instrumentally valuable, but also valuable in itself? Furthermore, these instrumental views of patience make it seem more like a psychological skill than a virtue of character. But skills can be misused. If patience is to be a virtue, we need an account of it that entails goodness in its possessor. Finally, there is the challenge of specifying a field, or sphere of concern, for patience, especially given the wide diversity of phenomena that we tend to attribute to it. I propose a thin account of a virtue of patience that, I contend, can meet these challenges.

Dissertation Abstract

Following its re-emergence in the second half of the twentieth century, virtue ethics was confronted with an empirically-based challenge known as ‘the situationist critique.’ Philosophical situationists argue that experimental evidence in social psychology strongly suggests that humans are not the sorts of creatures to develop the robust traits that the virtues are supposed to be. Furthermore, they maintain that what explains people’s behavior is a matter of situational factors, not alleged facts about their character, such as whether they are honest or generous. In response to the situationist critique, some philosophers have recently suggested that the social-cognitive psychological model of personality as cognitive-affective processing system (CAPS) can supply virtue ethics with an empirically plausible model of a trait.

My dissertation, Construing Character: Virtue as a Cognitive-Affective Processing System, examines this psychological model from the perspective of virtue ethics. I argue that virtue ethics can take on board the CAPS model without undermining its normativity or its ability to provide action guidance and assessment. Furthermore, I employ the model to develop an empirically plausible account of neo-Aristotelian virtue that, I argue, supports some key aspects of virtue ethics that have been previously criticized, namely, John McDowell’s analogies between virtue and perception and Aristotle’s doctrine of the reciprocity of the virtues.

I begin with an examination of the CAPS model and of the ways in which previous attempts at specifying virtue in terms of the model fall short. The CAPS model holds that an individual’s subjective construal of a situation is crucial to understanding that individual’s behavior. From a psychological standpoint, this emphasis on subjective construal is quite reasonable. For instance, it would probably be difficult to make sense of the behavior of gang members without reference to the ways in which they construe situations as demanding a demonstration of loyalty to their gang. The process of subjective construal has received inadequate attention from virtue ethicists.

The account of virtue that I develop begins, therefore, with an elaboration of the distinctive way in which the virtuous person construes situations, which I use to develop and defend a McDowellian view of practical reasoning. Furthermore, I suggest that this notion of ‘virtuous construal,’ as I call it, opens up space for normativity in the CAPS model, since the virtuous person’s construal of a situation is not only distinctive, but also correct. Most of us, however, are not fully virtuous. Drawing on the work of Michael Smith, I elaborate an advice model of correct construal. This advice model, I argue, anchors a normative notion of subjective construal while appropriately accounting for individuals’ shortcomings.

In shifting from considering virtue in general to providing a framework for CAPS accounts of particular virtues, I defend Aristotle’s doctrine of the reciprocity of the virtues and his methodology of individuating the virtues according to their objects, both of which have fallen out of favor among many virtue ethicists. I employ his methodology in spelling out a framework of ‘thin’ and ‘thick’ accounts of individual virtues, where the thin account specifies the field of the virtue and grounds the account in an Aristotelian notion of excellence, and the thick account elaborates the particular cognitive-affective elements that constitute the virtue.

Finally, I apply the account to the virtues of courage and patience in order to show how the action guidance and assessment capabilities of virtue ethics remain intact.


I have extensive experience teaching students from a wide range of disciplines and personal backgrounds. I aim to foster an active, student-centered classroom environment where all students have opportunities to learn and to give voice to their ideas. My tenure as a Fellow in the Writing Across the Curriculum program at Brooklyn College has provided me with the pedagogical background to design courses and assignments that actively develop students’ thinking and writing skills.

My guiding concept with regard to teaching is transparency, which I take to involve two interrelated aims: to make the unseen visible and to draw connections.

Making the unseen visible involves making my identities as a scholar and teacher, and the ways in which those identities relate to one another, apparent to students. I strive to let my Aristotelianism, specifically, the importance of habit formation to the living of a good life, shine through. In order to introduce my students to what it is to do philosophy, I need to make the practices of reading, writing, sharing, and revising philosophical work visible to them. I do this by designing scaffolded assignments that bring students through the process of doing philosophy, rather than simply demanding a finished product.

Drawing connections involves making clear to students the ways in which the course material relates to real life. One way that I elicit these connections is by creating opportunities for students to reflect on the relevance of the course material to their own lives, for instance, in a short essay or in a cover letter for a research assignment. Another way is to get students to actively engage with philosophical concepts. For example, I may ask students to devise their own examples of necessary and sufficient conditions, or to keep a journal of arguments that they encounter in day-to-day life, in the news, advertising, or interactions with other people. Via such reflective exercises, students come to see philosophical concepts at work in the world around them. They also begin doing philosophy, rather than simply learning content.

About Me

I was born and raised in New Jersey and received my B.A. in Philosophy, French, and English from Drew University. I spent two years in beautiful New Zealand getting my M.A. in philosophy from the University of Auckland before beginning my doctoral studies at The Graduate Center, CUNY. In April 2015, I was awarded a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship.

I have been teaching one thing or another for most of my adult life. I trained as a tap dancer in New York City while an undergraduate and taught tap for several years both during and after college. I’ve also been a ski instructor. Before returning to graduate school, I taught high school English.

I can be reached at .