Versions of this paper have been presented at: Washington State University, West Chester University, Texas Tech University, University of South Florida, University of Waterloo, Stanford University, the Eastern Division Meetings of the American Philosophical Association (Boston, MA) December 2004, A Special Conference on Values: Values, Rational Choice and the Will (Stevens Point, Wisconsin) April 2004, and the Joint Session of the Aristotelian Society and Mind Association (Canterbury, UK) July 2004. Thanks to members of my audience at these talks for their helpful comments and criticisms. Special thanks also to John Doris, Colleen Murphy, Ram Neta, Gerald J. Postema, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Matthew N. Smith, and an anonymous referee for correspondence and comments on earlier drafts.
Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility*
Article first published online: 26 FEB 2008
© 2008 International Phenomenological Society
Philosophy and Phenomenological Research
Volume 76, Issue 2, pages 310–332, March 2008
How to Cite
BESSER-JONES, L. (2008), Social Psychology, Moral Character, and Moral Fallibility. Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, 76: 310–332. doi: 10.1111/j.1933-1592.2007.00134.x
- Issue published online: 26 FEB 2008
- Article first published online: 26 FEB 2008
In recent years, there has been considerable debate in the literature concerning the existence of moral character. One lesson we should take away from these debates is that the concept of character, and the role it plays in guiding our actions, is far more complex than most of us initially took it to be. Just as Gilbert Harman, for example, makes a serious mistake in insisting, plain and simply, that there is no such thing as character, defenders of character also make a mistake to the extent that they imply there is no problem raised by the psychological literature for either the concept of character or the nature of character-based ethics. My hope for this paper is to avoid both of these mistakes by first, exploring exactly what is the concept of character that is so firmly rooted in our philosophical and everyday thinking; and second, exploring the implications of the psychological literature for this appropriately understood concept of character. In so doing, I will come to a resolution that vindicates the existence of character, while at the same time calls attention to the real and serious problem suggested by the psychological evidence. This, we will see, is a problem of moral motivation.