Character: The Prospects for a Personality-Based Perspective on Morality



In the early parts of the 20th century, character made up a major part of psychology, specifically of personality psychology. However, an influential observational study of children's moral behavior, conducted by Hartshorne, May, and colleagues in the 1920s, suggested that consistency in morality-related behavior was lower than many people expected. Some psychologists interpreted such results to mean that there was no consistency in moral behavior and thus that there were no stable, meaningful individual differences in moral behavior – character did not exist. Recent years have witnessed a reinvigoration of character, ethics, and morality as objects of psychological study. Our purpose in this paper is to contribute to this reinvigoration by reviewing the use of the concept of “character” within psychology, considering whether the evidence supports the notion of moral character as a psychological construct, and suggesting new prospects for research on moral character.