Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 9, Issue 4, pp 461–491 | Cite as

Saving Character



In his recent book Lack of Character, Jon Doris argues that people typically lack character (understood in a particular way). Such a claim, if correct, would have devastating implications for moral philosophy and for various human moral projects (e.g. character development). I seek to defend character against Doris's challenging attack. To accomplish this, I draw on Socrates, Aristotle, and Kant to identify some of the central components of virtuous character. Next, I examine in detail some of the central experiments in social psychology upon which Doris's argument is based. I argue that, properly understood, such experiments reveal differences in the characters of their subjects, not that their subjects lack character altogether. I conclude with some reflections on the significance of such experiments and the importance of character.


Aristotle character Doris Kant situationism social psychology Socrates virtue 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, C. Rowe (trans.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  2. Blass, T., Understanding Behavior in the Milgram Obedience Experiment: The Role of Personality, Situations, and Their Interactions, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 60 (1991), pp. 398–413.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Conrad, J., Heart of Darkness. New York: Penguin Books, 1999.Google Scholar
  4. Darley, J.M. and Batson, C.D., From Jerusalem to Jericho: A Study of Situational and Dispositional Variables in Helping Behavior, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 27 (1973), pp. 100–108.Google Scholar
  5. Doris, J., Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002.Google Scholar
  6. Flanagan, O., Varieties of Moral Personality. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1991.Google Scholar
  7. Goldie, P., On Personality. New York: Routledge, 2004.Google Scholar
  8. Harman, G., Moral Philosophy Meets Social Psychology: Virtue Ethics and the Fundamental Attribution Error, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 99 (1999), pp. 315–332.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Harman, G., The Nonexistence of Character Traits, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100 (2000), pp. 223–226.Google Scholar
  10. Hartshorne, H. and May, M.A., Studies in the Nature of Character I: Studies in Deceit. New York: Macmillan, 1928.Google Scholar
  11. Kamtekar, R., Situationism and Virtue Ethics on the Content of Our Character, Ethics 114 (2004), pp. 458–491.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Kant, I., Critique of Practical Reason, M. Gregor (trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.Google Scholar
  13. Kant, I., Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 3rd edition, J.W. Ellington (trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993.Google Scholar
  14. Kant, I., Lectures on Ethics, L. Infield (trans.). Indianapolis, Hackett: 1930.Google Scholar
  15. Kant, I., The Metaphysics of Morals, M. Gregor (trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.Google Scholar
  16. Kohlberg, L., Essays on Moral Development Volume II: The Psychology of Moral Development. New York: Harper & Row, 1984.Google Scholar
  17. Kupperman, J., The Indispensability of Character, Philosophy 76 (2001), pp. 239–250.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity. New York: HarperCollins, 2001.Google Scholar
  19. Milgram, S., Obedience to Authority. New York: Harper & Row, 1974.Google Scholar
  20. Miller, C., Social Psychology and Virtue Ethics, The Journal of Ethics 7 (2003), pp. 365–392.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Mischel, W., Personality and Assessment. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 1968.Google Scholar
  22. Montmarquet, J., Moral Character and Social Science Research, Philosophy 78 (2003), pp. 355–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Nisbett, R.E. and Wilson, T.D., Telling More Than We Can Know: Verbal Reports on Mental Processes, Psychological Review 84 (1977), pp. 231–259.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Nisbett, R. and Ross, L., Human Inference: Strategies and Shortcomings of Social Judgment. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1980.Google Scholar
  25. Penner, T., Socrates and the Early Dialogues, in R. Kraut (ed.), The Cambridge Companion to Plato. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pp. 121–169.Google Scholar
  26. Plato, Laches, and Charmides, R.K. Sprague (trans.). Indianapolis: Hackett, 1992.Google Scholar
  27. Sabini, J. and Silver, M., Lack of Character? Situationism Critiqued, Ethics 115 (2005), pp. 535–562.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Sreenivasan, G., Errors about Errors: Virtue Theory and Trait Attribution, Mind 111 (2002), pp. 47–68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Vranas, P., The Indeterminacy Paradox: Character Evaluations and Human Psychology, NOUS 39(1) (2005), pp. 1–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Wielenberg, E., Value and Virtue in a Godless Universe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  31. Zimbardo, P., Quiet Rage: The Stanford Prison Study (video). Academic distribution by Stanford University.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyDePauw UniversityGreencastleUSA

Personalised recommendations