Persons and Moral Agency

  • Jack Martin
  • Jeff H. Sugarman
  • Sarah Hickinbottom


While psychologists lavish their attentions on the study of personality, they devote surprisingly little to the question of what is a person. Apart from the work of a few notable theorists (e.g., Baldwin, 1897; the early work of James, 1890; Mead, 1934; and others; and more recent theorizing by scholars like Harré, 1998; McAdams, 1988; and Woolfolk, 1998), the student of psychology wishing to know what a person is finds little guidance in the vast expanse of psychological literature. It might safely be presumed that we all know what it is to be a person. However, as the history of philosophy shows, it takes more to know one than being one. It is more likely the case that “person” is not considered a proper scientific concept, and so is beyond the ken of legitimate psychological inquiry. Scientific naturalism concerns study of the nature of things in the world. But a person, by definition, designates those features of human beings that make them more than mere things. Consequently, if persons are beings bearing certain rights, or having interests and recognizing what is and what is not in their interest, or capable of rational choice, or originating genuine purposes, or conceiving themselves autobiographically as persisting through time with a past and future, or justly deserving of praise or blame, then, in comprehending persons, we are forced to deal with what actually matters to human beings beyond their physical and biological constituents.


Moral Agent Moral Ideal Moral Good Moral Inquiry Strong Evaluation 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag New York 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jack Martin
    • 1
  • Jeff H. Sugarman
    • 2
  • Sarah Hickinbottom
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of PsychologySimon Fraser UniversityBumabyCanada
  2. 2.Fac. EducationSimon Fraser UniversityBumabyCanada
  3. 3.Department of Learning CommunitiesKwantlen Polytechnic UniversitySurreyCanada

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