Character  &  Context

Moral Character at SPSP 2014

Wordmap of ethics

By Dave Nussbaum

The study of moral character is alive and well, as Erik Helzer describes in this preview of two symposia at SPSP 2014 in Austin…

Moral character: We all talk about it, but in recent years the study of character has dwindled within the field of moral psychology. At this year’s SPSP, not one, but two, symposia will present brand new research that reinvigorates the study of character, calling for a return to the study of moral traits as powerful determinants of moral and immoral deeds.

The field of moral psychology has by and large been dominated in recent years by the study of context, or the features of situations that lead the average person to act in moral or immoral ways. This work has produced so many classic studies that have enriched our understanding of how it is that a person’s environment or peers can influence them (often in subtle ways) to help, but also to harm, to tell the truth, but also to cheat.

The message of these two symposia, however, is that the story of moral behavior can’t simply be written from the study of situations. Situational factors can’t easily explain why some people tend to be more helpful or more honest than others. They also can’t shed light on why people act differently from one another even in the most controlled experiments. For this, the field must look to the study of character.

On Friday, February 14, and Saturday, February 15, attendees of these symposia will learn about the new frontiers of moral character research, as told by the researchers leading the march. The last few years have been a busy time for the study of character. Researchers have been exploring moral behavior in the workplace, at home, and even in virtual reality; they have been studying emerging adults and older adults; and they have been paying attention to what people do, what they say, and what their friends and family members say about them – all in the service of locating stable character traits that define who we are and the moral choices we make.

Come to both sessions to see what all the buzz is about!

Friday, February 14, 2014, 9:45 AM – 11:00 AM, Room 9

Symposium S-A5 Character Comes Back: New Evidence for Moral Personality

Saturday, February 15, 2014, 9:45 AM – 11:00 AM, Room 9

Symposium S-E5 Current directions in the study of Character: The four W questions (what, when, why and where)

Erik G. Helzer, Wake Forest University

 

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