Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology

By Seligman, Clive | Canadian Psychology, November 2011 | Go to article overview

Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology


Seligman, Clive, Canadian Psychology


Personality, Identity, and Character: Explorations in Moral Psychology, by Darcia Narvaez & Daniel K. Lapsley (Eds.). New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009, 464 pages (ISBN 978-0-521-89507-1, CA $106.95 Hardcover; ISBN 978-0-521-71927-8, CA $40.95 Paperback)

Reviewed by CLTVE SELIGMAN

DOI: 10.1037/a0025486

According to the editors, moral psychology has frequently been studied separately in diverse disciplines with varied methodologies and theoretical perspectives, often without an appropriate understanding of related approaches, for example, grounding personality and morality in developmental processes. The goal of the book is to begin to build an integrative approach to problems of morality. The thematic focus of the book is the examination of morality within the context of personality, identity, and character. The editors wisely do not call for a grand theory of morality, but instead recognise that readers who have thought about morality within the confines of their own approaches would benefit from the opportunity to learn how those with other disciplinary or subdisciplinary perspectives deal with their facets of the problem. To accomplish this end, the editors have recruited scholars from several fields: philosophy, neuroscience, personality, developmental psychology, and social psychology, most of whom do a good job of trying to link their work to the stated thematic focus. The book is based on the 2006 Notre Dame Symposium on Personality and Moral Character, with additional chapters being contributed by scholars who spoke at a second Notre Dame Symposium in 2008.

The book consists of an introduction and 19 chapters. The editors' introductory chapter provides an excellent overview of the main points or arguments in each of the chapters. Their own concluding chapter is a very thoughtful summary of the themes, unanswered questions, and future directions. The chapters are well written and many are even fun to read. Morality is an intrinsically interesting topic, and there are insights aplenty in each chapter, both about morality and about the subfields in which they are discussed. The book, or certainly large chunks of it, would be suitable for use in graduate courses, and even in undergraduate, senior special topic courses. The worst thing I can say about the book is that the subject index is thin and thus not very useful.

Space limitations prevent my commenting on each of the chapters, but let me try to convey a flavour of the book through several observations. The two chapters on personality review different conceptions of personality and personality-behaviour interactions. McAdams explains that personality consists of several levels: traits, characteristic adaptations, and life narratives and that each level has something to say about morality, perhaps life narratives more so than the others. Cervone and Tripathi point out that personality is a reasonable predictor of behaviour if we also know how the individual construes the situation in which the personality trait is expected to be expressed. And it is perhaps even more complicated than this when we consider that not all moral behaviour reaches high consensus about its morality. For example, giving money to charities or donating blood would likely be considered a good thing by virtually all people. However, many social issues do not have the luxury of consensus. Is abortion good or bad? Does Dr. Henry Morgenthaler have a low or a high moral character? What are the implications for moral education of not being able to specify what is moral? The editors ask, "How do we live well the life that is good for one to Uve?" Regretfully the book cannot answer this question. But it does go far in instructing us on how individuals and even societies find these answers for themselves.

Moll and colleagues discuss brain mechanisms with regard to the morality of choices made in the trolley car dilemma. …

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