The core vision of the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project is to open avenues of inquiry into virtue using the framework of the “self,” instead of “personality,” to require deep and ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration, and to stimulate methodological innovation into the study of virtue. This thirty-six month initiative opens avenues of research into virtue through two aims. The first aim is to encourage investigations of the self as the possessor of personality, motivation, and virtue, including views on the development of the moral self.
The second aim is to stimulate methodological innovation that incorporates multiple disciplinary perspectives and goes beyond paper-and-pencil measures. Meeting this aim requires that research teams move beyond traditional psychological measures, and that they meet the criterion of “deep integration” by generally being comprised of at least one scientist and one humanities scholar with full and equal investment in specific projects from inception to completion. Ideally, research teams include members from differing scientific traditions.
In focusing on the self, as opposed to the personality framework, our proposal differs from other approaches to the study of character and virtue funded by the John Templeton Foundation (JTF). The Character Project, conducted through Wake Forest University, and the Science of Virtues Project, administered through the University of Chicago, consider personality to be foundational to character and virtue. These approaches see virtue as constitutive of character and character as a part of personality. Personological perspectives from psychology typically take no perspective at all on the nature of the self and assume that the class of character traits is coextensive with, or a subset of, the class of personality traits. Yet several noted theorists believe a meaningful distinction can be made between the self and personality. According to this view, the self (typically assumed to be a mature adult) is the possessor of both character and personality, with moral character the bearer of moral character traits or moral virtues, and the personality the bearer of personality traits. The self, or characteristics thereof, is theorized as deeper than personality by the following philosophers and psychologists: Goldie (2004), Kristjánsson (2010), Sripada (2010), Sripada and Konrath (2011), McAdams and Pals (2006), and McAdams (2006). These theorists acknowledge that personality researchers study personality traits, but believe that character traits are to be found by studying the self. The distinction between character and personality is also documented in the work of historians Susman (2003) and Nicholson (1998).
To motivate the distinction between character and personality, consider that Goldie (2004, 4-5) distinguishes character traits from personality traits, maintaining that the former, but not the latter, are deeper and more enduring aspects of the self. A key difference between character traits or virtues, and personality traits, according to Goldie (2004, 43, 88-89) is that moral virtues are reliably responsive to reasons that reveal moral values, whereas some personality traits (consider shyness) are not. Character traits, he contends, have to do with a person’s moral worth (Goldie 2004, 31). We hold people morally responsible for their character traits, but not for their personality traits. Other things being equal, people are morally blameworthy for lacking honesty, but not for lacking charm or wit, at least in the West. Our judgments of the value of personality traits can be tainted by a person’s bad character (Goldie 2004, 32-33). For example, we do not admire a charming person who is also a liar and a cheat. However, Goldie (2004, 32) contends that the converse is not true: our judgments of the value of a person’s wisdom or honesty are not changed if he or she lacks a sense of humor, at least in the Western tradition. Kristjánsson (2010), Sripada (2010), McAdams and Pals (2006), and McAdams (2006) endorse this distinction and carry the analysis of self, character, and personality further by investigating the characteristics of a self that possesses both character traits and personality traits. Cultural historian Susman (2003) documents the distinction between character and personality in magazines, pamphlets, and self-help manuals from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Whereas the nineteenth century extolled a Victorian Age conception of character as industrious, morally courageous, and conscientious, the early twentieth century saw a shift to personality, highlighting charm, charisma, and magnetism. Historian of psychology Nicholson (1998) finds a similar distinction in the early work of the father of personality psychology, Gordon Allport.
One of the co-directors, Narvaez, is not convinced of the distinctions among character/personality/character traits/personality traits because of their fuzzy conceptualizations and lack of empirical distinction. She finds the approach more a matter of semantics that have little bearing on everyday virtue and maintains that it has gotten little play in psychology. The other co-director, Snow, is more hospitable to these distinctions, which have greater play in philosophy. Snow believes the self is the possessor of both character and personality, with ‘character’ referring to the deep-seated moral orientation of the self which gives rise to character traits or moral virtues, such as generosity or courage, and ‘personality,’ referring to aspects of the self that give rise to ‘personality traits,’ such as shyness or talkativeness.
Following the cultural historian Susman (2003), Snow believes that in England and the United States in the early twentieth century emphasis on personality came to replace the stress on character. She believes, too, that the distinction is important to character research and merits sustained attention. A glance at the lists of virtues offered by Aristotle and Hume, for example, raises the question of the differences between character traits and personality traits. Aristotle, for example, includes ready wit as a virtue of character, yet not all virtue ethicists would agree with this claim (see Nicomachean Ethics 1128a). Hume (1975, 261, n. 1) defines ‘virtue’ as “. . . a quality of the mind agreeable to or approved of by everyone who considers or contemplates it.” He includes wit and ingenuity, as well as decency and cleanliness, on his list of virtues (Hume 1975, 262, 266). How extensive should lists of virtues be, how should virtues be defined or delimited, and on what basis, if any, should they be distinguished from personality traits? These are questions that Snow, at least, finds important for understanding moral character.
That said, both co-directors agree that the distinction between character and personality, as well as the distinction between character traits and personality traits, is tricky. Snow believes that one way of distinguishing character traits from personality traits is to note that the former are reasons-responsive in a particular way, whereas the latter are not. By ‘reasons-responsive,’ Snow means that character traits (virtues) enable their possessors to discern facts that provide reasons for virtuous action or response in a given situation. Such virtuous action or response could be moral, prudential, intellectual, religious, or aesthetic. The important point, however, is that reasons for virtuous action/response justify as well as explain virtuous behavior. My perceiving a friend in need as a reason for compassionate response provides a justification for offering to help, as well as an explanation of my action. By contrast, the behavior motivated by personality traits can be explained, but not justified, by reasons. The fact that I am naturally shy and timid provides an explanation of my failure to defend a colleague who is being unfairly attacked at a department meeting, but it does not justify that failure in moral terms.
The preceding paradigm of the self is implicitly assumed to be adult. By contrast, versions of an alternative paradigm of the moral self in which development has pride of place, advanced by psychologists such as Emde et. al. (1991), Rothbart and Bates (2006), Kochanska et.al. (2010), and Narvaez (2013), view the moral self as an organic whole that develops over time. On these views, the nature of the self and virtue cannot be understood without taking a developmental perspective. Development is interactive, depending in multiple and complex ways on social conditions. The moral self is inherently social.
Three distinct approaches explain the development of the moral self in early life. The “Affective Core” approach locates the foundations of the moral self in infancy, often invoking psychoanalytic “object relations” theory as an orienting framework. The “Trait Dispositional” approach finds the developmental origins of the moral personality in patterns of early childhood temperament, identifying the various dimensions of individual differences in temperament (and subsequent moral personality) as largely innate. The “Conscience” approach considers the development of norm-compliant behavior in toddlers as the product of an interaction between early childhood temperament and parental socialization practices.
According to the first perspective, “Affective Core,” the child develops a moral self by age 3 (Emde et al., 1991). By this age the child has internalized rules about acceptable behavior, displays moral affect, engages in prosocial behavior, regulates conflict between personal needs and social obligations and is governed by internal standards (at least some of the time). In this view, self and morality develop before the capacity for reflective self-awareness. The early development of the moral self in infancy is based on knowledge organized procedurally or subconsciously. The sources of procedural moral knowledge are five “motives” built into the species by evolution and consolidated into an “affective core” that serves as a biologically prepared platform for early moral development. The affective core includes activity (a basic tendency for exploration and mastery), self-regulation (“built-in” propensity to regulate physiology and behavior), social fittedness (pre-adaptions for initiating, maintaining and terminating social interactions and establishing behavioral synchrony), affective monitoring (infants track experiences according to what is pleasurable and use affect to guide parental care) and cognitive assimilation (seeking out the novel to make it familiar).
According to the second approach, the trait dispositional view, early patterns of infant temperament become elaborated into stable personality traits. Often temperament traits are considered on a lower-order of generality, a more basic level of function, than are personality traits, and more closely tied to genetic-biological foundations (Rothbart & Bates, 2006). Moreover, temperament is thought to provide the building blocks of later personality, or else point to qualities that have to be assembled into broader dispositional patterns. Hence, stable dimensions of temperament emerge early, persist into later developmental periods and are elaborated into broader dimensions of individual differences. Trait dispositional tendencies, although stable and enduring, are amenable to moderation by contextual influence (Rothbart & Bates, 2006; Caspi, 2000), much in the way that Affective Core propensities are responsive to expectable caregiver relationships.
The third approach, pioneered by Kochanska (1991, 1993, 1997a, 1997b, 2002a, 2002b), considers conscience as an inner-guidance system responsible for norm-compatible internalized conduct (rule-compliance without surveillance) and moral emotions (empathy). Individual differences in conscience are traced to two sources: biologically prepared temperament and socialization experiences in early caregiving relationships. In Kochanska’s model, emerging morality begins with the quality of parent child attachment. A strong mutually responsive orientation (MRO) to caregivers orients the child to be receptive to parental influence. The MRO is characterized by shared positive affect, mutually coordinated enjoyable routines, and a cooperative interpersonal orientation marked by a joint willingness to initiate and reciprocate relational overtures. Within the context of an MRO the child displays committed compliance to the norms and values of caregivers, which motivates moral internalization and the work of conscience. It should be noted that Kochanska has found multiple pathways to conscience (Kochanska et al., 2010).
The effect of broader societal conditions on conceptions of the self is discussed in cultural analyses. For example, Narvaez (2013) contrasts the type of moral self fostered by modern Western societies with those of small-band foraging societies who are presumed to represent over 99% of human genus history (prior to settlements and the domestication of plants and animals). Nomadic foragers represent a society structure that emerged independently and sustainably all over the world (Gowdy, 1998; Ingold, 1999). In these societies, the self is born into a web of support, a companionship culture with egalitarian relationships that include young children and entities of the natural world. The moral self under these conditions has a small ego but a large moral self that encompasses the web of life as part of oneself (“Commonself”; Martin, 1999). A person’s decisions and actions take into account the web of relationships. The moral self is one of deep engagement with others and a communal imagination. In contrast, modern Western cultures typically foster large (individualistic) egos (sets of defenses, self-focus and self-regard) and small moral selves that focus primarily on self-focused goals (safety, self-aggrandizement, control) that can lead to vicious imagination or dangerously detached lifestyles. The contrast between the ego and the moral self that Narvaez describes may match up with the contrast between personality and moral character described above.
Another idea central to this proposed initiative is the notion that appropriate motivation is essential for genuinely virtuous action. This notion is used as a working hypothesis to be investigated through funded research projects. The concept may seem familiar, as it is derived from philosophers such as Aristotle (1985), who maintains that virtuous behavior proceeds from a stable character state and is appropriately motivated. Many psychologists, however, rely on self-reports or behavioral measures to identify putatively virtuous behavior. These measures either do not probe into the motivations behind the behavior, as in purely behavioral measures, or do not probe in reasonably reliable ways, as in self-reports. Such measures miss an important dimension of virtue that has yet to be robustly explored in empirical research.
To illustrate nuances that these measures miss, consider an extended example from Kristjánsson (2010, 139-142) of a putatively virtuous behavior – a person’s giving change to a young woman for the bus. Following Aristotle, he convincingly argues that numerous motivations could produce the act of giving the young woman change, though not all of them would count as virtuous. For example, giving because of the desire to appear generous in front of an audience would not count as virtuous behavior, at least according to Aristotle. Kristjánsson (2010, 139-142) enriches his account by also considering possible reasons for refraining from giving the young woman change. Not all of these reasons betray a person’s vice. Some of them speak to continence – a state in which a person performs a putatively virtuous action but without the desire to do the act or attain the end at which the virtuous person would aim. The continent person’s desires go against virtue, but he or she resists them and acts in a way that looks virtuous. Yet the continent person’s act is not truly virtuous, for it is performed for the wrong reason. In order to get at the true nature of virtue, then, many theorists believe that the inner states of the agent – especially her motivations – why she acts as she does — need to be carefully studied.
This research initiative agrees, hypothesizing that virtue is likely to lie at a deep level of the self and, for many though not all virtues (see discussion below), to be manifested in motivations that reflect a commitment to the value the virtue expresses and give rise to action. This is at odds with a competing view, displayed by some philosophers and social scientists (e.g., Doris 2002, Harman 1999, Darley and Batson 1973), that identifying and measuring prosocial behavior without regard to motivation is sufficient to yield insights into virtues such as compassion. As Kristjánsson (2010, 139-142)’s discussion shows and many commonsense examples affirm, not all prosocial behavior is virtuous because it is not appropriately motivated. On this view, giving to charity from a purely selfish desire to get an income tax deduction is a prosocial, but not a virtuous, behavior. Volunteering at a soup kitchen solely in order to note it on one’s resumé is another example of prosocial, but not virtuous, behavior. Such behavior is not vicious or immoral. It simply fails to display an important motivational condition placed on virtuous action in much of the history of philosophy.
Following Aristotle, we note that virtuous motivation is not only a matter of conscious intention. Aristotle acknowledges many occasions on which virtuous action is performed automatically, without conscious thought or deliberation, as if from “second nature,” especially when our virtuous dispositions are deeply entrenched. In fact, Snow (2010) offers one possible account of this phenomenon in terms of the psychological literature on goal-dependent automaticity. Narvaez (2005; Narvaez and Lapsley, 2005) describes multiple forms of situation-based and skill-based automaticity in a discussion of moral expertise. We wholeheartedly agree that nonconscious processing is vital for virtuous action. Seeding new research into social cognition directed toward elucidating the conscious and nonconscious motivations that give rise to virtuous actions is integral to this research initiative.
We start with the working hypothesis that appropriate motivations are required for truly virtuous action, yet we are open to nuance and complexity in the structure of virtuous motivations. Snow (2010), for example, maintains that virtues have distinctive motivations, expressing a commitment to the value the virtue expresses. Yet research proposals under this initiative should remain open to the possibility that virtues differ from each other in fundamental ways. Thus, for example, some virtues, such as justice and compassion, have distinctive or characteristic motivations, whereas others, such as self-control, patience, or perseverance, might not be motivationally structured in the same way. Instead of being self-controlled for the sake of being self-controlled, or patient for the sake of being patient, and so on, someone might have and exercise these virtues for the sake of some other virtue, such as justice or compassion. In this kind of framework, one is just or compassionate for its own sake, but one might persevere for the sake of justice, or be patient because of one’s compassion or kindness. Or, as Narvaez (2013, forthcoming) argues, self-regulatory capacities arise from an early upbringing that matches evolved developmental needs, making other virtues generally easier to come by. Openness to the nuance and complexity of virtuous motivation is a hallmark of careful scholarship, and an orientation we will advocate in moving forward.
In the spirit of openness, we remain cognizant of the possibility that empirical research could unsettle our working hypotheses, and show that a broader range of motivations, including self-interested motivation, is sufficient for virtuous action.
To summarize our research questions/ideas/hypotheses, one central research idea is that the self, as opposed to personality, is a promising framework for research on virtue that provides an interesting alternative to personality-based approaches. This initiative will open this avenue of research into virtue. A second central idea is that appropriate motivation is necessary for virtuous action. This hypothesis derives from the history of philosophy, especially from Aristotle (1985). Virtuous motivation is complex, both insofar as it relies on nonconscious processing as well as on conscious deliberation, and insofar as the motivational structure of specific virtues can differ. In the spirit of open-minded and open-ended inquiry, we remain open to funding research that could unsettle our hypotheses.
A central aim of the Self, Motivation, and Virtue Project is to stimulate methodological innovation in research into virtue by closing the “disciplinary gap” in the study of virtue and by moving beyond traditional “paper and pencil” research methods. Thus, we propose to seed approximately ten new research projects at $190,000 each to stimulate new research on the self as the possessor of virtue.
Research into character and virtue is often conducted by scholars from within a single disciplinary perspective — philosophers research by themselves, psychologists team up with each other, and historians and anthropologists proceed from their own disciplinary perspectives. This disciplinary isolationism is not maximally productive of new knowledge about virtue. Greater insights into the self, virtue, and motivation can be achieved only by combining the talents of practitioners of different disciplines. To ensure that research funded by this proposal closes the disciplinary gap, we will require that funded research teams meet the requirement of “deep integration.” By “deep integration,” we mean that successful teams will be comprised of at least one humanist and one scientist who are fully and equally invested in the research project from its inception to its completion. Ideally, research teams should be composed of humanists and scientists who are rooted in different traditions and bring different perspectives to bear on a research topic. The aim here is to encourage awardees to think outside of their own disciplinary perspectives, and to broaden their research horizons in ways conducive to creative collaborations and results.
We foresee teams of psychologists, anthropologists, sociologists, political scientists, and possibly also, physicians and other medical science researchers, collaborating with humanities scholars such as philosophers, theologians, historians, and possibly literary scholars. A literary scholar and a physician could, for example, collaborate to explore the effects of chronic illness on the self and motivation and the growth or decline of virtue through patients’ narratives of their experiences with illness, treatment, recovery, pain management, and so on. An anthropologist and a theologian could collaborate on exploring the development of the religious self and concomitant virtues through the practice of culturally embedded rituals.
Successful research teams exhibit substantive and sustained interaction throughout the entire course of their funded activity. A good example of a product of such deeply integrated research collaboration is the article, “Telling More Than We Can Know About Intentional Action” (2011), co-authored by philosopher Chandra Sekhar Sripada and psychologist Sara Konrath. Their innovative collaboration brought the statistical method of structural path modeling to bear on Sripada’s Deep Self Model, yielding new empirical evidence for deep characterological dispositions. This is the kind of collaboration and methodological innovation we seek to stimulate.
Teams are prepared in the following ways:
1. In the RFP, we carefully spell out the challenges of achieving deep integration, taking our cue from the reviewer’s warnings (see revised draft of RFP). We require of applicants detailed descriptions, in terms of approaches, activities, meetings, discussions, and methods, of how their team will meet the deep integration requirement. This means a commitment to being open to new ways of conceptualizing familiar ideas, to broaden their methods for approaching problems, and to resolving conceptual and practical differences as they move forward.
2. The interdisciplinary moral forum includes sessions on brainstorming methods for achieving deep integration, and will encourage interdisciplinary interaction. Discussions include topics such as “communicating across the disciplines,” “broadening methodological perspectives,” “learning from each other,” “strategies for resolving conceptual and practical disputes,” and so on.
3. At the interdisciplinary forum, participants are told to expect frustration, bafflement, and, possibly, infuriation, but to “ride those reactions out” and stick with their commitment to working deeply and collaboratively with practitioners of other disciplines. This reflects our view that bafflement and frustration are “steps along the way” to deeper and more profitable levels of interdisciplinary collaboration. Funded researchers are encouraged to view deep integration as a journey; we support them through this journey via ongoing e-mail correspondence and conference interactions.
4. We devote part of the first conference for the presentation of awardees’ work to issues of interdisciplinary integration. Workshops and small group discussions address problems teams might be having and to share strategies for successful collaboration.
5. As noted in point 3, we make ourselves available throughout the duration of the grant to funded researchers to mediate difficulties their teams might encounter in the process of reaching deep integration. In other words, we do our best to help them achieve the mindset and practical skills needed to move beyond superficial interdisciplinary collaboration to deeper levels. We try to model these interdisciplinary skills through ongoing e-mail suggestions (requiring our attention and time, and accounting for part of our buyout time).
6. As a final comment, we note that a philosopher and a psychologist are collaborating on this proposal, thereby modeling a form of deep integration for funded researchers. Aside from that, other truly interdisciplinary collaborations have been successful. We believe the communications difficulties, frustration, bafflement, and other negative reactions of which the reviewer warns are not necessarily terminal impediments, but a difficult stage along the way to deep integration. We plan to help funded participants prepare for and get through that stage.
We hypothesize that traditional psychological measures do not get at the heart of virtue. Behavioral measures by themselves do not yield information about subjects’ motivations for action. The classic Milgram study, for example, did not tell us why subjects either obeyed or disobeyed experimenters’ orders to shock “learners.” The Darley and Batson (1973) studies did not probe the motives of subjects who stopped to help the confederate who was slumped over and moaning, nor the motives of those who hurried past.
Another way of putting this point is to note that inferences from behavior to traits are not completely reliable. As McCrae and Costa (1996, 74) observe, there is no guarantee of a one-to-one correspondence between a behavior and a trait. Additionally, traditional paper-and-pencil measures, i.e., surveys, suffer from deficiencies, most notably, bias in self-reports, and a lack of immediacy to real-life phenomena. Completed in laboratory or office settings, surveys are removed from the habitat of daily life. Yet it is in situ — in the real world environment — that we can learn most about how people are motivated when they act or fail to act virtuously. Consequently, an aim of this research initiative is to encourage methodological innovation in the study of virtue, to expand the resources of researchers’ “tool kits.” As noted, Sripada and Konrath (2011)’s use of structural path modeling to analyze subjects’ judgments about hypothetical cases yielded support for Sripada’s Deep Self Model. This is one example of methodological creativity. Others include the use of the iEAR, a recording device voluntarily worn by subjects, to record subjects’ conversations, allowing for subsequent analysis by researchers for virtue-relevant observations and remarks.
Finally, computer simulations offer researchers creative ways of observing and tracking subjects’ reactions to realistically represented virtue-relevant scenarios. (The iEAR and computer simulations have been creatively used by psychologists whose research has been funded by “The Character Project.”) We cannot know in advance of our RFP what kinds of methodological innovations researchers will propose. However, we will require that awardees move beyond traditional self-report measures, and we will offer structural path modeling, other indirect measures, the use of the iEAR, computer simulations, projective tests, repertory grid, Q-sorting, think-aloud protocols, narrative analysis, and autobiographical analysis as examples of the kinds of methods we would like to see used in place of or in addition to self-report measures in the study of virtue.
We aim to stimulate research into the self, motivation, and virtue by opening the self framework as an avenue for sustained and serious interdisciplinary research. Thus, we foresee receiving research proposals that will place into dialogue different normative approaches to moral psychology. However, we do not foreclose the possibility of receiving and funding proposals that bring into dialogue normative and descriptive approaches, though this is not one of our primary aims. If the proposal does not stimulate dialogue between normative and descriptive approaches, this would not be a weakness.
We see the focus on descriptives as problematic for multiple reasons: the researchers have an implicit normative frame that they typically do not make explicit; they do not examine the developmental or wellbeing levels of their subjects, assuming instead that they represent normal humanity, despite the fact that Western brains are typically undernourished for social development in early life (Narvaez, 2012); they generalize their findings to all humans in all time periods regardless of the fact that Western culture raises very different brains from most of human genus existence (Narvaez, 2013). Added to these issues are the uses of brain imaging, which is unable to distinguish what differs between novices and experts (except that typically experts have less activation) and again generalizes from Western brains to all of humanity.
Regardless of whether the lack of normative/descriptive dialogue is a strength or a weakness, it could be desirable to include activities that would promote it. Given the overall gist of our project, we do not anticipate that it would appeal very much to proponents of descriptive views. However, if we do receive such proposals, we will encourage submitters of descriptive studies to be explicit about their assumptions and careful about their generalizations.
Aside from openness to funding research projects that would stimulate such dialogue, other activities include sponsoring presentations and panel discussions to promote dialogue at the interdisciplinary moral forum and the two conferences envisioned as part of our proposal. In addition, lectures on the topic could be held at Notre Dame and Marquette, and discussion of the topic encouraged via the project website, in the project newsletter, in interactive online discussion forums, and on Dr. Narvaez’s blog.
In addition to the RFP competition, this project will:
We envision the archive to be used primarily by academics: subgrant awardees, moral self research networkers, graduate students seeking data, or others interested in the moral psychology of the self, motivation, and virtue. We had not envisioned use of the archive by non-academics, such as journalists, but are happy to accommodate this possibility.