Faculty Books and Book Chapters

Morality is Personal

Morality is Personal

Book Title

Atlas of moral psychology

Document Type

Book Chapter



Publication Date



What is the purpose of moral judgment? In the present chapter, we argue that the goal of moral cognition is often not to praise or condemn specific actions but, rather, to try to understand other people’s moral character via their actions. Human beings often act as intuitive virtue ethicists who view behaviors as signals of underlying moral traits such as trustworthiness and compassion. In making this argument, we first briefly review historical approaches to the philosophy and psychology of ethics before introducing our theoretical perspective, which we term person-centered morality. We then explore two lines of empirical evidence supporting our argument that moral judgment is often about evaluating people, not acts: first, character assessments are automatic, yet nuanced, and serve an important functional purpose. Second, character information can outweigh information about objective harm, and judgments of character can often diverge from evaluations of acts. Next, we present evidence that results supporting the person-centered view of morality are highly replicable. To close, we argue that recognizing that human beings have a preoccupation with moral virtues leads to the insight that our moral judgments can be both rational and intuitive, in meaningful senses.


The Guilford Press

First Page


Last Page



Morality is Personal
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