By Eric Luis Uhlman, David Pizarro, and Daniel Diermeier
Perspectives on Psychological Science January 2015 vol. 10 no. 1 72-81
Both normative theories of ethics in philosophy and contemporary models of moral judgment in
psychology have focused almost exclusively on the permissibility of acts, in particular whether
acts should be judged based on their material outcomes (consequentialist ethics) or based on
rules, duties, and obligations (deontological ethics). However, a longstanding third perspective
on morality, virtue ethics, may offer a richer descriptive account of a wide range of lay moral
judgments. Building on this ethical tradition, we offer a person-centered account of moral
judgment, which focuses on individuals as the unit of analysis for moral evaluations rather than
on acts. Because social perceivers are fundamentally motivated to acquire information about the
moral character of others, features of an act that seem most informative of character often hold
more weight than either the consequences of the act, or whether or not a moral rule has been
broken. This approach, we argue, can account for a number of empirical findings that are either
not predicted by current theories of moral psychology, or are simply categorized as biases or
irrational quirks in the way individuals make moral judgments.
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