Hello. I had philosophy class at uni today. I thought it might be a nice idea, as a sort of regular segment, to summarise some of my thoughts about class on this here 'blog'. How about that?
The subject I'm doing is called Topics in Moral Psychology. From what I can tell, the idea of Moral Psychology relates to the search for empirical, psychological evidence for morality. At the moment, we're talking about the nature of 'character', asking what 'characters' (and therefore virtue and vice as elements of them) are and whether they exist.
Today we spent some time arguing about whether experimental results in psychology, as outlined in articles such as this one and this one, serve as evidence for or against the existence of 'character'. As I understand it, 'character', in any meaningful, useful-to-philosophers-who-are-seeking-the-truth sense relates to an unachievable, unrealistic and illusory idea of people as static, consistent entities. In a folk sense, these types of static characters do exist – intuitively, we conceive of someone being of a character type A if they consistently do the sort of things that a person of character type A does. As such, in this practical, common-sensical way, the idea of character almost necessarily exists – it's the way in which we make, judge and keep friends and enemies, how we teach children basic good and bad and how we communicate approximations of complex ideas about who people are. This common-sense idea as to the existence of character, I believe, is related to the way in which humans have to codify, systematise and simplify the world into static, explainable chunks – we love to put things in boxes so that we can understand them. Character is just another box into which we put people – this person is 'generous', this person is 'cowardly', this person is 'writes-too-much-about-their-boring-thoughts-on-a-blog-y' and so on.
In a practical sense then, I think character 'exists' in the sense that we use it as an imperfect model and tool with which to approximate and codify the world. That is, the only 'character' one has is the one ascribed to them by others trying to fit them into their necessarily innacurate and ill-informed models of the world. Thus, character is a personal, subjective approximation.
In a real sense, then – that is, in the philosophical and Truth-seeking sense – character, I believe does not exist. That is, if character is, as our common-sense expects, essentially consistency of person. Upon a small amount of reflection and observation, I think it is fair enough to suggest that no person is particularly 'consistent' (depending on what you expect by 'consistent', I suppose). Thus character, as a symptom of consistency cannot (perhaps) actually exist.
This is my gut feeling, anyway. So far, I feel like psychologists trying to investigate character – trying to devise experiments to suggest that exhibition of virtue is relevant to a person's situation and not their 'character' (therefore character musn't exist!), for example – could just as well be attempting to provide experimental evidence that unicorns don't exist. To draw a hugely generalised and straw-man-targeting conclusion, I think they're trying to prove the non-existence of something that doesn't exist (character) by showing how little effect it has on other things that are barely measurable (virtue) and, perhaps don't exist either.
As such, I feel like I am talking at cross-purposes with others who seem ok with the idea of the existence of consistent 'characters'. This seems to happen a lot in philosophy class for me. Often, I have a feeling that I am not playing by the right rules and that everyone hates me.
That's all for Philosophy Monday this week. Maybe I will do something like it again next week. Perhaps I will actually do the reading that I link to.
Hopefully, as a result, my thoughts will be better.