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Character: skill or virtue?

01.22.17

Character: skill or virtue?

There has been a resurgence of interest in ‘character’ and how it is formed. Character traditionally was seen as a matter of possessing virtues such as courage and wisdom. Today it is often defined in terms of ‘capabilities’ like resilience, optimism, stoicism, altruism, emotional regulation and so on. Nevertheless, sceptics argue none of these can be taught, but are the outcome of moral choices, life experience, or are simply ‘virtues’.  Yet, many are turning to positive psychology and neuroscience for more robust evidence about how to develop character in schools. Should society even be in the business of assessing us as individuals, analysing what character deficiencies we might have? Are schools teaching character in fact practising indoctrination? Or is trying to assist the formation of our character with the latest science no more problematic than toning our muscles in the gym – the equivalent of a moral workout? Filmed at the Battle of Ideas festival this debate warms things up.

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