Access the publisher's website Perspectives on Psychological Science 10, 1 (2015) 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.