Implicit Theories of Morality, Personality, and Contextual Factors in Moral Appraisal

Symposion: Theoretical and Applied Inquiries in Philosophy and Social Sciences 1 (2):191-221 (2014)
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Abstract

This article explores the implicit theories of morality, or the conceptions regarding the patterns of stability, continuity and change in moral dispositions, both in lay and academic discourses. The controversies surrounding these conceptions and the fragmentation of the models and perspectives in metaethics and moral psychology endangers the pursuit of adequate operationalizations of morally relevant constructs. The current debate between situationists, who deny that character is an useful concept for understanding human behavior, which is better explained by contextual factors (Doris 1998; Harman 1998) and dispositionists, who advocate the cross-situational stability of traits, is also present in the lay discourse, through the existence of competing commonsense ontological assumptions regarding the mutability or alterability of moral features, namely the implicit theories perspective (Chiu, Dweck, Tong, & Fu 1997). These personal theories are primary suspects in the affective and cognitive reactions to transgressions: the type of attended information in formulating evaluative judgments, the calibration of moral responsibility and blameworthiness, the assignment of retribution or reparatory recommendations to transgressors. In the second part of the study we attempt to advance toward a more fine-grained inspection of these lay beliefs, arguing that the construct of implicit theories of morality, as it is currently treated and measured, tends to be restrictive and oversimplifying.

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