Going back to the ancient Hebrews and Greeks, Western writers have struggled to characterize morality and to define a moral life. Poets and storytellers have told moving tales of human virtue and evil, of how people have led moral lives or failed to live up to moral standards. Philosophers, theologians, and lawmakers have codified morality in terms of legal systems, moral imperatives, ethical standards, commandments, norms, rules, principles, and a vast array of codes and constructs designed to regulate, sanction, and affirm certain forms of human conduct. In the last 100 years, psychologists have gotten into the act. From William James to Lawrence Kohlberg, psychological theorists and researchers have proposed their own conceptions of moral life, typically couching their pronouncements in the language of science and backing up their claims with empirical data. Psychologists have invoked such terms as moral development, moral character, moral identity, moral schemas and values, altruism, cooperation, prosocial behavior, conscience, and the like. Until recently, however, few writers have explicitly discussed the prospects of a moral personality. Picking up the central theme in the current volume, this chapter makes a case for the viability of this new term and for the psychological and social complexity it brings to the fore.
What is a moral personality? The question implicitly assumes an answer to a more general question: What is personality? The author of the first authoritative textbook on personality psychology – Gordon Allport (1937) – proposed 49 different definitions of personality before he settled on his own.