Moral character or character (derived from charaktêr) is an analysis of an individual's steady moral qualities. The concept of character can express a variety of attributes, including the presence or lack of virtues such as empathy, courage, fortitude, honesty, and loyalty, or of good behaviors or habits; these attributes are also a part of one's soft skills.
Moral character refers to a collection of qualities that differentiate one individual from another – although on a cultural level, the group of moral behaviors to which a social group adheres can be said to unite and define it culturally as distinct from others.
Psychologist Lawrence Pervin defines moral character as "a disposition to express behavior in consistent patterns of functions across a range of situations". The philosopher Marie I. George refers to moral character as the "sum of one’s moral habits and dispositions". Aristotle said, "we must take as a sign of states of character the pleasure or pain that ensues on acts.": II.3
The word "character" is derived from the Ancient Greek word "charaktêr", referring to a mark impressed upon a coin. Later it came to mean a point by which one thing was told apart from others. There are two approaches when dealing with moral character: Normative ethics involve moral standards that exhibit right and wrong conduct. It is a test of proper behavior and determining what is right and wrong. Applied ethics involve specific and controversial issues along with a moral choice, and tend to involve situations where people are either for or against the issue.
In 1982 Campbell & Bond proposed the following as major sources in influencing character and moral development: heredity, early childhood experience, modeling by important adults and older youth, peer influence, the general physical and social environment, the communications media, the teachings of schools and other institutions, and specific situations and roles that elicit corresponding behavior.
The field of business ethics examines moral controversies relating to the social responsibilities of capitalist business practices, the moral status of corporate entities, deceptive advertising, insider trading, employee rights, job discrimination, affirmative action and drug testing.[non sequitur]
In the military field, character is considered particularly relevant in the leadership development area. Military leaders should not only "know" theoretically the moral values but they must embody these values.
The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy provides a historical account of some important developments in philosophical approaches to moral character. A lot of attention is given to Plato, Aristotle, and Karl Marx's views, since they all follow the idea of moral character after the Greeks. Marx accepts Aristotle's insight that virtue and good character are based on a sense of self-esteem and self-confidence.
Plato believed that the soul is divided into three parts of desire: Rational, Appetitive, or Spirited. In order to have moral character, we must understand what contributes to our overall good and have our spirited and appetitive desires educated properly, so that they can agree with the guidance provided by the rational part of the soul.
Aristotle tells us that there are people who exhibit excellences – excellences of thought and excellences of character. His phrase for excellences of character – êthikai aretai – we usually translate as moral virtue or moral excellence. When we speak of a moral virtue or an excellence of character, the emphasis is on the combination of qualities that make an individual the sort of ethically admirable person that he is. Aristotle defines virtuous character in Book II of the Nicomachean Ethics: "Excellence of character, then, is a state concerned with choice, lying in a mean relative to us, this being determined by reason and in the way in which the man of practical wisdom would determine it. Now it is a mean between two vices, that which depends on excess and that which depends on defect".: II.6 In Aristotle's view, good character is based on two naturally occurring psychological responses that most people experience without difficulty: our tendency to take pleasure from self-realizing activity and our tendency to form friendly feelings toward others under specific circumstances. Based on his view, virtually everyone is capable of becoming better and is responsible for actions that express (or could express) their character.
Abraham Lincoln once said, "Character is like a tree and reputation like its shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing."[better source needed]
In 1919, Albert Einstein wrote in a letter to his friend, Dutch physicist Hendrik Lorentz, about his disillusionment concerning the inhumane consequences of World War I. He noted “We must remember that, on the average, men’s moral qualities do not greatly vary from country to country”.
Christian character is also defined as presenting the "Fruit of the Holy Spirit": love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Doctrines of grace and total depravity assert that – due to original sin – mankind, entirely or in part, was unable to be good without God's intervention; otherwise at best, one could only ape good behavior for selfish reasons.
There have been a number of intriguing experiments to try to empirically examine moral character.
In one experiment that was done in the United States in 1985, a moral decision made by people was influenced by whether or not they had found a dime in a public phone booth. The findings were that 87% of subjects who found a dime in a phone booth mailed a sealed and addressed envelope that was left at the booth in an apparent mistake by someone else, while only 4% of those who did not find a dime helped. This suggested that transient chance factors may matter more than fixed moral character in someone's choice whether to help others. John M. Doris raises the issue of ecological validity – do experimental findings reflect phenomena found in natural contexts. He recognizes that these results are counterintuitive to the way most of us think about morally relevant behavior.
Another experiment asked college students at Cornell to predict how they would behave when faced with one of several moral dilemmas, and to make the same predictions for their peers. Again and again, people predicted that they would be more generous and kind than others. Yet when put into the moral dilemma, the subjects did not behave as generously or as kindly as they had predicted. In psychological terms, the experimental subjects were successfully anticipating the base rate of moral behavior and accurately predicting how often others, in general, would be self-sacrificing.