Menu Close
university of birmingham
Sub Menu

Can Virtue be Measured

Can Virtue be Measured?, Oriel College, Oxford, January 9–11, 2014

The second annual conference of the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues, University of Birmingham.

How can we derive credible measures of virtue? How can we ensure that such measures are reliable and that they have real-world (predictive and concurrent) validity? Or is the demand unreasonable? Have we, by demanding that virtue be assessed, succumbed to a culture of instrumentalism, testing and accountability, inimical to real education? The purpose of this conference was to contribute to these debates and map out avenues of research on the evaluation of virtue-based education programmes

The programme is available to view here.

Abstracts and papers presented at the conference can be found below:


Nancy Snow - Virtue Intelligence - Keynote Speaker

Virtue Intelligence

The provocative title of this conference is, “Can Virtue Be Measured?” My answer to this question is, “Yes, it can,” and “It should be.” Most of the ideas presented in this keynote come from a recent collaboration I’ve had with Jennifer Cole Wright, a psychologist from the College of Charleston. Central to our thinking is a notion suggested to us by one of our prospective editors -- the idea of virtue intelligence. In part I, I sketch arguments for the importance of measuring virtue. In II, I articulate the notion of virtue intelligence and situate it within philosophical theories of virtue. In III, I discuss what I believe to be some of the most innovative and exciting methodologies for measuring virtue now being explored. In IV, I go out on a limb and suggest something rather different as a way into the task of measuring virtue, inspired by my recent reading on the topic of “big data.”

The centerpiece of this talk, the concept of virtue intelligence, describes the mental state of a virtuous agent as Aristotle would see it. This is but one element of importance in measuring virtue. Two others are dispositionality and behavior. However, as an adherent to the Aristotelian tradition of virtue ethics, I believe that the mental state of the agent makes all the difference as to whether her behavior can be judged virtuous. Thus, I think ways of measuring virtue intelligence are very important for actually “getting at” true or genuine virtue. In most of the talk, then, I endorse a sort of ‘purism’ regarding the measurement of virtue. The final part of the paper, though not, in the end, departing from this purism, suggests a rather different approach to measuring virtue.

Steve Thoma - Measuring Moral Judgments from a Neo-Kohlbergian Perspective - Keynote Speaker

Measuring Moral Judgments from a Neo-Kohlbergian Perspective

This presentation presents an overview of measurement systems designed to assess moral judgments from a Neo-Kohlbergian perspective. I will begin by identifying areas in which the neo-Kohlbergian position is similar to Kohlberg’s model and where it is different. Then I will review measurements systems suggested by the model. First, I describe research on the Defining Issues Test (DIT) and indicate how the measure is redefined by the Neo-Kohlbergian model. Additionally, I note how the data generated by the DIT support the basic outline of the model. Secondly, I describe Intermediate Concept Measures (ICMs) with particular attention to recent work on a measure of adolescent intermediate concepts. I conclude with a description of the current data generated by the adolescent ICM. Using these results I argue that ICM measures provide a particularly useful assessment of how the individual considers moral concepts within the context of daily life.

Randall Curren - Measures of Goodness - Keynote Speaker

Measure of Goodness

Judging virtues is an aspect of human affairs as automatic as reading faces and as minutely studied as a Jane Austin novel. How we go about it depends on our purposes and the constraints imposed by time, settings, resources, and the forms of contact, information, activity, and relationships involved. This talk will address some different purposes educators might have in aiming to assess their students’ virtues, and the significance of those purposes for the methods chosen. It will consider the extent to which different forms of information justify attributions of virtue, suggest a triangulation approach, and consider the prospects for a virtue-focused test of moral response. 

Hanan Alexander - How Should Character Education be Assessed?

How Should Character Education be Assessed?

How should we evaluate programs dedicated to education in virtue? One influential answer draws on quantitative research designs (including quasi and non experimentation), in which input, output, and process variables are measured in order to determine correlational or causal relations between them. If we can establish which inputs and processes produce the highest levels of virtue among participants according to some reasonable criterion, it is argued, we will be in a better position to determine which sorts of programs and procedures engender the most desired results. In this paper I will raise hard questions about this approach drawing on Aristotle's distinction between causal and teleological reasoning. While the former is concerned with mechanical relations between events, in which one pushes the other into existence, the latter addresses purposive relations between them, in which and ends pull events forward into existence. In Aristotle's view, the acquisition of virtue entails a form of practical wisdom in which one learns to conform one's will to certain ideals by striking a balance between extremes. Since this is a form of teleological reasoning, I will argue, assessing programs and procedures that promote virtue cannot be achieved by means of causal reasoning alone.

Carol Allred - Effects of a social-emotional and character development (SECD) program on character and distal manifestations of character such as positive and negative health behaviors

Effects of a social-emotional and character development (SECD) program on character and distal manifestations of character such as positive and negative health behaviors.

The Positive Action program is a comprehensive social-emotional and character development (SECD) program that incudes a school-wide climate change component together with scoped and sequenced curricula that are delivered to all student levels. Thus, teacher and staff training and implementation should lead to positive changes to the classroom and school culture that encourage and reinforce positive behaviors. In turn, the content of classroom lessons should lead to positive improvements in student classroom behavior (e.g., disruptive behavior, disengagement with learning), SECD, and more distal positive and negative behaviors and academics. Findings from three randomized trials (in elementary schools in a rural Southeastern school district, in Hawai'i elementary schools, and in Chicago K-8 schools) have demonstrated changes in character (specifically SECD - to be reported by Dr. Flay). The program also improved positive behaviors (e.g., hygiene, healthy diet and exercise), negative behaviors (e.g., violence, bullying, substance use, early sexual behavior), emotional/mental health (e.g., anxiety, depression), and academics (e.g., absenteeism, test scores). Dr. Flay will present how researchers assessed SECD and demonstrated that changes in SECD (and character) mediated the effects of the program on some of the more distal manifestations of character.

Marvin Berkowitz - Aligning Assessments in Character Education

Aligning Assessments in Character Education

In the field of character education, schools commonly anchor their educational initiatives to a list of values or virtues or character traits. In fact, many packaged character education programs include or even define themselves through such a list. These concepts can be understood as outcome goals for character education. This approach typically breaks down in two ways: (1) no alignment of implementation strategies with outcome goals; (2) no direct assessment of the outcome goals. Both issues will be addressed in an attempt to design a logical approach to assessing character education initiatives.

Melinda Bier - Gamification of Virtue Development

Gamification of Virtue Development: The Promise and Potential Pitfalls of Video Games to Teach and Assess

In this talk we will unpack and operationally define the term gamification as it relates to educational video games. We will discuss ways that digital and game-based learning environments claim a unique ability to simultaneously build and assess students' character strengths as well as their academic knowledge acquisition. We will present a critical review of the literature and examples of current game-based assessment frameworks and implementation mechanisms aimed at assessing student virtues such as autonomy, persistence, diligence, optimism and empathy. Finally we will present our prototype of a virtue-infused game design environment and invite participants’ input on a research environment that we are creating to gather data on how students go about their play/work.

James Burns - Is it possible to measure Hope? Piloting a Scale to Measure Christian Hope

Is it possible to measure Hope? Piloting a Scale to Measure Christian Hope

Hopefulness has a long research history of being associated with decreased levels of depression. Hope is also considered essential to recovery and prevention of depressive episodes. Hope has been variously defined in the literature. It has been characterized as the ability to monitor feelings about a positive future (optimism). In other studies it is understood as a variable encompassing a profound transcendent appreciation of self, others and the world, believing that all things will work out for the good. This study differentiates between the effect of secular notions of hope and religious notions, i.e., scholars who consider that hope is related to achieving one’s desired expectations, and those who understand hope as an enduring attitude related to the belief in the goodness of God, i.e., to bring good out of desperate circumstances and even save a person. This notion relies not so much on one’s own strength but on the help offered by God. The current pilot presents a self-report measure identifying three conceptualizations of hopefulness according to a Christian rubric. The three constructs are related to hopefulness toward self, others and in God (or the transcendent). This pilot study demonstrates the reliability and validity of such a scale.

Howard Curzer - Do Ethics Classes Teach Ethics?

Do Ethics Classes Teach Ethics?

The ethics assessment industry is currently dominated by the Defining Issues Test (DIT2). In this paper, we describe an alternative assessment instrument called the Sphere-Specific Moral Reasoning and Theory Survey (SMARTS) which measures the respondent’s level of moral development in several respects. We describe eight difficulties that an instrument must overcome in order to assess ethics classes successfully. We argue that the DIT2 fails to solve these problems, and that the SMARTS succeeds. In these respects, the SMARTS is a better ethics assessment tool than the DIT2.

The SMARTS was administered as pre-test and post-test during several semesters to ethics and non-ethics classes. Ethics students improved significantly more than non-ethics students in both moral theory choice and moral reasoning. Thus, ethics classes do indeed teach ethics.

Jennifer Cole Wright - Can Virtue Be Measured?

Can Virtue Be Measured?

In addressing this question, I will define “virtue” as the possession of (a set of) virtue-relevant traits (e.g., honesty, compassion, bravery, generosity, etc.) – “traits” being defined as trait-appropriate cognitive/affective/behavioral responses that are consistently triggered by trait-relevant stimuli in the person’s environment – along with the chronic accessibility of trait-oriented values/goals and trait-relevant identity attributes.

Given this account, I explain in this paper how the empirical study of virtue involves the measurement of four things:

  1. people’s sensitivity to the presence of (external/internal) trait-relevant stimuli
  2. people’s recognition/generation of trait-appropriate (cognitive/affective/behavioral) responses
  3. the dispositionality of the connection between 1 and 2
  4. the chronic accessibility of trait-oriented values/goals and trait-relevant identity

The first can be operationalized as people’s ability to perceive (visual/auditory), identify, and generate trait-relevant stimuli; the second, as people’s recognition of both self and other trait-appropriate cognitive/affective/behavioral responses, in naturalistic and artificial/controlled environments – as well as their live/spontaneous generation of the same. “Dispositionality” can be operationally defined along two dimensions: consistency and habituality. Finally, chronic accessibility of trait-oriented values/goals can be operationally defined as people’s explicit/implicit identification of trait-oriented values/goals as important.

Ian Davison and Tom Harrison - Assessing Interventions Designed to Improve Understanding of Virtues

Assessing Interventions Designed to Improve Understanding of Virtues

This presentation draws upon our experiences working on two projects funded by the John Templeton Foundation: a) Pilot and Feasibility Cluster Randomised Controlled Trial into the Effectiveness of Character Sessions (My Character Project); and b) Quasi-Experimental Trial of the Knightly Virtues Programme. We discuss aspects of experimental design including randomisation, clustering of data and outcome measures.

The My Character project ran from September 2013 until July 2014 and involved 27 classes from 6 secondary schools. The pre- and post-tests were identical, consisting of a) ‘I Believe’ Questionnaire which asks children to rate their agreement to 40 statements related to the 8 virtues addressed during the project; and, b) a monetary choice questionnaire to assess children’s propensity to delay gratification (Kirby, Petry and Bickel, 1999). Results will be presented regarding the feasibility of running such a trial.

The Knightly Virtues Programme seeks to engage Year 5 and 6 children with 4 classic tales: Gareth and Lynette from Arthurian legends, El Cid, Don Quixote, and the Merchant of Venice. Virtues are highlighted, discussed and related to the children’s own lives. The programme trial ran from September to December 2013. Six experienced primary school teachers helped to develop and mark the outcome measure, which was structured around the Key Stage 2 English Reading Test but marked for English comprehension, understanding of virtue words and interpretation of virtue concepts.

In summary, running educational trials is easier than clinical trials but it’s still very difficult to recruit and retain schools, teachers and children. Before embarking on such a trial, you need: a) an interesting, high quality programme that appears to improve children’s understanding of virtues; b) excellent relationships with schools for them to adhere to the trial protocol and, c) robust, piloted outcome measures. Ian Davison and Tom Harrison, 30th October 2013

Steve Ellenwood - Measuring Virtue Better a Little Later and a Little Rougher

Measuring Virtue Better a Little Later and a Little Rougher

Prior to solving problems associated with measuring virtue fine distinctions must be made about both virtue and measuring. The several intricate and overlapping responsibilities of schools, families, and communities in developing virtuous understandings and behaviors in the young make measuring the impact of particular programs a complex challenge. Carefully reviewing both traditional and expanded definitions of measurement procedures can insure that educators are allowed and encouraged to design creative and innovative programs prior to developing their assessment components. Two oft-neglected measurement approaches, longitudinal and qualitative studies, afford rich opportunities for determining the effectiveness of a wider range of curriculum reforms than is customarily considered in program assessments. Too often the convenience and lure of short-range assessments attract educators and policy makers to curriculum projects that may not have an enduring impact in the lives of students. Qualitative and longitudinal studies demand careful design. Important advances have been in strengthening the validity and reliability of qualitative, longitudinal measurement. Even if the results may not have the exact precision of well-designed short-term measuring devices, our eventual understanding of complex matters such as understanding virtue and virtuous behavior is greatly enriched.

Brian Flay - Measurement of social-emotional and character development (SECD) in young children, and the mediating effects of SECD on outcomes of the Positive Action program

Measurement of social-emotional and character development (SECD) in young children, and the mediating effects of SECD on outcomes of the Positive Action program

To evaluate the effects of a social-emotional and character development (SECD) program, (Positive Action), we developed a multi-faceted measure of SECD for grades 3-8 students. Factor analyses, reliability statistics and correlations with other behaviors demonstrated the measure’s factor invariance across ages, internal consistency, and validity. We have also demonstrated the sensitivity of the measure to the effects of the Positive Action program in three randomized trials (in a rural Southeastern school district, in Hawai'i elementary schools, and in Chicago K-8 schools). In addition, the program has reduced disruptive behaviors at both grades 5 and 8, as assessed in the Chicago trial. The Positive Action program is hypothesized to also improve more distal manifestations of SECD, namely positive and negative behaviors, emotional/mental health, and academics – and Dr. Allred presented some findings from Hawai'i and Chicago confirming these hypotheses. Furthermore, changes in SECD are hypothesized to mediate these improvements. I will present analyses conducted to date that support this hypothesis – specifically, changes in SECD mediated improvements in positive health behaviors (hygiene and healthy food and exercise), and negative behaviors (substance use, violence and sexual activity).

Blaine Fowers - Assessing Virtue: Lessons from Subfields of Psychology

Assessing Virtue: Lessons from Subfields of Psychology

The core constituent of measurement validity is construct validity, which means that the quality of any measurement begins with clarity about the construct. This presentation will begin with a brief overview of the construct of virtue that includes seven key features (Fowers, 2005). (1) Virtues always show up in behavior. (2) A consistency of emotion, motivation, and behavior is characteristic of virtue. (3) Virtues are enacted for the sake of some good. (4) Practical wisdom is evident in virtue. (5) Virtue is habitual and therefore consistent over time. (6) Virtue assessment must occur at the individual, not group level. (7) Virtues are enacted in situations specific to the virtue. Most research on virtue has so far failed to include more than two of these elements and this presentation will focus on four methods of assessment that improve upon previous methods of measuring virtue. The strongest current measurement method is experiential sampling or daily diaries, a method that allows multiple assessments of behavior over many days. A second method that retains the advantages of a self-report format is to use ipsative or “forced choice” items. A third method retains the advantages of a paper and pencil format by having another person report on an individual’s virtues. The fourth method uses experimental methods to assess virtuous behavior. The paper will review these methods before sketching the implications for the assessment of virtue.

Liz Gulliford and Blaire Morgan - Conceptual Controversies Surrounding Gratitude

Conceptual Controversies Surrounding Gratitude

Dr Liz Gulliford and Dr Blaire Morgan will address conceptual controversies surrounding gratitude. We review these conceptual issues and suggest ways in which existing measures might be improved. The paper will present the results of studies that have used new instruments devised at the JCCV. We are strongly committed to the view that the definition of gratitude should not be left to ‘experts’ and that it is crucial to examine lay understandings of gratitude to avoid imposing ‘definitions from above’ on experimental participants.

Our first study, currently under submission, was a prototype analysis of gratitude that yielded interesting cross-cultural differences in gratitude in the UK and USA. We will show that far from being a unitary phenomenon, gratitude may mould to different contours in different cultures. We will also present the results of our vignette study of gratitude which examines the factors that influence peoples’ understanding of gratitude. We will show how the conceptual controversies we identified in our literature review were operationalized in this questionnaire. In addition to the vignette questionnaire, we aimed to elicit children’s understanding of gratitude through specially written stories centring on gratitude. We discuss our findings in relation to the vignette questionnaire to examine whether there are developmental differences in understanding gratitude. We address a number of the conference’s subthemes: conceptual issues, problems with self-report studies and specific instruments developed at the Jubilee Centre. We are mindful of the fact that our position on the relation of the empirical and the normative in the study of gratitude may not be shared by others, and it is with this in mind that we will respond to Bob Roberts’ conference paper. We affirm the importance of both theoretical and empirical work, aiming in true Aristotelian fashion, to marry the views of ‘the wise’ with those of ‘the many’.

John Haldane - Measuring Moral Competence

Measuring Moral Competence

Can virtue be measured? This question naturally arises in the context of character education if one thinks that character consists in, or is closely related to the possession of virtues and vices, and is also interested in the possibility that education may inculcate or develop the former and inhibit or diminish the latter, and seeks experimental evidence of such effects.

Scepticism in this area might take the form of doubting that virtue and vice can be measured, because let us say they are real but intangible characteristics, or more radically of doubting that there are any such things at all. The latter suspicion might arise from encountering recurrent difficulties in developing methods for measuring the presence of a virtue, or be prompted by the repeated failure of psychological measurement to detect any relevant candidate feature, or be encouraged by the success of psychological methods in fully identifying patterns of action, and changes in these, without reference to anything like virtue, or finally, and relatedly, by the belief that the very idea of character traits as sources of action rests on a methodological error of attributing action to an enduring feature of the agent (rather than to the agent’s response to external factors).

I shall approach these issues from the point of view of a traditional conception of virtue and consider its place in the explanation and evaluation of action. This will provide reasons to think that while in some respects virtue may be measured this is liable to be a complex matter. I will not take up the idea that the attribution of character traits in general rests on a methodological fallacy, not directly engage the claim that action can be explained without reference to such features, though it will become clear why I believe that habituated powers of recognition and response are part of the explanation of moral agency. At the same time, however, I will indicate why explaining action in terms of moral motivations involves recognizing factors additional to character. So even if this latter can be measured that is insufficient to determine the broader moral competence of an agent because virtue is only part of the story. Morality also involves considerations external to agents’ motivations, such as issues of welfare and autonomy, and measuring understanding and responsiveness to the demands of these is a yet more complex issue.

Jenifer Halliday - Using Culture as a Teaching Tool for Character Education

Using Culture as a Teaching Tool for Character Education

Albert Einstein once said, “Not everything that counts can be measured and not everything that can be measured, counts.” Virtue or “character” can be defined as “goodness,” and behaving according to certain ethical principles. In order to truly assess such a vast and nebulous construct, we must first create a culture within our schools whereby all constituents collaboratively work to define, discuss, grapple with, model, and grow with increasing clarity towards our “better selves.” This work, critical for student success, must be integrated, ongoing, comprehensive, valued, and reflective. Hawken Middle School, an independent day school, in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, exemplifies character education programming that leans into culture as a teaching tool.

How do we purposefully engage in and assess character education programming for our students that enhances school culture and promotes community?

Participants in this presentation will learn how Hawken School:-

  • Uses our school mission to identify, define and discuss our core values
  • Creates a collective lexicon for discussing character and culture 
  • Engages in purposeful, ongoing, and developmentally-appropriate advisory programming
  • Recognizes and promotes horizontal teaming and leadership within the middle school
  • Uses the latest research to inform our definition of “character,” our programming, and our approach to school climate and culture
  • Assesses student growth and progress in a variety of ways including but not limited to:
    • Round Table Structure
    • Formative and authentic assessments
    • Collective group assessments by advisory
    • Mission Skills Assessment

Character education is a complex and ever-evolving construct. Our approach to assessment must be comprehensive and ever-evolving as well. When character education becomes less of “what we do” and more of “who we are,” we begin to see growth and progress in both philosophical understanding and behaviors that can be learned, practiced, and changed over time. When we truly attend to school culture, it can and does become transformative for our school communities.

Hyemin Han - Can Virtue be Measured using Neuroimaging Methods?

Can Virtue be Measured using Neuroimaging Methods?

This essay considers how neuroimaging methods can measure the development of moral virtue in individuals and emphasizes new avenues of research that link moral virtue to an individual’s sense of “self,” which has been considered important among virtue theorists. Neuroimaging presents significant advantages over current methods for assessing moral development, such as self-reporting, which (1) do not give scientists insight into the substructures that process moral virtue and that underlie manifest behavior; and which (2) are biased by respondents’ subjective, potentially consciously biased, reporting. Such traditional methods are problematic for researchers because it is crucial to investigate the substructure that underlies manifest psychological processes, and to retain objectivity of measurement. Neuroimaging methods can address these problems by giving researchers access to quantifiable data on inner events, allowing them to develop specific metrics to apply to moral development in individuals. This essay discusses the benefits of such neuroimaging methods and metrics, demonstrating how to apply such methods in practice. First, this essay reviews the mechanism of brain connectivity analysis and its benefit to the studies of virtue psychology. Virtue psychologists will be able to examine whether moral functions are properly integrated into the self with this method. Second, this essay suggests the neuroimaging study of moral exemplars to examine the neural substrate of moral virtue. By comparing both the functional and structural aspects of the brain between moral exemplars and ordinary people, we will gain insights about the nature and development of moral character. In sum, neuroimaging methods have potential benefits in measuring the development of moral virtue. Due to the rapid development of neuroimaging techniques as the result of research in the field of electronic engineering and radiology, neuroimaging methods will provide increasingly reliable and direct measurements of moral virtue.

Kazunobu Horiuchi - Measuring Virtues in the Context of Voluntary Activities by Students of a University in Japan

Measuring Virtues in the Context of Voluntary Activities by Students of a University in Japan

In Japanese higher education, volunteering has become an important part of curricula; universities now give credits to those students who give their time for voluntary activities over certain periods. Furthermore, government agencies such as the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science & Technology are actively encouraging universities to establish voluntary activity centers on campuses to facilitate student volunteering, and to establish service learning to equip students with skills and knowledge about NPOs. In the discussion and practice of volunteering by college students, virtues play an important role. There are three major traditions of virtues that have influenced Japanese college students or can be commonly detected in their thinking and behavior. The first of the three is Confucian virtues which originated in China: compassion, righteousness, polite behavior (or proper rituals), wisdom, sincerity, filial piety, and loyalty. The second is the Japanese virtues of honesty, sincerity, modesty, industriousness, and thrift, influenced by Shinto and Buddhist traditions. The third is Greek philosophy: Aristotelian virtues of temperance, courage, justice, generosity, pride, good temper, honesty, wittiness, friendliness, modesty, righteous indignation and consciousness. This paper reports on empirical research currently being conducted at Reitaku University on how the virtues mentioned above can be identified in the process of this research, affect their voluntary activities, impact on the students, and transform their attitude and behavior.

Eranda Jayawickreme - Virtuous States and Virtuous Traits

Virtuous States and Virtuous Traits: How the Empirical Evidence in Personality Science Scaffolds Virtue Ethics and the Study of Character

The purpose of this talk is to show that the empirical evidence reveals the existence and importance of global traits of character, and thus, counter to the prevailing assessments of the psychological literature, that the scientific evidence provides compelling support for the philosophical and psychological study of virtue. Specifically, one major contemporary objection to the study of virtue ethics is that the empirical psychological evidence demonstrates that traits have little to no meaningful impact on behavior, thus rendering any talk of virtue and character fruitless. This empirical challenge to virtue and character originally stems from research in personality psychology in the late 1920’s appearing to demonstrate a lack of personality influence on behavior, and it was reinforced by experiments conducted in the early 1970’s demonstrating a converse and clear power of situations on behavior. We re-examine the psychological implications of this early research, and present recent empirical work (including new evidence from research supported by the Character Project, an interdisciplinary research program involving psychology, philosophy and theology; www.thecharacterproject.com ) that leads to dramatically different conclusions about the existence and power of character traits.

Kohtaro Kamizono and Yen-Hsin Chen - Measuring Change of Moral Values in the Collective Consciousness as Result of a Moral Education Lesson

Measuring Change of Moral Values in the Collective Consciousness as Result of a Moral Education Lesson

The association method gathers free recalls of participants in a field from a cue word, and measures tendencies of consciousness of a moral value. The paper focuses on a moral education lesson with the theme of sympathy. The deep purpose of the lesson was to enhance pupils' self-affirming consciousness, as this is low in Japan compared with other cultural areas like the United States of America, China and Korea. The lesson was carried out with 32 children, aged 8-9 years, at an elementary school in Fukuoka Prefecture in 2011.Comparing response words before and after the lesson, a new definition of sympathy appeared as “consideration for others” (newly appearing in 40.6% of children). Before the lesson sympathy was represented by the word “tenderness” (25.8% of children). After the lesson, the word “tenderness” (21.9% of children) did not disappear, and remained in their consciousness. It means that the lesson did not negate or change the consciousness of children about sympathy, but added a new concept. Though the teacher did not comment directly on any self-affirming consciousness during the lesson, children found “tenderness” (newly appearing in 25.0%) about themselves during the lesson, and the category of increased significantly (p<.05) from 58.1% to 196.9% of all pupils. Children reflected deeply about themselves during the lesson, indicated by a 50.6% increase in the number of kinds of response words, a 38.0% increase in all response words, and a 0.7 increase in entropy to the cue word ‘me’. These data reveal the change in moral values between children both qualitatively and quantitatively, and in a collective way.

Ben Kotzee and Sandra Cooke - Using Moral Dilemmas to Understand Character and Values in the Professions

Using Moral Dilemmas to Understand Character and Values in the Professions

This paper reports on the development of the Survey on Virtues and Values in the Professions currently being conducted by the Jubilee Centre for Character and Values at the University of Birmingham. The study seeks to understand the place of character and values in three professions – law, medicine and teaching – and asks (1) which virtues and values are particularly valued in the three professions, (2) how these virtues and values shape professional practice and (3) what the implications are for education in the three professions. The paper will outline the importance of character in the professions, but also the problems that exist in studying it. It will introduce methods commonly used in the study of professional expertise before focussing on the use to which moral dilemmas were put in the survey. The paper will focus on how such dilemmas – already a common feature of studies of professionals’ moral cognition – were adapted to gain insight into character and virtue in professional practice. We will describe the design process behind the moral dilemma section of the survey and describe how a system was designed whereby responses can be analysed. Finally, some early results from the study will be reported, before concluding with reflections on the methods adopted.

Tone Kvernbekk - On the Possibility of Interventions Aimed at Improving Character

On the Possibility of Interventions Aimed at Improving Character

My paper problematizes the idea that character improvement lends itself to interventions. My critique follows two different paths. First, using the notion of evidence-based practice (EBP) as framework, I focus on the logic of intervention. The overall hypothesis in EBP is that if we deliver program X, it will bring about outcome O or at least some improved O, in this case character. But any intervention only contributes part of what it takes to cultivate character. To focus on X means ignoring other factors in the pre-existing context, some of which are necessary for X to work at all. The evidence for the effectiveness of interventions should, according to EBP advocates, ideally come from randomized controlled trials (RCT); RCT having established itself as a methodological gold standard. Interventions and RCTs alike tend to reduce complex processes to a matter of input and output, since they ask whether interventions work and not how.

Second, using system theory, I argue that one cannot teach virtues and character the way one teaches mathematics or languages to students. Character is better understood as the result of second-order learning, that is, as learning from the context in which e.g. maths learning takes place. To learn context is to learn what something “is all about”. How the teacher lays out the context will be more effective in improving character than the content of a putative intervention. If we organize character formation and learning of virtues as an intervention and measure the outcomes afterwards, we risk teaching our students that virtues can/should be related to externally and instrumentally. Character formation requires careful attention to the contexts we create and what messages they convey to our students about what is valuable, appreciated and expected.

Brian Little - Well-Doing: Personal Projects as Virtuous Action

Well-Doing: Personal Projects as Virtuous Action

“What are you doing?” and “How are you doing?” are two foundational questions we can ask of agents. They elicit answers that illuminate aspects of what I call well-doing, or felicitous action. In this paper I propose that well-doing can be measured by examining an individual’s personal projects. Personal projects are constitutive elements of daily lives and can range from the trivial pursuits of rainy Thursdays to the overarching aspirations of a lifetime. They can be assessed by Personal Projects Analysis (PPA), a methodology that contrasts markedly with orthodox approaches to measurement. PPA provides modules for assessing the content, appraisal, impact and dynamics of the personal projects being pursued by individuals. In contrast with traditional questionnaire measurement of virtues, PPA involves "thick" descriptions of how virtue is embodied in daily action and embedded in social, physical and temporal contexts. Each of these contexts can be assessed with PPA methodology, including the extent to which each project is hierarchically linked to higher order values and lower order actions. While we need to be circumspect about methodological matters when it comes to questions of virtue, there does seem to be some promise in this alternative approach.

Robert McGrath - Bridging the Gap between Psychological and Cultural Perspectives on Virtue and Strength

Bridging the Gap between Psychological and Cultural Perspectives on Virtue and Strength

One of the fundamental insights underlying Peterson and Seligman’s (2004) explorations into the nature of character and virtue was that these concepts can be studied as both cultural and psychological phenomena. The initial development of the VIA classification of strengths and character was based largely on cultural studies, but subsequent work has focused primarily on the study of strengths as a set of psychological variables. These efforts have been advanced by the development of the VIA Inventory of Strengths (VIA-IS). Subsequent studies of the latent structure of the VIA-IS suggest a five-factor model that does not correspond well to cultural ideas of virtue. This presentation will outline the development of a three-virtue model using three different psychological measures of character strengths in four samples encompassing 1,070,549 cases. It will be demonstrated that the same three-component model emerged across all data sets. In each case, a first component representing good character splits into two components reflecting moral Goodness and Inquisitiveness. The former divides further into components reflecting Caring and Self-Control. Various aspects of the findings will be discussed in relation to the nature of moral action and character strengths. The three-component solution consisting of Caring, Inquisitiveness, and Self-Control is proposed as a particularly intuitive basis for conceptualizing cultural virtues and the social task of encouraging their development.

Jin Sook Park - Development of Implicit Measure for Virtue based on Ancient Indian Scripture: Issues and Challenges

Development of Implicit Measure for Virtue based on Ancient Indian Scripture: Issues and Challenges

Every system of ethics compiles a series of virtues. Strangely all such catalogues are same even though their prophets belonged to different times and places(Chinmayananda,1996). Recent advances in the positive psychology movement, pave a way to understand and develop programmes to enhance virtues. The experts in positive psychology have done a consensual classification of human virtues(Dahlsgaard, Peterson, & Seligman, 2005). This convergence suggests a nonarbitrary classification of six core virtues: courage, justice, humanity, temperance, wisdom, and transcendence. One of the most consecrated ancient texts, the Bhagavad Gita, enumerates two sets of qualities of opposite kinds, divine (virtue) and demoniacal (vice). Assessments of these virtues usually follow the development of explicit tools like questionnaires. In recent times implicit tools were found to immensely complement explicit assessments. The Implicit Association Test (IAT), is one of the strongest tools to assess implicit preferences of a person( Greenwald, McGhee, & Schwartz,1998). It has shown its usefulness in assessing personality domains. In this article we have discussed the challenges involved in developing implicit measures for assessing virtues. For a successful implicit evaluation, it is very essential that subjects recognize shown stimuli and cognitively associate them with the construct. If this mapping is weaker, then the implicit tools may yield poor results. Like other personality traits, these virtues may be overlapping among themselves, and thereby giving additional challenge. Hence we summarize the major challenges towards development of implicit tools for virtues are: 1) operationalization of constructs, 2) selection of appropriate stimulus pool, and 3) assessing the stability of the attribute present in a person (durability of the constructs). This paper in a nutshell will explore classification, description, and development of virtue according to Bhagavad Gıta. Further, explains the challenges and issues in development of implicit measures for virtues.

Robert Roberts - The Normative and the Empirical in the Study of Gratitude

The Normative and the Empirical in the Study of Gratitude

The paper attempts to sort out the roles, and the relations between the roles, of philosophical and empirical research on gratitude considered focally as a virtue closely tied to the emotional experience of gratitude. Gratitude the virtue is a trait or disposition whose “output” is situationally appropriate feelings of gratitude and actions that express those feelings. It examines two empirical instruments used in research on gratitude: Lambert et al. (2009) investigates the popular understanding of gratitude by a “prototype” approach to the construct. Gulliford & Morgan uses a vignette questionnaire to determine the ways and extent to which the popular understanding of gratitude matches the “standard analysis” that philosophers have proposed. The paper argues that the Gulliford-Morgan instrument is vastly superior to Lambert et al., which is neither a prototype analysis nor conceptual analysis, but a study of word-associations. Gulliford & Morgan, gets at the popular concept of gratitude because vignettes can test for conceptual parameters. But the Gulliford-Morgan instrument can be made more reliable. The identification of the popular concept(s) of gratitude should not be taken to identify the concept of gratitude as a virtue, however, since virtues are concepts of ideals that we cannot expect ordinary people to understand well. The value of empirical investigations like those of Gulliford and Morgan is in determining how the populace understands gratitude. This is important for anyone who is interested in educational programs that aim to encourage the virtue of gratitude; it is important to understand the minds of the targets of such education. The investigation of the concept of the virtue of gratitude is a normative-conceptual (contrast: descriptive-conceptual) enterprise that needs to be oriented by a deep and mature moral tradition. Such conceptual work is the province of a particular kind of moral philosophy.

Grace Robinson - Measuring Virtue: skeletal dilemmas or flesh and blood stories?

Measuring Virtue: skeletal dilemmas or flesh and blood stories?

Suppose we could measure virtue like this: we present a person with a problematic story, then invite them to respond with an account of what they would do in such circumstances. The respondent giving a virtuous response is virtuous. If such an approach were effective then I propose that not any old story would do. My money would be on complex and convincing narratives; on flesh and blood stories, and not on traditional skeletal ethical dilemmas of the kind that predominate in moral philosophy (Dennett 1984) and more recently in moral psychology (Doris and Stitch 2012). My thesis is that we learn and live by narrative; bible stories, court cases, fairy-tales, novels, news, excuses, theatre… and thought experiments. To greater and lesser extents all of these kinds of stories embody ethical perspectives and require and ethical perspective in order to engage fully with them. Together these capacities constitute the epistemological virtue of perceptiveness. Narrative is one of the dominant structures we use to experience, order and understand everyday life. Some narratives exhibit this logic more fully, have been crafted more perceptively and demand greater perceptiveness from the audiences. Other narratives – among them most thought experiments – are lacking. In this paper, I claim that if it is possible to measure virtue, responses to skeletal thought experiments cannot provide us with meaningful measures.

Wouter Sanderse - Who measures whose virtue? A practice-based approach to moral development in schools

Who measures whose virtue? A practice-based approach to moral development in schools

This paper addresses the questions who is to measure virtue in schools, by exploring what practice-based research has to offer to the study of moral development in schools. Aristotle (1985) stated that the purpose of moral inquiry is not to know what virtue is, but to become virtuous. In a similar vein, we can say that the purpose of measuring virtue is, in the end, to stimulate children’s virtue development. This raises the question: how can measuring virtue contribute to children’s moral development best? The idea that I develop is that ‘measuring virtue’ is not also the task of professional scientists, but can be seen as part of teachers’ professional responsibility. This idea originates from a practice-based (or action) research tradition that can be traced to Dewey (1938), Lewin (1946), Corey (1953) and Stanhouse (1975). Teachers who engage in practice-based research activities use social-scientific strategies to develop knowledge about their own actions, specifically in problematic situations, and use this knowledge to systematically improve their actions. Practice-based research lacks external validity, but it does make teachers’ conduct more rational and professional. As a consequence, the moral education children receive improves too.

Stephen Schueller - Virtue in Real Life: Using Smartphones to Coordinate Self, Observer, and Behavioral Data of Virtue

Virtue in Real Life: Using Smartphones to Coordinate Self, Observer, and Behavioral Data of Virtue

Current methods of assessment limit the scientific study of virtue. Specifically, assessment relies almost exclusively on retrospective self-reports that ask people to report the degree to which they exhibit a particular trait. For the assessment of virtue, individuals’ reporting biases limit the usefulness of this approach. Observer reports address some of these limitations, but are fraught with their own limitations. For both empirical and conceptual strength, a more nuanced view of virtue requires a combination of these reports. I propose an Internal/External Model best characterizes virtue. In this model, virtue is a combination of an admirable internal state of feeling and judgment that tends to produce morally appropriate actions (external). As such, the assessment of virtue requires the assessment of virtuous behavior (how well does a person do at acting in morally appropriate ways) and virtuous intentions and feelings (how admirable is the person’s inner state of character). In the presentation, I will present technological tools developed at the Center for Behavioral Intervention Technologies that gather information from users and their contexts to infer psychological states. I will then discuss the development of a networked virtue assessment (NOVA) application for use in smartphones.

Alesha Seroczynski - Quantifying the Qualitative: Using Growth Curve Models to Differentiate Moral Development among Juvenile Offenders

Quantifying the Qualitative: Using Growth Curve Models to Differentiate Moral Development among Juvenile Offenders

In a 12-week diversion program that uses virtue theory, literature, and small group mentoring to generate moral development in juvenile offenders, students read and discussed one or more novels around seven virtuous life themes of justice, prudence, temperance, fortitude, fidelity, hope, and charity. Once each week the students were asked to journal on their own virtuous and non-virtuous behavior. Journal entries were scored according to Narvaez and Rest’s (1995) four component model of morality, and growth curve analysis was applied to the weekly summative scores. Results suggest that some students experience both increases and decreases in ethical reasoning and behavior with a progressively more positive learning curve. Mixture model analysis suggests the presence two kinds of students—those who fluctuate around a linearly positive growth curve (i.e., becoming more virtuous over time), and those who show great variation from week to week but little overall improvement. Various explanations are considered.

Nancy Sherman - Hope After War

Hope After War

My paper focuses on soldiers’ recovery from the moral injuries of war-- from the injuries typically expressed in emotions such as shame, guilt, and resentment for real or apparent, commissive and omissive, wronging and being wronged, and falling short in war. These emotions are what Strawson famously called reactive attitudes--ways of holding self and others to account for particular actions. In much of the literature, the focus has been on negative reactive attitudes. In this paper I want to explore notions of hope and trust in self and others as positive reactive attitudes that are a part of the moral repair critical for reentry from war. This paper continues some of the themes concerning the moral psychology of soldiering begun in Stoic Warriors (OUP, 2005) and The Untold War (W.W.Norton, 2010).

Trust involves something of a reciprocal reactive structure. We implicitly address another and say: I am counting on you here. That recognition of another as the object of your trust in a specific area seeks acknowledgment. Does investing hope in others involve a similar structure? And what does the second-personal case tell us about the first personal case of investing hope in self? How is this kind of normative hope different from hope in outcomes? I argue that understanding the conceptual terrain of trust and hope in persons is critical for exploring how soldiers morally recover from war. Given the reciprocal, reactive structure involved in these emotions, the communities to which soldiers return play a crucial role in that moral recovery.

Harvey Siegel - Is Measuring Virtue an Educationally Good Thing? Or Two Cheers for Measuring Virtue

Is Measuring Virtue an Educationally Good Thing? Or Two Cheers for Measuring Virtue

I will argue that measuring virtues threatens student autonomy because it presupposes a clear understanding of the virtues – their nature, substance and character – and in effect imposes this understanding on students. It says, in effect, ‘These are the character traits and the understanding of them you should have; these are the virtues we have determined you should have, the acquisition of which we are measuring.’ It does not offer the presupposed understanding of the virtues, or the predetermined judgment of their worthiness, to students’ independent judgment; it does not provide the opportunity for students to consider for themselves whether the measured traits are indeed virtues or whether they are worth having. By imposing a pre-digested understanding of the virtues on students, measuring virtues runs the risk of treating students as mere means rather than as ends in themselves. In doing so it risks treating students immorally, because it fails to treat them with respect, as autonomous agents whose desires, needs and interests ought not to be subordinated to educators’ (or funders’!) imposed ends. Education’s task should not be to shape students’ characters but rather to enable them to envision possible characters, traits and virtues and to evaluate their desirability critically. There is, in this critique, a tension between Aristotelian and Kantian approaches to morality, moral education and virtue theory; in pressing the critique I will explore this tension and argue that we should be wary of presupposing too much of Aristotle’s virtue theory in either our understanding of or our efforts to measure virtue.

Hugh Sockett - Accountability for Teaching and Learning of Virtue

Accountability for Teaching and Learning of Virtue

This paper first explores the weaknesses in the behaviorist presuppositions of the demand that virtue be measured, specifically in terms of its inadequate view of rational action and in its epistemological commitment to observed behavior as providing the only warranted knowledge of such action.

Second, the question “Can Virtue be Measured?” in respect of teaching and learning virtue has to be set within a reconceptualization of public or professional accountability, not within a system based on behaviorist presuppositions. That accountability must also be framed not within the confines of the market economy, but in the moral economy, where the exchange of goods and services is not-for-profit. There a primary focus is on the development and expansion of social capital, which provides individual and collective benefits. Virtue on this account has to be seen not merely as the property of the individual, but of communities and civil society at large.

Third, in the development of virtuous accountability, three major claims will need to be made: a) that its purpose is not prediction or control, b) that being virtuous is not a performance, and c) that the primary focus is the individual and the collective, not the student in a system, entailing respect for individual intentions and motivations in a system of accountability. It is argued that accommodation to the behaviorist paradigm built into most contemporary forms of high-stakes testing is not merely an intellectual but a political mistake. For, as with intelligence, virtue will be defined operationally, so that virtue becomes “what virtues tests test”. It is thus the responsibility of those who see the teaching and learning of virtue salient in education to promote forms of public accountability that are congruent with that endeavor, rejecting forms of measurement adapted by the market economy out of methodological behaviorism.

Eli Tsukayama - A Tripartite Taxonomy of Character

A Tripartite Taxonomy of Character

In the current investigation, we developed a character growth report card that can be used for both applied (e.g., formative assessments) and research purposes. In a sample of several hundred students from middle-schools in the Northeast, both teachers (about five per student) and the students themselves rated 24 items chosen to represent zest, self-control (schoolwork and interpersonal), gratitude, curiosity, optimism, grit, and social intelligence. Exploratory factor analyses indicated a three-factor solution describing intrapersonal, interpersonal, and intellectual character. Items loading on intrapersonal character seem to facilitate the achievement of personal goals, largely consisting of items from the grit, optimism, curiosity, and schoolwork self-control scales. Items loading on interpersonal character seem to facilitate harmonious relationships with other people, taking items from the gratitude, optimism, social intelligence, and interpersonal self-control scales. Items loading on intellectual character seem to facilitate learning, consisting of items from the zest and curiosity scales. These three factors differentially related to variety of outcomes assessed one year later, including objective academic performance and self-reported well-being and social functioning.

David Walker - Measuring character strengths and virtue among UK school children aged 14 and 15

Measuring character strengths and virtue among UK school children aged 14 and 15

Self-reporting measures and moral dilemma tests have dominated recent attempts to measure virtue and character. Both methods have attracted some criticism when they have been used in isolation: self-reporting methods for problems of social desirability and self-delusion and moral dilemma tests have been objected to under the charge that moral reasoning does not equate to moral action. We argue that a combination of different methods currently provides the best chance for achieving objective measurement of character and virtue. This view is based on experiences designing a flagship research project at the Jubilee Centre for Character and Virtues at Birmingham University. The project is concerned with how character is being developed among pupils aged 14 and 15 in UK schools.

The three methods that we combine are: moral dilemmas, self-reporting and teacher interviews. For moral dilemmas, we have used an adapted and partial version of the Intermediary Concept Measure (ICM) for adolescents developed by Professor Thoma at the University of Alabama, USA. This measure has been designed around the deliberations of various stages of expert panel and has been validated. The pupils in our project will also report on their own perception of their characters using the new shortened Values in Action Youth measure from the VIA Institute on Character in Cincinnati, USA. Our final method is a semi-structured interview with teachers who are asked to make judgements about the same groups of children surveyed by the other two measures. This research design promises a form of objective measurement and it also provides a means to further check the validity of its component research instruments.

In this paper, the strengths and weaknesses of this design will be discussed, including a presentation of the emerging trends and patterns from early data analysis.

Lawrence Walker - Moral Functioning Should Be Self-Regarding

Moral Functioning Should Be Self-Regarding

What fundamentally motivates moral behavior? What is the nature and source of moral motivation, and how best can it be assessed? The arguments advanced in this presentation challenge the view that moral action is primarily self-denying and other-regarding; instead, my contention is that moral action can, and should be, self-regarding. The psychological maneuver that provides this source of motivation entails the developing appropriation of morality as core to individuals’ identity and personality. In this view, (self-enhancing) personal interests can optimally be fulfilled through the enactment of (self-transcending) moral behaviors that promote the interests of others. When there is something significant for the self in the moral enterprise, it can legitimately be self-enhancing and, thus, powerfully motivating. The empirical warrant for this argument is found in the study of the psychological functioning of moral exemplars, focusing in particular on the integration of personal interests and moral concerns in broader aspects of their personality. Our research findings indicate that the personalities of moral exemplars typically evidence accentuated agency and communion—motives that are typically conceptualized as being in opposition—and, furthermore, that they not only have high levels of both types of motivation, but they also synergistically integrate their self-promoting agentic motivation in service to their other-promoting communal values. They have appropriated morality as central to the self’s functioning. Therein is the powerful motivational impetus for doing good and living rightly.

Jonathan Webber - Instilling Virtue

Instilling Virtue 

In response to the situationist challenge to virtue ethics, it has been argued that virtues are to be cultivated by identifying and learning to counteract problematic situational features. Similarly, it has been argued that implicit bias is to be addressed by identifying the features of individuals that cause one to behave unfairly towards them and undertaking strategies to counteract these responses. These negative programmes aim at negating bad responses rather than strengthening countervailing good motivations. Unfortunately, such piecemeal reform seems inordinately demanding.

We should instead adopt a positive programme of character development, where the aim is to instil the values central to such general virtues as justice, honesty, and generosity in such a way that one’s behaviour is not hostage to potentially troublesome situational features. This requires habituating the right values into our cognitive systems sufficiently to exercise a powerful influence over the ways in which we perceive and encode our situations, our intuitive and emotional responses to those situations, and our nonconscious behavioural responses as well as our conscious actions.

This is essentially the programme recommended by Aristotle. A century of research into attitude psychology has converged on what is effectively an empirical confirmation of Aristotle’s account of character formation. In this talk, I will explain two recent experiments where implicit measures have shown automatic cognition to be governed by a deliberatively held value. I will conclude by sketching practical strategies for instilling virtue that are supported by attitude psychology.

Mathew White - A Multifaceted Approach to Measuring Character and Well-being in Staff and Students

A Multifaceted Approach to Measuring Character and Well-being in Staff and Students

How can school leaders measure ‘good school’ cultures that foster character and well-being in both the classroom and the staffroom? Peterson (2006) called for positive psychology to be applied to institutions in what he termed as ‘enabling institutions’. In his conceptualisation of an enabling institution, he argued that virtues should be present not only within the individual members of an institution but at the collective level so that the institution itself has ‘moral character’ which contributes to the goals of the institution.

Seligman (2011) introduced the PERMA model of well-being, with five elements of flourishing: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, and accomplishment. We empirically tested this multidimensional theory with 516 Australian male students (ages 13 to 18). Students completed an extensive well-being and character assessment. We selected a subset of items theoretically relevant to PERMA for analysis.

By directly assessing subjective well-being across multiple domains, schools can identify specific areas of strengths and areas to target to cultivate greater student well-being. Such multidimensional well-being assessments offer the potential for schools to expand their focus beyond academic outcomes to more systematically include wellness promotion.