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Event Summary: Morality and Personality

by Roger Crisp

On 2 November 2023, at one of the most well-attended (in-person and remotely) New St Cross Ethics seminars to date, Professor Predrag Cicovacki, Professor Emeritus in Philosophy at the College of the Holy Cross, Worcester, MA, USA presented a fascinating lecture on ‘Morality and Personality’.

To clarify the tension that exists between morality and personality, Cicovacki opened his talk by comparing the development of the money economy with that of morality. Money and morality play a similar function with respect to social interactions: they make most diverse things commensurable and impose rules that should have universal validity, regardless of to whom they apply. Personality, however, is characterized by the uniqueness of each individual, as well as by a need for continuous development. To close an unhealthy gap between morality and personality, morality should be conceived not on the model of the money economy, but by our becoming more sensitive to who we are and in what kind of situations we find ourselves. Cicovacki argued that we should favour a maximalist rather than a minimalist conception of morality: one that urges us to become as good human beings as we can, rather than to focus merely on enabling acceptable social intercourse. The questions raised by such a conception of morality are: (1) What is the moral cost of being who you are?; and (2) What is the moral cost of not being who you are?

A lively discussion followed, revolving around various conceptions of ‘morality’ and of ‘personality’, and how they might be related to one another.

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7 Comment on this post

  1. Personality is attended by dosages of arrogance, ignorance, narcissism and pride. I have written on this notion before. What that earlier brief did not address is called conscience. Most people begin life with axiological and deontological senses. Part of this attaches with upbringing, the rest emerges with life experiences and outcomes. I imagine the professor’s treatment of the topic carried at least some references to these things, with more or less emphasis, depending on his ideas concerning the weight of influences. This is neither stone set, nor the luck-of-the-draw. Each of us decides how he reacts to life circumstances.

  2. Read a philosophy bit today: Ethics does not treat of the world. (It is) a condition of the world, like logic. (Wittgenstein notebooks, 1914-1916)
    I realized I should have paid more attention. Sooner. Seems to me ethics and morality are both conditions. That is problematic. Conditions and people change. One person’s view of things is not equal to another’s view…a very fundamental cause of conflict. And much worse. Pause, and the sound of one hand clapping.

  3. The worlds in which we live. It has been interesting and instructive over the last few decades to observe the ongoing construction of humanities glass panopticon, enabling a facilitation of certain character features and worldviews within larger social groups. Those directly involved, as they angle the light, and position the glass partitions, have completely failed to notice that a main character trait they have been widely promoting into a virtue within those worldviews directly involved, is that of deception and lying. The outcomes of that one trait in a transparent panopticon would be seen across many divides and many representations, sometimes in quite dramatic ways.
    For individuals constructing/controlling their own character and those aware of the necessary freedoms enabling them to do so this theatre of glass can become an amusement which masks the tensions apparently leading to often violent outcomes for many. The lively discussion mentioned would have illustrated those elements quite well. Philosophical truths develop even where untruths become promoted.

  4. I began a comment—, and got tired
    when it evaporated… the notion of a panopticon is a contextual matter. Same idea; different lexicon.

  5. Returning to the comment from December 13, I return to Davidson, and his notion(s) about propositional attitudes, reiterating my contentions concerning contextual reality. This is not so complex. When a plurality of people WANT something different, they go to any means and ends to make it so—within the confines of law, or not …whatever those may still mean. Many other twentieth century philosophers understood cultural change, better than their forebears. Why? Because drinking poison was a cop out, and served no purpose, beyond compliance and martyrdom—neither of which have purpose at all, under modern circumstance. I don’t think contextual reality will ever be an acceptable ,um, proposition.. it is too much in the face of tradition. And more…___much more.

  6. This thread becomes confused at the point about observing a different lexicon, because that acknowledges other lexicons exist, just as a Benthamite panopticon is a walled building constructed in a certain way to allow observation without necessarily being seen, but a glass panopticon reduces/removes that hidden observation.

    Maintaining the link to the summary article and content of the seminar, whilst digressing into contextual reality: The acknowledged uniqueness of individuals and their characters incurs an acceptance of differing views of reality, which could create the situation outlined by PVP. The – much more – element then appears as an extension of the pluralities mentioned, an observation which I interpret to be a coalescence of individuals (as a social group) around a single (most often more contained or narrower) idea/perceived ideal.

    Taking that to the deception and untruths (as against not true or lies) observation made earlier and the truth/untruth can appear as broader more inclusive truth(s)/untruth(s). Applying that concept solely within a social frame, the narrower the parameters of whichever truth is accepted, the stronger the support for that perceived truth will necessarily have to be if it is to survive as a construct, and in that way many individuals will become excluded for nothing more than what they perceive as a different, but possibly equally accurate/acceptable truth. In the necessarily rigid types of worldview supporting such singular truths the symbolism of philosophical poison appears as illustrative of sets of reality supportive of Benthams brick panopticon, rather than feeding understanding and comprehension about the often necessary contexts of other truths, and thereby facilitating searching for additional truths sufficiently adequate for developing individuals and society. And it does seem likely that those points were possibly rooted within much of what was described as a lively debate about morality and personality.

  7. Looks like we would never agree on much. No worries here. I take my salad, with Caesar dressing….not, thousand-island.
    Word salad is not dressable at all. Happy holidays. No mas, o, menos aqui. (Teaching my dumb ass computer Spanish. And, French, aussi…)
    Oh. In any language: yawn.

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