Research / BFI Working PaperMay 22, 2023

The Economic Approach to Personality, Character and Virtue

James Heckman, Bridget Galaty, Haihan Tian

This chapter presents an economic approach to character and personality traits with an application to the study of virtue. Economists interpret psychological traits, including character traits and virtue, as strategies that shape responses to situations (actions) determined by underlying endowments, preferences and resources, as well as incentives to act in situations. Philosophers of virtue consider a more limited set of goals than economists but the same tools can be applied to the economics of virtue ethics. Character traits and personality are not considered immutable in either field. They are shaped by genetics, parents, peers, and schools, as well as life experiences. We develop economic models to interpret and give empirical content to virtue ethics and suggest what virtue ethics contributes to the study of economic models.

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