Research / BFI Working PaperSep 30, 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, resources, as well as incentives to act in situations. Philosophers of virtue consider it to be a certain kind of practice in pursuit of a worthy goal. Psychologists consider it to be a trait or endowment and many adopt this point of view. Character traits and personality are not considered immutable in any field. They are shaped by genetics, parents, peers, and schools, as well as by habituation, imitation, and life experiences. We develop economic models to interpret and give empirical content to virtue ethics and suggest what the study of virtue ethics contributes to the study of society.

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