PHIL 480: Seminar in the History of Philosophy

Building Moral Character: Neo-Confucianism and Moral Psychology


Spring 2013


Class meeting time: M W  2:30-3:45 pm               Instructor: Dr. JeeLoo Liu

Classroom:  EC 032                                                  Office location: H-311-I

Telephone: (657) 278-7560 (email preferred)       Office hours: M W 1:00 - 2:30 pm

E-mail:                                                         or by appointment



Text: (available at Little Professors)                                                                    

1.       [Required] Moral Psychology.  (Eds.) Thomas Nadelhoffer, Eddy Nahmias, and Shaun Nichols.  Wiley-Blackwell. [schedule listing MP]

2.       [Required] Lack of Character.  By John M. Doris.  Cambridge University Press, 2005. [schedule listing LC]

3.       [Optional] Moral Development, Self and Identity. (Eds.) Daniel K. Lapsley & Darcia Narvaez. Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2004. [schedule listing MSI]


Course Description:

“Why do some people tend to choose those actions that they consider to be moral while others do not, or not with the same frequency and consistency?” (Augusto Blasi 1999) This course focuses on the issue of moral character – its development and its defense against situational challenges.  John Doris in Lack of Character: Personality and Moral Behavior (2002) argues that changes in people’s behavior are due more to situational factors than to their character traits.  He cites empirical studies to show that there is no such proof for the consistency or the stability of moral virtues; furthermore, there is no integration of character traits in moral agents.  He thus recommends that we abandon the vain pursuit of cultivating virtue and moral character in our ethical discourse, and turn our attention more towards constructing morality-inducing situations.  This view is called situationism.  In this course, we will begin with Doris’ challenge to moral character, and then we will read various proposals by contemporary moral psychologists on developing moral character as well as some historical roots of these views.  The views presented include social cognitivism, moral intuitionism and moral sentimentalism.  Reading materials are a healthy mixture of philosophy and psychology.  At the end, we will turn to the views on moral personality presented by several Neo-Confucians between the 14th and the 17th centuries, and assess the merit of each view.


Course Objectives:

(1)  Students will learn about current leading theories in moral philosophy and moral psychology.

(2)  Students will learn about major Neo-Confucian moral philosophy on character building.

(3)  Students will develop their own stance on the debate between situationism and character ethicists.

(4)  Students will develop some important philosophical techniques of argumentation.

(5)  Students will develop the ability to read critically and to write clearly and succinctly.




Mid-term exam (in class) [No final exam]            20 %

5 two-page response essays on reading (out of 6) 10 %

Discussion Forum Postings (20 points = 100)       10 %

Mid-semester short paper (5 pages)                       20 % 

1 final paper  (8-10 pages)                                       20 %

Presentation of course material                             10 %

Active class participation                                         10 %

Full attendance [not a single missed class]          2 points extra credit


To receive a final grade for the course, no portion of your grade can be a “zero”.



  Course Schedule and Handouts



Date                Content of discussion                            Assignments for this class


M 1/28           Introduction                                                                          None




[The Challenge of Situationism]


W 1/30           Ross & Nisbett, “The Person and the Situation”                   MP, 187-95


M 2/4             1. John Doris, Lack of Character, Chap. 1-2                         LC, 1-27

                                                                                                                        Response essay #1


W 2/6             2. John Doris, Lack of Character, Chap. 3                            LC, 28-61       



M 2/11           3. John Doris, Lack of Character, Chaps. 4-5                       LC, 62-106

                                                                                                                        Response essay #2


W 2/13           4. Rachana Kamtekar. "Situationism and Virtue Ethics          MP, 210-23

                        on the Content of our Character”                                          


[Character and Identity: Social-Cognitivist Model]


W 2/20           5. Augusto Blasi, “Moral Cognition and Moral Action:        Pdf. File on Titanium

                        A Theoretical Perspective                                                                             

                        Student Presentation #1


M 2/25           6. Lapsley & Narvaez, “A Social-Cognitive Approach         MSI, 189-207

                        to the Moral Personality                                                        Response essay #3


W 2/27           7. Lawrence Kohlberg, “The Claim to Moral Adequacy of   MP, 40-47

                        A Highest Stage of Moral Judgment                                      

                        Student Presentation #2


M 3/4             8. Robert J. Blair, “A Cognitive Developmental                    MP, 48-61

                        Approach to Morality: Investigating the Psychopath           Response essay #4


W 3/6             9. Augusto Blasi, “Moral Identity:                                        Pdf. File on Titanium

                        Its Role in Moral Functioning”                                              

                        Student Presentation #3


M 3/11           10. Roger Bergman, “Identity as Motivation:                        MSI, 21-43                

                        Toward a Theory of the Moral Self”                                      Response essay #5


[Moral Intuitionism]  


W 3/13           11. Jonathan Haidt, “The Emotional Dog and Its Rational    MP, 343-55   

                        Tail: A Social Intuitionist Approach to Moral Judgment     

                        Student Presentation #4


M 3/18           12. Joshua Greene, “The Secret Joke of Kant’s Soul”           MP, 359-70

                                                                                                                        Response essay #6


W  3/20           13. Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, “Moral Intuitionism Meets MP, 373-84

                        Empirical Psychology                                                            



[The Moral Sense Theory]



W 3/27           14. Francis Hutcheson, Selections #2 and #3                         MP, 21-31



M 4/8             15. David Hume, “Concerning Moral Sentiments”                MP, 32-36

                        Student Presentation #5


W  4/10           16. Adam Smith, selections from The Theory of Moral Sentiments

                        Mid-term paper due                                                             Pdf. File on Titanium                           


M  4/15           17. Jesse Prinz, “The Emotional Basis of Moral Judgments”

                        Student Presentation #6                                                      Pdf. File on Titanium


 [The Possibility of Altruism]



W  4/17           18. Bill Puka, “Altruism and Character”                                MSI, 161-86

                        Student Presentation #7


M  4/22           19. C. Daniel Batson, “How Social an Animal:                      MP, 117-23

                        The Human Capacity for Caring”

                        Student Presentation #8


W 4/24            20. Robert L. Trivers, “The Evolution of Reciprocal             MP, 124-33


                        Student Presentation #9     


M  4/29           21. Sober & Wilson, “The Evolution and Psychology of       MP, 135-47

                        Unselfish Behavior

                        Student Presentation #10


W  5/1             22. Barry Schwartz, “Why Altruism is Impossible… and    MP, 148-58



  [Neo-Confucian Virtue Ethics]


M  5/6             23. Zhang Zai’s Social-Cognitivist Model                              Liu, Manuscript


W  5/8             24. The Cheng Brothers’ Globalist Virtue Ethics                   Liu, Manuscript    


T  5/13            25. Wang Fuzhi’s Social-Sentimentalism                                Liu, Manuscript         


W  5/15           Last class: Review and Reflections