Dr. Thomas B. Leininger Page... Focus upon formulating your own examples that demonstrate the depth...

Character and Choices: Lecture Notes
Dr. Thomas B. Leininger
Page 1 of 2
Focus upon formulating your own examples that demonstrate the depth of your understanding of the
course concepts and drawing connections between these concepts.
Experience as a starting point
--Experience is what is actually going on in our lives (see C&M, p5).
The first moral question is "What is going on?" How we interpret and describe our experience will
shape our answer to the secondary moral question: “What should I do?”
3 central dimensions of moral experience and their primary relationships
--Character, community, and action have both a dynamic and interdependent relationship
Dynamic: Like energy of a body in motion, each is continuously active, powerful, and changing (yet
retains something constant across all changes).
Interdependent: Like a mobile, each dimension both shapes and expresses the other dimension.
Etymology of the word character
--kharacter (Greek): an instrument for marking or engraving; an imprint.
Archaic use: a distinctive mark impressed; engraving on an object that shows its worth or value.
Explain how this etymology sheds light on C&M’s definition of character.
Character defined
a) Customary Pattern. Character refers primarily to the “characteristic” or “customary” patterns
of our ongoing exercise of human freedom in response to our circumstances and secondarily to
the exceptions to these patterns. Together both the patterns of our lives and their variations
make up who we are, i.e., our character.
b) Story: the other side of the coin. We can describe the reality named by character from
another perspective. To form character is to author a story that puts the various events of our
lives and the parts of our selves into a meaningful account and context. We are constantly
writing our own stories and forming our character by the way we live our lives. Indeed,
characters help to define the logic of a story (some actions would be too “out of character” to
make sense). So we can express who are either by the character that we embody or the story
that we tell through our lives. In this sense, our character is our story.
c) Moral Identity. According to C&M, moral character is our moral identity.
i) It is moral because it is freely chosen in response to circumstances for either good or bad.
ii) It is our identity because it indicates with whom and what we have identified ourselves
and lives, e.g., persons, communities, goals, and visions. Even communities have character.
4 elements of character
1- Core-our center; that which is most deeply ourselves
2- Unique/Common-our moral fingerprint/work of art that displays both unique and common features.
Our character simultaneously distinguishes us from others and joins us to others through features that
we share in common.
3- Self-chosen-how we respond to the world; how we claim our actions and identity as our own
4- Integral- [Latin integer--whole, complete, virtuous; (related word: integer)] quality of being whole,
integrated, pulled together, consistent, coherent, unified.
Character and Choices: Lecture Notes
Dr. Thomas B. Leininger
Page 1 of 2
Integrity entails a unity of the other three elements. It means having pulled ourselves together
around a solid, stable center or core that is self-chosen and that simultaneously joins us to others and
distinguishes us as unique.
The fullness of character: moral maturity
--To possess character more fully or maturely is to possess ever-increasing wholeness and ability to
respond according to your own character, initiate actions and make them your own, be accountable for
them, and chart your destiny in accord with a freely chosen vision. To the extent that one is less
capable of doing these things and possessing wholeness, he/she lacks this fullness of character.
Why character is so important for morality
--Character is the primary carrier of moral meaning in our lives. Our intentions, actions, values, etc.
take on concrete meaning through the story or character that they form and express.
Richard Bondi: Another Perspective on Character
--According to Richard Bondi, character names a relation of the self to the world over time. He
identifies 5 ways that this relation is structured (the first four were covered in class).
1. Intent: our capacity for freely chosen purposeful action marks our relation to the world
2. Feelings: indicate the tone of our relation to the world; but need interpretation in light of norms
3. Accidents of History: events or circumstances beyond our influence partly determine the
context of our freedom; they set limits and open up possibilities for us.
4. The Heart: the core of a person that is the seat of memory, imagination, and desire. The heart
integrates all of the other structural features through a vision of how the world is and should
5. Community: provides the social setting and roles for our character formation
Indications good moral character (C&M) = loving, virtuous, and fully human (realizing potential)
C&M’s 6 characteristics of a fully human person also describe a morally mature character.
3 levels of acts viewed from the subjective perspective
1. individual deeds—particular actions (smallest level)
2. habits--repeated actions that have become a typical pattern
3. fundamental option—A better name = fundamental stance or orientation. Fundamental refers
to the underlying, most basic, or core orientation of one's life (largest level).
“Fundamental orientation” offers a theological perspective on character that asks “What is the overall
or deepest stance of the person in response to God (and to goodness, truth, and beauty)? Underlying
all of the deeds and habits that make up a person’s character. What is a person’s ultimate loyalty,
commitment, value?
Criteria for moral judgments
1. Intent--WHY? purpose, goal, reason (good intent alone is not enough)
2. Means-HOW? tools, instruments, steps (means must fit the end)
3. Circumstances- WHAT happened? WHERE? WHEN? the situation or context. We
inevitably select out the morally relevant factors in a given context.
4. Consequences- WHAT EFFECTS? on world and self
1) Alternatives—WHAT ELSE IS POSSIBLE? Discovering better possibilities requires
imagination and creativity and a realistic understanding of limitations and risks.