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T EM P LE TO N REP O RT
N E W S F R O M T H E J O H N T E M P L E T O N F O U N DAT I O N
July 11, 2013
New Links Between Virtue and Character
“It’s not fair!” Most parents have heard their child make such a
complaint at one time or another. However, what they might not have
realized is that such protests are not empty. Young children, at least from
the age of 15 months, feel fairness keenly. It really matters to them. They
are more likely to play with others who act fairly, too.
The evidence for such early moral sensibilities has been gathered by
Jessica Sommerville of the University of Washington. She is principal
VIDEO: Christian Miller discusses foundational issues
investigator for just one of the many researchers awarded a grant from
The Character Project, which distributed funds of $3 million and was
supported by a grant from the John Templeton Foundation. “The research we have funded over the last three years is
building a new picture of the role of virtues in our lives,” explains Christian Miller, Associate Professor of Philosophy at
Wake Forest University and director of The Character Project. “Our habits and character are affected by the situations in
which we find ourselves, but we can also shape and develop our capacities to act in virtuous ways.”
A good example stems from the work on empathy and helping. In previous research, social psychologist Dan Batson has
shown that we are more likely to help others when we feel empathy for them and, moreover, that empathic feeling is
genuinely altruistic. Building on that work, Sara Konrath, a psychologist at the University of Michigan who is also funded
by The Character Project, has been investigating different ways to strengthen an individual’s feelings of empathy. “Morally,
this is crucial work that needs to be done,” Miller adds.
The Character Project is remarkable for its interdisciplinary nature, bringing together psychologists, philosophers, and
theologians. Together, they make it possible to develop deeper insights into what human character is like in practice; what
human character should be like in theory; and how to bridge the gap between the “is” and the “ought.” A co-director of the
Character Project, William Fleeson, professor of psychology at Wake Forest University and president of the Association
for Research in Personality, has called for morality to be studied as an issue in personal psychology. “This coupling of the
empirical and conceptual has proven not just innovative but powerful,” continues Miller. To further embrace this idea, a
conference held in June in North Carolina called “Conclusions about Character: Results from Psychology, Philosophy, and
Theology” brought all the grant recipients together to share the findings of their projects and discuss future research.
There are other strands to The Character Project. An essay and book prize rewarded authors for writing about character
to a general rather than a solely academic audience. For example, The Power of Habit, by New York Times reporter Charles
Duhigg, examined the science of habit formation in lives, companies, and societies. Alternatively, an essay on character by
Iskra Fileva was published by the New York Times.
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There was also a summer seminar, titled “Character: New Perspectives
and Empirical Discoveries,” which furthered the interdisciplinary
agenda. It provided an opportunity for 15 academics, out of a total of
210 applicants, to study and discuss the latest research on character and
explore how it might impact their work in different fields.
All this comes at a time of change in the study of virtues. A widespread
assumption has been that behavior is heavily influenced by circumstances,
so much so that it makes little sense to talk about virtues such as honesty,
helpfulness, and compassion. This led to the conclusion that character
offers little explanatory power when it comes to rationalizing human
behavior.
However, that is now beginning to change. “Most people have a variety of mixed traits which are neither good nor bad as
part of their character,” Miller says, after an extensive study of the literature. “But mixed traits, virtues, and vices do play a
role in what causes moral behavior and, moreover, it seems that we have some control over that, too. And on top of that,
from an ethical perspective we can see that the virtues are still worth cultivating.”
NOTEBOOK
Can Math Help Treat Cancer?
Mathematical models of the growth of cancers are being developed to help treat the
disease. The results were recently published in the journal eLife and appeared in the New
York Times. One of the co-authors of the paper is Martin Nowak, director of the Program
for Evolutionary Dynamics at Harvard University. The work was funded in part by a
grant from the John Templeton Foundation to explore evolutionary biology.
When cells divide, they occasionally mutate. Some of these mutations may mean
that subsequent cells divide more quickly. That hastening can lead to the emergence
of tumors—tumors that are resistant to targeted cancer therapy because of ongoing
mutations.
The new study, which shows how Nowak’s theoretical work on evolution and cooperation
can inform work in seemingly very different scientific domains, suggests that tumors
should be treated by two or more therapies at once, which could stunt further mutations
and cause the cancerous cells to be less resistant to the treatments.
TEMPLETON REPORT: NEWS FROM THE JOHN TEMPLETON FOUNDATION
Spirituality in Patient Care
A new edition of the authoritative study, Spirituality in Patient Care, originally published
in 2002, has been released by Templeton Press. The research on religion, spirituality, and
health continues to grow at a dramatic rate, creating an urgent need for a new edition of
this landmark work.
In this third edition, author Harold G. Koenig updates every chapter by incorporating
the newest research and introducing practical ways of translating that research into
caring for patients.
Like previous editions, the new book addresses the whys, hows, whens, and whats of
patient-centered spirituality into patient care so that health professionals, including
physicians in primary care and the medical and surgical specialties, can utilize this
information in clinical practice.
For more information, write to [email protected]
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