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When a virtue is not a virtue: conditional virtues in moral evaluation

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Social Cognition
Issue number6
Volume32
Number of pages31
Pages (from-to)528-558
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Four studies show that people distinguish between two sorts of moral virtues: core goodness traits that unconditionally enhance the morality of any agent, and value commitment traits that are conditionally good (i.e., that polarize the morality of good and bad agents). Study 1 revealed that commitment traits (e.g., dedicated) amplify the badness of a bad agent (terrorist), whereas core goodness traits (e.g., kind) amplify the goodness of the bad agent. Study 2 replicated these results while also showing that both commitment and core goodness traits enhance the perceived goodness of neutral and good agents. Studies 2–4 established that commitment traits polarize moral evaluations by signaling agents’ commitment to certain values, rather than their agency or effectiveness in pursuing those values. These results extend current understanding of the perceived structure of moral character.