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Character$

Joel J. Kupperman

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780195096545

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195096545.001.0001

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(p.159) Appendix A Moral Psychology

(p.159) Appendix A Moral Psychology

Source:
Character
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Oxford University Press

An important element of many ethical philosophies has been a moral psychology, that is, a set of assumptions or claims about human nature or the variety of human psychologies and, in particular, about the causal factors related to virtue and vice. The specifically normative positions of philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Confucius are very closely linked to empirical claims of this sort. Hume's writing on ethics is consistently a mixture of psychology and philosophy, and something like this is true also of more recent philosophers such as Nietzsche and Sartre. In addition, there are major figures who are not normally classified as philosophers but who, if moral psychology is a genuine subject, may be great moral psychologists. The due de la Rochefoucauld and Michel Montaigne would appear on such a list. Many would add the names of novelists such as Dostoevsky and Henry James.

To many educated twentieth-century readers this smacks of antiquarian nonsense. As late as Hume's time, psychology was not a science; and perhaps when Nietzsche was alive, it was still not much of one. But now there is rigorous experimental work on human psychology, much of it using statistical methods. What excuse is there for using literature, philosophy, or personal experience (or the social branch of folk psychology) to arrive at psychological judgments, when there is real knowledge to be had? This point can be made about some of the remarks on the psychology of character to be found in this book. It also can be made in relation to any claims about the education of character that do not rest on rigorous experiment.

(p.160) My reply is not simple. Part of it is that there is, indeed, some very useful scientific work on the psychology of character—referred to elsewhere in this book. It is disappointing that there is not more and that there is so little scientific evidence that can be brought to bear on the major questions related to development of character. If we ask, “Why is there not more?” the answer is neither simple nor neat. Let me outline what seem to be the major factors. One of them, which I will discuss last, points toward the worth of much in the older, unscientific tradition of moral psychology.

A first point is that any scientific study of the psychology of character is most revealing if it focuses not on what people say, but on what they do. Furthermore what a person does in commonplace situations may be much less indicative of character than what she or he does when severely tempted or pressed. A striking example of a useful investigation of character was the Abscam Experiment performed by the FBI, who, when looking into the characters of several congressmen, offered them substantial bribes under conditions in which they might well believe that there were minimal risks. One presumes that most or all of the subjects ordinarily talked virtuously, knew very well how to appeal to moral principles, and did not shoplift or steal money from their neighbours. Nevertheless, after some of them accepted the bribes, the investigation was widely held to have revealed something important about their characters.

The closest psychological experiments to this were those performed by Stanley Milgram: Subjects were pressured rather than tempted in order to get them to do things that almost certainly would go against the moral code they normally professed. The results were extremely revealing; although, as I will suggest later, there is room for doubt about exactly what they revealed. One reason why such experiments are not performed more often is that there are strong ethical objections to what can be argued to be, in effect, a procedure of corrupting people to see how easily they can be corrupted. Milgram has argued strenuously that in the event his experiments were not harmful to subjects and often were beneficial (1974, pp. 193–202). But the controversy remains. With the current increase of litigiousness in America, also, it is hard to see how a psychologist who followed in Milgram's footsteps could now expect to avoid expensive lawsuits.

If we avoid risky and possibly unethical surveys of actual behavior under pressure, the major (and simplest) alternative that remains is to ask (p.161) people questions about what they would do or think should be done in various hypothetical situations. This, in fact, is the primary thrust of the investigations into moral education of Lawrence Kohlberg (1981) and his school. Such research is not valueless: it can be a good test of ethical sophistication if one assumes that the questions mirror a reasonable set of ethical distinctions. But the questionnaire method cannot distinguish among (1) what someone's character genuinely is, (2) what someone is pretending his or her character is, and the intermediate case of (3) what someone thinks incorrectly his or her character is. The only way of distinguishing among these is, again, to put subjects under pressure or to present temptations, and then surreptitiously to observe how they actually behave. Because of the ethical objections against major pressures or temptations, minor temptations may be used. Alan Waterman, summarizing research of this sort, reports that the results of research on the connection between scores on Kohlbergian tests of moral development and actual moral behavior “are mixed, on balance favoring cognitive development theory” (1988, p. 289). Anyone but an utter cynic would expect a result like this; even if there is a great deal of hypocrisy in the world, it would be surprising if it were the norm. But it is hardly a strong result, and one can wonder what the results would have been if different temptations had been used or, for that matter, if different standards of ethical sophistication had been used.

There is a growing literature of small temptations. Yuchtman-Yaar and Rahav begin their “Resisting Small Temptations in Everyday Transactions” by making the point that “a major methodological difficulty inherent in the study of moral behavior derives from the typically clandestine nature of unethical acts” (1986, p. 23). They quite prudently decide that the identification of moral judgments is more easily obtained in the gray area of informal deviance. Their method is to have bus drivers in Tel Aviv give too much change—the temptations amounting to as much as 25 percent of a bus fare—to passengers, and then see if the passengers (having made eye contact with the change) are honest enough to return the money. This experiment is not without merit, but it leaves room to wonder about the connections between people's behavior in response to very small temptations of this sort and the way they might behave when significantly tempted. Anyone who has ever gone to the trouble of returning a penny or two of excess change, and then felt like a complete fool afterward because the person reimbursed clearly felt that his or her time was being wasted, might wonder about the role of (p.162) nonmoral factors in someone's decision. Might it matter if, when you got too much in change, there were four or five people behind you who were trying to get on the bus? It is imaginable that someone might not bother negotiating repayment of a very small amount of money who would be entirely honest if the amount were much larger.

A second point has special force in relation to empirical studies of moral education. Moral development can involve many twists and turns: It is conceivable that someone who was habitually honest as a child could be easily tempted as an adult and that irregular behavior as a child might lead in the direction of solid and reliable virtue in adult life. Something that takes root in a child might bear fruit only many years later. The only way in which these connections can be mapped is by longitudinal studies, by following a group of subjects from early childhood to maturity—and, indeed, onward perhaps until middle age, because many moral crises enter people's lives only in their middle years. If we put together our two points thusfar, what this requires ideally of psychological research is that psychologists spy on people when they are young children and then continue to spy on them when they are adults.

Close scrutiny would be especially required for a study of willed change of character. Is Hume right in suggesting that we cannot change our characters substantially at will? This cannot be assessed adequately unless we can distinguish cases in which someone is making a genuine effort to be a different sort of person from those in which someone merely says that it would be nice. Detailed observation over periods of time would be required to make this distinction.

Something less than spying might have some use in other kinds of investigation as long as it was rigorous and longitudinal. Psychologists are in a position to recognize this. As Shirley L. lessor has remarked, “Understanding moral development requires, I think, a much greater commitment to a longitudinal strategy so that the course of development of an attitude, a process, or a person's lifestyle may be traced, and thereby understood” (lessor in DePalma and Foley 1975, p. 179). This still seems to me a good comment on what is lacking in the empirical literature in this field. There have been some longitudinal studies of personality reported on in Brim and Kagan (1980) and also West and Graziano (1989). None of these, however, concern willed change of character, and altogether there has not been as much longitudinal research as an ethicist would want. There are obvious practical reasons why this should be so. Psychologists are under the same pressures as (p.163) other researchers to obtain relatively quick results. To the extent that funding is crucial to research, longitudinal studies are at a severe disadvantage. It also is true, of course, that adults (unless they are in frequent trouble with the law or are institutionalized) are often difficult to track, which may be one reason why “with the exception of the antisocial personality disorder … there is a dearth of empirical research regarding the longitudinal course of personality disorders” (Drake and Vaillant 1988, p. 44). Some of the difficulties are reflected in Kenneth Gergen's remark that “because of the immense demands placed on the researcher” systematic longitudinal studies of individuals are “indeed rare”; he also points out the complication “that developmental trajectories over the life span are highly variable” (Gergen 1982, pp. 150, 161). There also is the fact that adults, unlike children in school, are in a position to resist personality tests and often do. Adult transformations are irregular in timing, and those undergoing them “rarely assemble in groups, making testing difficult” (Stewart, Franz, and Layton 1988, pp. 41–42).

The psychologists who remark on this last go on to suggest that this increases the appeal, compared to available alternatives, of psychological study of personal documents, such as diaries and letters. The case seems reasonable, but it is important to point out how psychological method is highlighted by such a shift. When we have grasped this, we are in a better position to appreciate the value of the older tradition of moral psychology.

When a psychologist analyzes a diary or a series of letters—or what a person says in the psychologist's office—two important variables are what the psychologist treats as significant, and the categories within which what is significant will be represented. The worth of the psychological analysis will depend heavily on these variables. A psychologist who fails to be struck by what is, in fact, important or whose categories are impoverished or irrelevant cannot produce a useful analysis. Conversely, a psychologist who has a good sense of what should seem salient and whose categorial schemes are rich and flexible can produce highly useful work.

The obvious question is, “Why cannot someone who is not a professional psychologist, such as the due de la Rochefoucauld or leading contributors to the fund of moral psychology that Aristotle drew upon, also have a good sense of what is salient and deploy rich and flexible categories, thus producing highly useful psychological analyses of people's lives?” The lay observer may have the disdvantage of being an (p.164) interested party in some of the life stories (of friends, rivals, family members, etc.) that she or he knows best, and this is one of many reasons why some accounts and analyses will have to be discounted. On the other hand, the lay observer in many cases has the great advantage of intimate acquaintance with psychological subjects that is continued over long periods of time and under circumstances in which the subjects are not always on guard in the way they express their attitudes and feelings. Someone like La Rochefoucauld or David Hume, both perceptive and reasonably dispassionate, thus can see people not merely as they would like to be seen but as they reveal themselves in a variety of settings

Such a person, thus, has great advantages over even the most subtle and perceptive professional psychologist, who is likely to have extended professional contact with subjects only when they know they are being looked at by a psychologist (and, therefore, will be unusually concerned with the kind of image they are projecting). Of course, the professional psychologist, like anyone else, can get to know people in nonprofessional settings. But is there any reason to think that her or his observations will be more acute, or more soundly based, than those of the due de la Rochefoucauld?

The importance of rich and flexible categories must be stressed. Ordinary language philosophers, such as J. L. Austin, have helped us realize how extraordinarily rich and flexible the categories of a natural language such as English are; Austin's (1958) discussion of the subtle differences among “pretending,” “feigning,” “acting as if,” “imitating,” “affecting to be,” “shamming,” and “posing as” is a classic in this way. This suggests that a command of nuances of language is not a minor qualification of someone who wishes to produce rich and subtle accounts of human behavior. At the opposite extreme, one would have to place psychological questionnaires that require yes or no or multiplechoice responses rather than essay answers. Here, the psychologist, however subtle and precise in language she or he may be in ordinary life, is forced to rely on a small number of categorial pigeonholes within which answers can be dropped. There is usually the possibility that a response that straddled categories or that invoked new ones would be a better psychological representation than the response that is elicited by the questionnaire.

Questionnaires reflect the theories and assumptions of the psychologists who devise them. This is an appropriate point to comment both on one distinction in recent psychological theory and results that this (p.165) distinction bears upon. The distinction rests on the psychological interpretation of personality, which as I remarked in chapter 1 is given a technical meaning by psychologists that is much closer in fact to the ordinary meaning of character than to that of personality. Mark Snyder says, “As a psychological concept, personality refers to regularities and consistencies in the behavior of individuals in the course of their lives. It refers to regularities and consistencies across contexts … over time … and between behavioral domains” (1983, p. 497). Snyder goes on to distinguish among two main types of people: those who “typically manifest the regularities and consistencies of personality in their social behavior” and those who do not and are “relatively situational” (p. 498). The second group relies on “high self-monitoring”; the first group is “low self-monitoring.” The suggestion is that low self-monitoring people (who correspond perhaps, roughly and with qualifications I will suggest, to the people I would refer to as having strong characters) “display considerable temporal stability in their behavior” (p. 499). Snyder goes on to make a suggestion which supports roughly the same claim (reported in chap. 6) as made by Nietzsche, that people “create for themselves social worlds well-suited” to their propensities; a difference is that Nietzsche's suggestion is made in respect to people of character, whereas Snyder's is made in respect both to high self-monitoring and low self-monitoring individuals (p. 507).

Snyder's basic distinction is between behavior's being determined by personality and its being determined by situation; David S. Funder, in another article in the same special-topic issue of the Journal of Personality, traces the recent debate in the psychological literature between psychologists who emphasize situations as the determinant (situationists) and those who emphasize personality (personologists). Over a period of time, Funder reports, “a consensus seems to have evolved that the behavior of individuals is both coherently patterned across time and situations, and discriminatively sensitive to the differences between situations,” (1983, p. 347). Funder goes on to argue for a claim that he takes to be widely accepted by personologists and to be widely rejected by situationists, namely, that reports by professional or lay observers of people's behavior in natural settings sometimes can be taken as useful evidence. “The human observer,” Funder says, “is clearly a flawed instrument for evaluating behavior, and his or her assessments cannot always be taken at face value. But this is not to say that they are useless” (p. 350).

(p.166) This summary judgment seems to me to be entirely reasonable, and it, of course, leads to the conclusion that there is a place in psychology (at least as providing starting points for investigation and perhaps in some cases more of a place than this) for the older tradition of moral psychology. My respect for the work of Funder and of Snyder, however, is compatible with some unease at the situation-determined/personalitydetermined distinction which is entrenched in this branch of psychology and which they both accept. The distinction seems too simple. Consider the following cases. Suppose that Smith would normally (i.e., if other people had not been involved in the way in which they are) have been inclined to do Y in situation S. However she does X.

  1. Case 1 Smith does X because doing Y (as she was inclined to) would have badly hurt Jones's feelings.

  2. Case 2 Smith does X as a compromise with Jones, who had an interest in the outcome: X is intermediate between Y (which Smith continues to think would have been intrinsically preferable) and Z (which Jones preferred).

  3. Case 3 Smith does X because Jones and the rest of the gang expect X or perhaps because Jones is a psychologist who says, “The experiment demands X.

In all these cases, Smith's behavior could be considered responsive to the situation; yet from an ethical (and one would think a psychological) point of view, there is a great difference between Case 3 and the other two. It must be admitted that, in practice, there sometimes may be difficulties in arriving at a firm sense of whether what happened is more like Case 2 than like Case 3. All the same, there is a great difference between Case 3, which represents weak character (or, as Kierkegaard would have said, no self), and cases in which someone who has a strong character retains a clear sense of her or his own ideals, although behaving in a flexible way in order to maintain a friendship or family, social, or political harmony.

My suggestion, thus, is that a central distinction in current social psychology is simple in a way that blurs interesting and important possibilities. This categorial impoverishment reinforces the impression that even the best research work on the psychology of character tends to be sculpture done with blunt instruments. All the same, whatever the practical difficulties might be and whatever conceptual complexities might be required, there may seem no reason on principle why claims (p.167) made within the older tradition of moral psychology could not be tested in an acceptable way by contemporary psychologists. Or is there? Let me suggest a useful test case. Maxim 182 of La Rochefoucauld runs as follows: “Vices have a place in the composition of virtues just as poisons in that of medicines: prudence blends and tempers them, utilizing them against the ills of life” (1665, p. 57). This maxim seems to me to contain a mixture of important psychological and ethical truth. Could the former be tested?

We need first to explicate what the ethical and psychological ingredients are. The maxim is only slightly more extreme than many texts in the older tradition of moral psychology in compressing a complicated set of insights into a small space. We should beware of treating such a text as merely a set of messages or as a container (rather like a fortune cookie) from which these messages could be taken. In some cases, the meaning of the text can be understood only in terms of an ordered sequence of normal reader responses, some of them determinate, some to a degree indeterminate, and some running contrary to previous ones. Some texts can be understood not so much as self-contained messages as guides to the perception of behavior or situations.

Maxim 182 presupposes an ethical view very different from a simple Kantianism: Actions which fit the same broad description can be such that one is virtuous and another is wrong. The contours of what is virtuous will be irregular in relation to our broad descriptive categories. Thus, it is often not possible to determine what is right merely by following some general rule or principle. This is a view of ethics that some people find counterintuitive, but it is implicit in Aristotle's discussion of the mean and in Confucian ethics.

The maxim makes a further claim. Not only is the contour of what is virtuous irregular in relation to our broad descriptive categories, but also it is irregular in relation to our habits, impulses, and ongoing attitudes. There will not be a neat and comfortable fit between the path of what is virtuous and the unreflective dispositions of a moderately virtuous person: Even if they coincide in the great majority of cases, they will not coincide in every case. The assertion of lack of fit is both ethical and psychological. It is ethical, in that it claims that the virtuous is more complicated than many might want it to be. It is psychological, in that it posits a limit in the ability of unreflective human dispositions to mirror this complexity.

Any ethics which does not rely simply on general rules and principles (p.168) is likely to ask whether a fit between a person's unreflective dispositions and what is virtuous is humanly possible. Aristotle does not directly answer this question; but I take some elements of his discussion of the mean, such as the advice to aim a little in the direction of the extreme that is less appealing to us (as a way of compensating for possible bias), to suggest an answer of no (Bk. I, chap. 9, 1109b, p. 50). Confucius is quoted, in a famous passage, as claiming that finally at the age of seventy he could follow the desires of his heart and yet be virtuous (II.4, p. 88). The reader of this passage is meant to be struck, of course, by the fact that Confucius, who worked very hard at self-perfection, did not reach this point until he was seventy.

Whatever the truth of Confucius's claim, it is plausible—if one believes that virtue is not simply a matter of following appropriate general rules—to say that virtually no one will have a perfect fit between unreflective dispositions and what is virtuous. What this means in practice is that habits, impulses, or attitudes normally manifested in virtuous action and which, therefore, might be thought of as virtuous, can lead in some cases plausibly and naturally to actions which are the reverse of virtuous. Smith's honesty, which has made her highly reliable in situations in which many of us might be tempted to equivocate, sometimes leads her to say or do things that cause serious and permanent harm to others. Jones's strength of mind, which leads him to take charge admirably of situations in which something needs to be done and the rest of us are just standing around, sometimes leads to unwarranted interference in other people's lives. And so on. The converse also is true. Qualities which in many settings may seem allied to vices can be conducive to virtue. Winston's stubborness and desire to dominate, which in some situations lead to obstinate bullying, can make him an admirable foe of tyranny.

Part of the thought of the maxim, then, is that intelligent people who can arrive at a dispassionate sense of their temperaments and motives as well as of when they are at their best and their worst can also, to some degree, shape and guide the ways they respond to situations, thus creating in some cases virtuous responses out of ingredients that could be allied to vice. Instances in which this is done—along with cases in which what is normally virtuous is vicious or vice versa—can be presumed to provide the data on which the maxim is based. The due de La Rochefoucauld must have seen such cases and distilled what he saw in them in Maxim 182; the responsive reader will think of similar cases that she or he has seen and (p.169) will get the point accordingly. Such cases not only will provide the supporting data, but also will make possible the resonance of the maxim, in that the responsive reader now is prepared for such cases and more likely to notice them

This means not only that one is prepared to notice a lack of fit between unreflective dispositions and virtue in others, but also to notice it in oneself. The remedy is self-scrutiny and reflectiveness. Jones can ask, “Is it really appropriate for me to take charge of Bloggs's life at this point? Might my normal take-charge attitude be getting out of hand?” Smith can wonder whether telling Bloggs the truth about X would be seriously damaging. Perhaps her tendency to tell the truth come what may should be tempered or admit of exceptions? What this calls for is, in one respect, a process of reflection about the real-life cases that intersect with one's dispositions. (Is this a form of high self-monitoring?) In another respect, it is a process of self-refinement—as Confucius says, “filing, chiseling” (1.15, p. 87). This process, it should be noted, does not require anything like a heightened sweetness or soulfulness. Rather something like shrewdness is crucial. Prudence, as La Rochefoucauld says, tempers the ingredients of our psychological life.

What can a modern psychologist make of the psychological element of the maxim? Clearly, there is an empirical component, but it is formulated in relation to an ethical component, so that any test would have to begin with what amounted to a formulation of what were the right decisions in some difficult cases. Scholars who try to deal with values when pursuing a value-free methodology sometimes can finesse their difficulties by talking about what such and such a group of people would agree on. John Rawls is the most notable contemporary philosopher who pursues this strategy, and it is available also to psychologists. But as the examination of Rawls's theory in chapter 5 indicates, a result can be a lowestcommon- denominator set of values. La Rochefoucauld emphatically is pursuing ethical insights that are not of this sort. There is no clear way in which a psychologist could reconstitute in terms of a group agreement the ethical side of La Rochefoucauld's dictum of lack of fit. The best the psychologist could do, it seems to me, is to validate (1) the existence of cases in which someone who is widely judged to be virtuous acts in a way that some intelligent observers think is wrong and in a way that is correlated with personal qualities that these same observers think generally admirable and (2) also validate the existence of cases in which qualities widely thought to be allied to vice contribute to behavior that (p.170) some intelligent observers think is admirable. These would be small results in comparison with the richness and complexity of what La Rochefoucauld has to say.

All of this can be taken as a defense and endorsement of the older tradition of moral psychology. What of such sources as novels and plays? Many readers may feel torn. On the one hand, educated people often feel that they have learned something important from reading, say, a Dostoevsky novel. On the other hand, they usually cannot say what it is; if they try, what emerges is usually something very trite. Furthermore, imaginative fiction must be taken as the very paradigm of the unscientific, so how can psychology of any value be gathered from it?

A plausible answer has been suggested by Ira Newman (1984). A central point is that depictions in novels and plays can be taken as modeling aspects of reality. A model brings out detail and relevant connections, enabling us better to focus on the reality it models. This accounts for the way in which novels and plays often allow us to perceive events and connections in the real world that we otherwise might not have taken in, so that people sometimes murmur that life imitates art. A novelist or playwright can look like a great moral psychologist, if she or he gets us to see fundamental connections—either in the psychology of remarkable people or in everyday life—that we otherwise would not have grasped. Conversely, of course, a novelist or playwright can be a poor moral psychologist, pointing toward connections that are not there or that everyone knows about and that consequently seem trite.

It is characteristic of the older tradition of moral psychology, indeed, that although (as I have been suggesting) its results at best can be as useful and important as those of scientific psychology, its methods of validation are nonexistent, so that poor results can be passed off as good. This places a burden on the reader, who must perform some of the validation that in scientific work would be part of what is provided; of course, the reader's validation itself is hardly likely to meet scientific standards. On the other hand, it has to be said that relatively few scientific investigations of moral psychology in recent years have seemed as interesting and important as the results that are found throughout the work of La Rochefoucauld, Hume, and Nietzsche.

One investigation that does meet this standard is Stanley Milgram's (1974) of obedience. At the very least, his experiments together with their replication in various countries prove that most people have weak characters. The basic experiment involves a subject who thinks that he or (p.171) she has volunteered for a study of the effects of punishment on learning. He is instructed to administer (what appear to be) electric shocks of increasing severity to a learner (who appears to be another subject, but is an actor) if the latter makes errors related to a list of word pairs. As the “shocks” increase in intensity, the responses of the “learner” evolve from verbal complaint to a demand to be released from the experiment. “At 285 volts his response can only be described as an agonized scream,” (p. 4). This impels the subject to quit, but “the experimenter, a legitimate authority to whom the subject feels some commitment, enjoins him to continue.” Milgram interprets this in relation to the inability to “make a clear break with authority.” Roughly two-thirds of the subjects continued to the maximum of 450 volts. Milgram comments, “It is the extreme willingness of adults to go to almost any length on the command of an authority that constitutes the chief finding of the study.” He draws a connection, which others also have drawn, with the central thesis of Hannah Arendt's Eichmann in Jerusalem (1963). Here is scientific demonstration of, among other things, what Arendt calls the “banality of evil.”

It cannot be denied that Milgram's work also points toward the validity of a situationist approach to the conduct of at least two-thirds of the population. Is the result, though, entirely a matter of obedience to authority? Roger Brown suggests that the fact of a single subject at any time in the Milgram experiments was crucial; he seems to think that a majority of groups would rebel. In this view, conformity is a crucial factor. If groups were subjects, and if rebellion of a recalcitrant group took place, then conformity would be on the side of rebellion (1986, pp. 17, 36). Let me suggest also that the smoothness of the apparent experimental routine that Milgram's subjects were placed in is an important factor. It is this which assimilates Milgram's success to that of sexual seducers and confidence men, even though neither of these groups customarily rely on what would normally be termed authority. In all three cases, though, part of the art is to make the subject feel that the normal, expected thing is to go along, to match the rhythm of the situation, and that to refuse would be awkward, indeed gauche. The world of Milgram may have interesting links with the worlds of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos's Les Liaisons dangereuses and Herman Melville's The Confidence- Man as well as with what can be observed in contemporary political seduction, in which smoothness can be a vital factor. There is ample evidence that people are “slightly anxious, confused, and (p.172) overwhelmed on first encountering a novel situation” and that these “feelings of uncertainty of the social rules interfere with altruistic behavior” (Argyle, Furnham, and Graham, 1981, p. 48). All of this is arguably true of Milgram's subjects. He himself remarks, “Underlying all social occasions is a situational etiquette that plays a part in regulating behavior. In order to break off the experiment, the subject must breach the implicit set of understandings that are part of the social occasion” (1974, p. 149). At this point in the commentary, hierarchy, which Milgram in my view slightly overemphasizes as a factor, recedes, and the anxiety to do the socially right thing becomes central. One is reminded of Leo Tolstoy's insistence in some of his later writing that to do what is morally right is sometimes so disruptive of social rhythms as to be acutely embarrassing.

It would be very useful to have more scientific work on character that is as important and well-supported as that of Milgram. In the meantime, the moral psychologies of such figures as Aristotle, Confucius, and La Rochefoucauld would appear to be as good as any we have.