Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Social Animal 3: Good Character Comes from Right Perception

David Brooks' premise is that we are moved primarily by our emotions. This is especially important in understanding how we can come to have good character.

Most models of character focus on either the will or the reason. Neither work very well. They are not strong enough to overrule emotion.

Instead, the crucial step in building good character is the first one: how we perceive the situation. This is where our emotions are first engaged. Perceiving and judging are the same act.

People of good character perceive the world the right way. This makes it possible for their reason and their will to channel action in the right direction.

How we perceive the world the right way is a mystery, the result of a million good influences. The most important influences come down to:

  • Being in a virtuous community;
  • Seeing virtuous action; and
  • Doing virtuous action

1 comment:

Whit said...

Brooks' book is one I'd like to read. But as someone who has a high view of the authority of Scripture, the proper interpretation of which is, or at least should be, primarily a matter of intellect not emotion, I look at Brooks' thesis, at least as you summarize it, as somewhat suspect, and maybe circular.

While I can accept that being in a virtuous community, seeing virtue, and imitating virture are certainly ways to build character, how do you determine what virtue is? It seems to me that this formulation leads to moral relativism - whatever is customary and proper according to whatever community one happens to be in is "virtue".