T. Ryan Byerly on whether improving your personality is a moral duty or a category confusion

Our centre member T. Ryan Byerly has recently published a piece in Psyche, asking whether attempts to improve our personalities can be understood as a moral duty or manifests a category confusion.

He points out that it is tempting to think that “we’re obliged to improve some areas of our personality, while other aspects of who we are are less malleable but more morally neutral.” While it might seem right to say that we should all try to be more compassionate, honest or forgiving, “there’s no comparable moral demand for shy people to become extraverted, or for excitable people to be more placid.” As he writes, “[t]his line of thinking exploits a divide between what we might call ‘character’ traits, such as compassion, and basic ‘personality’ traits, such as shyness. The division is reflected in psychological research, where the study of personality throughout the 20th century deliberately focused on supposedly non-moral features of the self.”

It seems clear, however, that some traits are more clearly morally charged than others. But how do we assess the different moral loadedness of both chracter and personality traits? Is there even something we can do about our personalities? And, importantly: “should you want to change who you are? Even if personality change is feasible, it might not be desirable or morally important.”

Make sure to read Ryan’s full discussion of the issues here!

Photo by Andrew Kirby/Getty; & Psyche