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November 24, 2020
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v2.1 Reference

Ethical Excellence

Philosophers, Psychologists, and Real-Life Exemplars Show Us How to Achieve It

Why do some people achieve ethical excellence while others fail? For example, how did Gloria Lewis overcome a lifetime of difficulty and go on to found a non-profit focused on feeding the homeless while Danny Starrett, despite a seemingly ideal childhood, became a rapist and murderer? Why did some Germans rescue their Jewish neighbors while others stood by?

One recent study found that four personal variables, taken together, differentiated Nazi-era bystanders from rescuers with startling 96.1% accuracy: social responsibility, altruistic moral reasoning, empathic concern, and risk-taking—traits related to ethical excellences (virtues) like justice, benevolence, and courage. Drawing from the combined wisdom of classical Socratic and Confucian philosophy, recent work in psychology, and the lived experience of recognized moral heroes, the book focuses on how each of us can work toward ethical excellence, becoming more like Lewis and neighbor-rescuers than like Starrett and Nazi-era bystanders.

The ancient Socratic and Confucian philosophical traditions offer surprisingly sophisticated advice regarding moral education. Because research in psychology helps us assess the feasibility of cultivating virtue in ourselves and those we influence, Ethical Excellence focuses on combining sound philosophical analysis of ethical virtue and related concepts with relevant empirical research on how these concepts are manifested and developed in everyday practice. Willpower, for example, contributes to development of temperance or moderation, grit relates to perseverance, and empathy is connected to benevolence.

Finally, the study of ethically exceptional people—moral heroes or exemplars—serves as living proof that ethical excellence is possible, and exemplars can provide inspiration to attempt it ourselves and guidance regarding how to do so successfully. Relevant stories and excerpts from the author's own interviews with award-winning ethical exemplars complement the use of philosophical virtue theory and psychological research on virtue-relevant practice. Together, these three approaches—philosophy, psychology, and biography—help to triangulate" ethical excellence and its achievement, presenting a much clearer and more complete picture than we can get from any one of these methods alone.

About the Author

Heidi Giebel is professor of philosophy at the University of St. Thomas, Minnesota.


"Offers a novel approach by bringing together two wisdom traditions, contemporary psychological research on character development, and the stories of real-life exemplars in order to give helpful advice on how to become virtuous...shows what can be gained by making philosophy more personal."—David McPherson, Creighton University

9780813233338 : ethical-excellence-giebel
Paperback / softback
November 24, 2020
$34.95 USD

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