Character and Culture: The first five chapters of this book are a general account virtue and vice, and of character in general. Their theme is that character consists, in part but very crucially, in the individual's vision of the importance of the goods that are pursued by human action and of the limits of right conduct. The last six chapters discuss some of the ways in which character is influenced by various social and political institutions, including trade, legal punishment, voting, and the practice of giving gifts. Their theme is that, because traits of character consist, in part, of certain ideas on which the individual acts, institutions can encourage people to possess particular traits of character by communicating the relevant ideas. They instill character, not by offering bribes or threats, but by teaching us something. Among the institutions that are cast in a favorable light in this discussion are commerce and the gift exchange that occurs within voluntary relationships between free individuals. The effects of democracy on character appear to be more troubling and ambiguous, in that they depend on whether the power of the voters to control one another is constrained by institutions that protect individual rights or not.

You can view the Table of Contents, Chapter IX (on revenge), and The Last Chapter here.

You can read a review of the book by John Doris here.

(By the way, the cover illustration is by Gustave Dore, and shows a knight approaching the citadel of Camelot.

Lester Hunt