In the realm of psychology, the overwhelming obsession is what is wrong with people. There is no DSM for virtues, only for vices. The assumption is that normalcy is perfection and deviancy is immoral. While they may be reluctant to admit to it, the role of a psychologist is mostly to make people normal. The psychology of virtue is horrifically under-studied. Greta Thunberg’s autism is a frequent topic of discussion but seldom is it asked whether her autism led to her concern for the environment in any capacity. Given the hours and resources the average person volunteers for noble causes, it would seem that goodness is dearly lacking in the average psychology.
There are three, general, moral emotions: empathy, sympathy, and honor. Roughly and loosely defined: the ability to relate to others emotionally is empathy and associated with oxytocin, the ability to pity those without relating to them is sympathy and is associated with serotonin, and pride in one’s character is honor and is associated with dopamine. Again, this field is extremely scant in terms of what we know because people don’t typically psychoanalyze acts of kindness or nobility therefore it is still nearly humoral in its level of science.
It is very important to understand the psychology of goodness for a number of reasons. For one, it very much helps in gaging who is and who is not good. Working in politics, I am keenly aware of how charlatans can feign virtue. Having a psychology of goodness is helpful in knowing what exactly to look for to know if someone is truly good. Is a politician proud of their character or their status? What are they most proud of? Do they go out of their way to say “The real estate lobbyists have tried to sell some of us on council property below-market value but I’m immune to their tricks.” Or something like “I grew up in trailer and, uh, I got myself a juris doctor. I represent the American story and I can get it for you!” Are they prouder of their ethics or their rise to power?
It is also good in knowing how to choose friends. Instead of looking for red flags, you’d look for green flags. It is easier to feign the absence of vice than it is the presence of virtue. Does this person truly care about humanity and the environment? Will they lead you to a better place? Instead of mainly choosing people on likeness to oneself or shared interests, or even something more superficial, one would include character and one would know more what to seek out. That’s important because it will lead to a greater diversity in one’s friends. It will be a friend group less bound by similairity in personality and culture and more on character. That means good people of all backgrounds.
Lastly, in dealing with cases of supposed misconduct. I believe we should move from deontology to utilitarian behavior regulation. If someone has disproportionately benevolent psychology then the system should be more lenient with regards to them. I don’t believe in equality before the law because somebody with a benevolent psychology should not be treated the same way as a dark triad personality. Yet, we only have the bad parts of psychology relatively well-understood and it would be difficult to gage character and who warrants leniency if goodness is almost completely absent from psychoanalysis.
Empathy, sympathy, and honor are not spectrum upon which people are measured in psychology but they should be. There should be a DSM of virtue. We should have anti-disorders. We should have a list of positive conditions. There are many mental illnesses but no, named, positive mental health condition. In psychology, there are endless ways to be bad but the only way to be good is to be nothing. The academy of psychology needs to, badly, compose a DSM of Virtue.
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