Philosophy Dictionary of Arguments

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Author Item Summary Meta data
Corr I 93
Personality traits/Galton/Deary: Galton (1884)(1) reckoned that aspects of character other than cognitive ability might be measurable. Observations of similarity in conduct between parents and their children, in feeling between pairs of twins, and of his own apparent free will convinced him (1884, p. 181): that the character which shapes our conduct has a definite and durable ‘something’, and therefore that it is reasonable to attempt to measure it. Galton stated the problem of choosing the entities that are to mark our personality traits (1884, p. 181): We must guard ourselves against supposing that the moral faculties which we distinguish by different names, as courage, sociability, niggardness, are separate entities.
Galton headed for the store of human trait terms to which others, in what was to become known as the lexical approach.
Galton (1884)(1) reckoned that individual differences in character might be tested before the phenomena of character themselves were fully charted (1884, p. 182): ‘Definite acts in response to definite emergencies have alone to be noted. No accurate map of character is required to start from.’(1884, p. 182).
Galton/Deary: Much of Galton’s 130-years-old sketchy agenda is recognizable: that character traits might in part be heritable; that trait terms may be sought in the lexicon; that the entities are not clear, because words are mongrels of underlying traits; that character had not been mapped out; that perhaps we should bash on and measure traits using a number of short trials; and that emotional, anger responses were notable aspects of personality. Much of what Galton suggested has successfully been realized in subsequent research. But the issue of which traits we have and the nature of traits have been persistent problems, revisited by many influential thinkers in the field.


1. Galton, F. 1884. Measurement of character, Fortnightly Review 36: 179–85


Ian J. Deary, “The trait approach to personality”, in: Corr, Ph. J. & Matthews, G. (eds.) 2009. The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press


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Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution.
The note [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Galton, Francis
Corr I
Philip J. Corr
Gerald Matthews
The Cambridge Handbook of Personality Psychology New York 2009


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Ed. Martin Schulz, access date 2019-07-19
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