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Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 December 2014

Jennifer M. Morton*
Philosophy, City College of New York — City University of New York


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Research Article
Copyright © Social Philosophy and Policy Foundation 2014 

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I am particularly grateful to audiences at the 2013 Middle Atlantic States Philosophy of Education Conference, the 2013 American Philosophical Association Central Division Meeting, and The Aims of Education Conference at the University of California San Diego for their questions and comments. Jason Anderson, Harry Brighouse, Zac Cogley, an anonymous referee, the editors of Social Philosophy and Policy, participants at the CUNY Faculty Fellowship Program, the Spencer Foundation’s Philosophy of Education Summer Institute, and the other contributors to the present volume provided me with invaluable feedback. I conducted some of this research while on leave thanks to a generous grant from the Spencer Foundation.


1 Tough, Paul, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character (New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2012).Google Scholar

2 A sample KIPP character report card is available on the website of one of the leading researchers in this area. Angela Duckworth, “KIPP Character Report Card,”∼duckwort/images/KIPP%20NYC%20Character%20Report%20Card%20and%20Supporting%20Materials.pdf.

3 These worries are raised in various places including Adam Swift and Harry Brighouse, “Response: Progessive Universalism,” Boston Review (September/October 2012); Annette Lareau, “Response: The Importance of Social Institutions,”; Amy B Shuffelton, “A Matter of Friendship: Educational Interventions into Culture and Poverty,” Educational Theory 63, no. 3 (2013): 299–316; Lelac Almagor, “Whose Character?” Boston Review (November/December 2013).

4 Christopher Jencks and Margaret Phillips, “America’s Next Achievement Test: Closing the Black-White Test Score Gap,” The American Prospect no. 40 (1998): 518–33.

5 Binet suggests that performance in school “admits of things other than intelligence; to succeed in his studies, one must have qualities which depend especially on attention, will, and character; for example a certain docility, a regularity of habits, and especially continuity of effort. A child, even if intelligent, will learn little in class if he never listens, if he spends his time in playing tricks, in giggling, in playing truant.” (Angela Duckworth and Kelly Allred, “Temperament in the Classroom,” in Marcel Zentner and Rebecca L. Shiner, eds., Handbook of Temperament [New York: Guilford, 2012]: 629.)

6 I use the term “noncognitive disposition” instead of “noncognitive skill”— the term coined by economist James Heckman — because “skill” is too narrow and normatively loaded to capture the variety of dispositions at stake. For example, extraversion and openness to experience are dispositions, but an argument would have to be made to show that they are skills, that is, activities that can be done well or poorly.

7 The complex relationship between standardized test scores, personality, and IQ is addressed in various places in the literature. See Angela L. Duckworth and Martin Seligman, “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents,” Psychological Science 16, no. 12 (2005): 939–44; Angela L. Duckworth, Patrick D. Quinn, and Eli Tsukayama, “What No Child Left Behind Leaves Behind: The Roles of IQ and Self-Control in Predicting Standardized Achievement Test Scores and Report Card Grades,” Journal of Educational Psychology 104, no. 2 (2012): 439–51; Lex Borghans, Angela Lee Duckworth, James J. Heckman, and Bas ter Weel, “The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits,” Journal of Human Resources 43, no. 4 (2008): 972–1059; Mathilde Almlund, Angela L. Duckworth, James Heckman, and Tim Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics,” in Eric A. Hanushek, Stephen Machin, and Ludger Woessmann, eds., Handbook of the Economics of Education (Amsterdam: Elsevier, 2011), 1–181.

8 For the Big Five personality inventory, see Paul T. Costa and Robert R. McCrae, Revised Neo Personality Inventory and Neo Five-Factor Inventory (Odessa, Florida: Psychological Assessment Resources, 1992).

9 For an excellent overview of the history, see John, Oliver P., Naumann, Laura P., and Soto, Christopher J., “Paradigm Shift to the Integrative Big Five Trait Taxonomy,” Handbook of Personality: Theory and Research 3 (2008): 114–58.Google Scholar

10 Nancy Eisenberg, Angela L. Duckworth, Tracy L. Spinrad, and Carlos Valiente, “Conscientiousness: Origins in Childhood,” Developmental Psychology 50, no. 5 (2014): 1331–49; published online December 17, 2012.

11 For a survey of the findings see Almlund, Duckworth, Heckman, and Kautz, “Personality Psychology and Economics”; Borghans, Duckworth, Heckman, and ter Weel, “The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits”; Duckworth and Allred, “Temperament in the Classroom”; Eisenberg, Duckworth, Spinrad, and Valiente, “Conscientiousness: Origins in Childhood.”

12 Walter Mischel, Yuichi Shoda, and Monica L. Rodriguez, ”Delay of Gratification in Children,“ Science 244, no. 4907 (1992): 933–38.

13 Angela L. Duckworth, Christopher Peterson, Michael D. Matthews, and Dennis Kelly, “Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 92, no. 6 (2007): 1087–1101; Duckworth, Quinn, and Tsukayama, “What No Child Left Behind Leaves Behind: The Roles of IQ and Self-Control in Predicting Standardized Achievement Test Scores and Report Card Grades”; Duckworth and Seligman, “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.”

14 Duckworth, Peterson, Matthews and Kelly,“Grit: Perseverance and Passion for Long-Term Goals”; Duckworth, Quinn, and Tsukayama, “What No Child Left Behind Leaves Behind: The Roles of IQ and Self-Control in Predicting Standardized Achievement Test Scores and Report Card Grades”; Duckworth and Seligman, “Self-Discipline Outdoes IQ in Predicting Academic Performance of Adolescents.”

15 L. Borghans, et al. “The Economics and Psychology of Personality Traits.”

16 William Darity, Jr., Arthur H. Goldsmith, and Jonathan R. Veum, “The Impact of Psychological and Human Capital on Wages,” Economic Inquiry 35, no. 4 (1997): 815–29.

17 Barrick, Murray R. and Mount, Michael K., “The Big Five Personality Dimensions and Job Performance: A Meta-Analysis,” Personnel Psychology 44, no. 1 (2006): 126.Google Scholar

18 Annette Lareau, Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003).

19 Annette Lareau, “Invisible Inequality: Social Class and Childrearing in Black Families and White Families,” American Sociological Review 67, no. 5 (2002): 747–76.

20 James J. Heckman, Seong Hyeok Moon, Rodrigo Pinto, Peter A. Savelyev, and Adam Yavitz, “The Rate of Return to the Highscope Perry Preschool Program,” Journal of Public Economics 94, nos. 1–2 (2010): 114–28; Frances A. Campbell, Craig T. Ramey, Elizabeth Pungello, Joseph Sparling, and Shari Miller-Johnson, “Early Childhood Education: Young Adult Outcomes from the Abecedarian Project,” Applied Developmental Science 6, no. 1 (2002): 42–57.

21 James J. Heckman, “The Economics of Inequality,” American Educator 35, no. 1(2011): 31–35, 47.

22 Nicole Shechtman, Angela H. DeBarger, Carolyn Dornsife, Soren Rosier, and Louise Yarnall, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century ( Draft, 2013).

23 Thanks to Harry Brighouse for suggesting that I make this clear.

24 James J. Heckman and Yona Rubenstein, “The Importance of Noncognitive Skills: Lessons from the GED Testing Program,” American Economic Review 91, no. 2 (2001): 145–49.

25 Samuel Bowles, Herbert Gintis, and Melissa Osborne Graves, “The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach,” The Journal of Economic Literature 39, no. 4 (2001): 1137–1776.

26 Shechtman, DeBarger, Dornsife, Rosier, and Yarnall, Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century.

27 Tough, How Children Succeed : Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character, 60.

28 Ibid., 60.

29 James Heckman, “Aiding the Life Cycle,” Heckman suggests both that these traits are devoid of value judgment and that they are universally valued across all cultures. The latter is a bold and contentious statement that is not the target of the argument I offer here. See Section III A.

30 I must thank an anonymous referee for pressing me to clarify the scope of my argument.

31 G. A. Cohen, “Incentives, Inequality, and Community,” The Tanner Lectures on Human Values 13 (1992).

32 Ibid., 268–70.

33 Bowles, Gintis, and Osborne Graves, “The Determinants of Earnings: A Behavioral Approach.”

34 Lelac Almagor, “Whose Character?” Boston Review (November/December 2013).

35 Ibid.

36 Hazel Rose Markus and Shinobu Kitayama, “Culture and the Self: Implications for Cognition, Emotion, and Motivation,” Psychological Review 98, no. 2 (1991): 224–53; Harry C. Triandis and Eunkook M. Suh, “Cultural Influences on Personality,” Annual Review of Psychology 53, no. 1 (2002): 133–60.

37 Lynn Okagaki and Robert J. Sternberg, “Parental Beliefs and Children's School Performance,” Child Development 64, no. 1 (1993): 36–56.

38 It should also be noted that how far we think we can go in making sure citizens have these dispositions depends on other values that are pertinent to justice. For example, in conversation Ish Haji has raised the concern that this argument might justify genetic engineering of these dispositions. However, the scope of this argument is limited by the first premise to educational institutions, and there are good reasons for this limitation. The motivation for this argument is to limit the reach of coercive political institutions on the basis of liberal concerns. Genetic engineering would involve overstepping the bounds that a liberal state ought to respect.

39 Harry Brighouse’s presentation at the 2013 Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association helped me see that my justificatory strategy also applied to the capacities that support interpersonal relationships.

40 I am grateful to Zac Cogley for raising this worry in his comments at the 2013 Central Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association.

41 I am grateful to Harry Brighouse for raising a version of this worry.

42 Aristotle, The Nicomachean Ethics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998), 1144a 23.

43 Setiya, Kieran, “Is Efficiency a Vice?American Philosophical Quarterly 42, no. 4 (2005): 336.Google Scholar

44 Randall Curren, “Judgment and the Aims of Education” and Kyla Ebels-Duggan, “Educating for Autonomy: An Old-Fashioned View,” both in the present volume.

45 Jack Block and Adam M. Kremen, “IQ and Ego-Resiliency: Conceptual and Empirical Connections and Separateness,” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 70, no. 2 (1996): 349-61.

46 I am grateful to James Tooley for raising this objection.

47 Adele Diamond and Kathleen Lee, “Interventions Shown to Aid Executive Function Development in Children 4 to 12 Years Old,” Science 333, no. 6045 (2011): 959–64.

48 Debra Satz, “Equality, Adequacy, and Education for Citizenship,” Ethics 117 (2007): 623–48.

49 Sen, Amartya, The Idea of Justice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2009).Google Scholar

50 I develop this argument in “Cultural Code-Switching: Straddling the Achievement Gap,” Journal of Political Philosophy, doi: 10.1111/jopp.12019 (2013).