Can virtue be measured?

Randall Curren, Hendrik Kotzee

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    22 Citations (Scopus)
    234 Downloads (Pure)


    This article explores some general considerations bearing on the question of whether virtue can be measured. What is moral virtue? What are measurement and evaluation, and what do they presuppose about the nature of what is measured or evaluated? What are the prospective contexts of, and purposes for, measuring or evaluating virtue, and how would these shape the legitimacy, methods, and likely success of measurement and evaluation? We contrast the realist presuppositions of virtue and measurement of virtue with the behavioral operationalism of a common conception of measurement in psychometrics. We suggest a realist and non-reductive conceptualization of the measurability of virtue. We then discuss three possible educational contexts in which the measurement of virtue might be pursued: high-stakes testing and accountability schemes, the evaluation of programs in character education, and routine student evaluation. We argue that high-stakes testing of virtue would be ill-advised and counterproductive. We make some suggestions for how program evaluation in character education might proceed, and offer some examples of evaluation of student virtue-related learning. We conclude that virtue acquisition might be measured in a population of students accurately enough for program evaluation while also arguing that student and program evaluation do not require comprehensive evaluations of how virtuous individual students are. Routine student evaluation will typically focus on specific aspects of virtue acquisition, and program evaluations can measure the aggregate progress of virtue acquisition in all its aspects while evaluating only limited aspects of the learning of individual students.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)266-282
    Number of pages17
    JournalTheory and Research in Education
    Issue number3
    Early online date1 Aug 2014
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Nov 2014


    • measurement
    • student evaluation
    • virtues
    • moral education
    • program evaluation
    • operationalism


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