Book summary: The Character Gap

Over at my Patreon site I run occasional “book clubs,” meaning multiple posts on the same book, which interested readers can use either as a companion to the book itself, or simply as summaries that give them an idea of what the book is about (and hence facilitate their decision of whether to invest the time to read the full volume or not). Here are all the entries connected to one now completed series.

The book covered by today’s summary is : How Good Are We?, by Christian B. Miller. We like to think of ourselves, our friends, and our families as decent people. We may not be saints, but we are still honest, relatively kind, and mostly trustworthy. Miller argues that we are badly mistaken in thinking this. Hundreds of recent studies in psychology tell a different story: that we all have serious character flaws that prevent us from being as good as we think we are – and that we do not even recognize that these flaws exist. But neither are most of us cruel or dishonest. Instead, Miller argues, we are a mixed bag. On the one hand, most of us in a group of bystanders will do nothing as someone cries out for help in an emergency. Yet it is also true that there will be many times when we will selflessly come to the aid of a complete stranger – and resist the urge to lie, cheat, or steal even if we could get away with it. Much depends on cues in our social environment. Miller uses this recent psychological literature to explain what the notion of “character” really means today, and how we can use this new understanding to develop a character better in sync with the kind of people we want to be.

Here are my commentaries:

  1. What is character and why is it important?
  2. The way we actually are.
  3. What can we do to improve our characters?
  4. Improving character by way of divine assistance?

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Massimo is the K.D. Irani Professor of Philosophy at the City College of New York. He blogs at and He is the author of How to Be a Stoic: Using Ancient Philosophy to Live a Modern Life.

3 thoughts on “Book summary: The Character Gap”

  1. Massimo,

    Did you give the book to give any practical advice about how to choose the gap from which the book takes its name?

    Best wishes,

    Mike Rickicki


    1. Mike, yes, one of the last chapters focuses on advice for narrowing the gap. As far as I can tell, it’s good advice, and empirically based, as much as it is possible, given the difficulty in studying character.

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