Portraits of Integrity

Portraits of Integrity (Bloomsbury, 2020). Charlotte Alton, Amber Carpenter and Rachael Wiseman (eds)

Portraits of Integrity depicts more than 20 historical, fictional and contemporary figures whose character or life raises questions about what integrity is and how it is perceived.

Integrity might be culturally bound, but this diverse set of portraits demonstrates that it is not the special preserve of any one culture. Portraits of Socrates, Mencius, Rama and Job, alongside the aspirational 16th-century couple John and Dorothy Kaye, civil rights activist Ella Baker and an anonymous banker, highlight the persisting – sometimes conflicting – features of a life lived with integrity. An introduction identifies and discusses the key questions and themes raised by the case studies, encouraging the reader to determine for themselves the weight and significance of the recurring topics integrity brings up – truth, awkwardness, goodness, and charisma.

For anyone looking to learn more about this elusive virtue, Portraits of Integrity is an essential collection. It uncovers the manifold aspects of integrity, illustrates the various possibilities for its expression in a life and asks whether living a life of integrity means living a life of isolation and hardship, or if it is possible to live with integrity without jeopardising all else.

Portraits of Integrity online archive.

Scholars have contributed ‘Portraits’ of individuals whose life or work can help us to understand what integrity is and why it matters. Each ‘Portrait’ consists of an essay introduction, selected readings, and a 15-minute lecture, available as an audio download.

This project was started through British Academy Small Grant, awarded in February 2014. However, we are still collecting, inviting, and adding new portraits.

Project news»

Click on an image for reading lists, essays, introductory lectures, and discussion ….

Jacques Philip Joseph de Saint Quentin 'The Death of Socrates' William Gladstone Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy Hannah ArendtSimone Weil Michael Kohlhaas Mandeville and Smith Photo of Gandhi Photo of Anscombe Marcus_Aurelius Portrait_of_Henry_James_200 Line drawing of a man


We want our friends, our children, our leaders to have integrity, and not to compromise it – and we think we can recognize it when we see it. But if we want to understand what integrity is, and what it means for us, the place to look is not to a philosopher’s list of necessary and sufficient conditions, but to characters that have integrity – characters from history, characters from literature, and characters from our own lives. Only close consideration of a variety of detailed characters of integrity – integrity maintained or compromised or lost altogether – along with a variety of ways of conceptualizing what this integrity is, and the role it plays in an individual and in their lives, will bring to light what matters to us in this central but elusive value.

Consideration of cases quickly shows that integrity is not always pretty. Friendships are betrayed for the sake of integrity; friends and colleagues become stubborn, short-sighted, and blind to consequences, in order to maintain their integrity; for its sake, people become isolated and even ridiculed. Conversely, the compromisers – the hypocrites, liars and sell-outs – are sometimes the ones who are acknowledging the great goods to be achieved through compromise or dirtying their own hands, valuing their own integrity less than the well-being of others.

Over the life of the project we have built a series of detailed portraits of historical, fictional, and contemporary figures whose lives raise questions about what integrity is and what it is worth. These portraits were shared at a public conference in 2015, and will later be published as a collection of essays.

Take part

This project met once a month, during 2014-2016, to discuss portraits of historical, fictional and contemporary figures whose lives or thought raise questions about what integrity is, and what it is worth. Readings and discussion points are available on this website, along with audio-recordings of 15 minute introductions to the material. You are welcome to download the materials and join the project, on your own or by forming a satellite reading group. Comments and questions can be shared on the website, so as to create a larger conversations about these questions.

Though we are no longer meeting monthly, we are still very happy to receive portraits for our website. If you would like to offer us a portrait please let us know; write a brief essay (500-1,000) and provide a short reading list. If you’d like to, you can record a short introduction too.

Click on the images above to access reading lists and essay introductions, and for notes, audio files, and other resources from our  meetings.

Thanks to the British Academy  for supporting our ‘Portraits of Integrity’ project!


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1 Response to Portraits of Integrity

  1. Integrity has remain the mother virtue,which gives birth to other virtues and values. But it is quite unfair to observe that people easily relegate it to the background as often as possible. It is therefore our collective duty to make it manifest as much as we believe in it. By so doing therefore,we shall bring a real order to the society.

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