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Speaking Ethically Across Borders: Interdisciplinary Approaches

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Recent years have seen a dramatic growth in the study of ethics among social anthropologists. Much of this growth has been due to the assimilation into anthropological thinking of virtue ethics building on two streams of theoretical work: that of Foucault, and that of virtue ethicists working in the Anglo-Saxon philosophical tradition.

Proponents of the virtue-ethics approach in anthropology argue that a focus on self- cultivation as a process allows for sufficient attention to be paid to self-conscious reflection. Reflection and the freedom it entails, they argue, are essential aspects of ethical life that traditional social scientific approaches to ethics—Durkheimian approaches—simply ignore.

There appears to remain an area of ethical experience, however, that neither approach can easily accommodate. Since virtue ethics sees ethical judgment as the result of cultivation within a self-conscious ethical tradition, it can no more account for ethical judgment outside of or between traditions than the Durkheimian approach can.

Yet history is full of situations in which multiple, self-conscious ethical traditions meet, and in which people try to judge each other, persuade each other, or draw lessons from each other across the borders that separate those traditions. These situations are what we call ‘speaking ethically across borders’, and this is the phenomenon that the conference, and the publication we hope to produce from it, will aim to explore.

This talk is part of the CRASSH series.

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