Ethics

My first book manuscript recovers the forgotten project that weaves through the oeuvre of the Durkheimians: finding a 'secular' model of moral motivation. It shows how Durkheim and his nephew Mauss arrived at two different solutions to this problem, corresponding to their two different ethics and two different visions of secularity. Durkheim's ethic, initially centered around the constraint of "authority," evolved with his sense of the necessity of internal motivation, which he developed in conjunction with his analysis of the duality of "the sacred," constraining but also inspiring. Mauss' ethic, by contrast, was distrustful of the sacred's constraining aspects and sought to locate a motivating force that worked in conjunction with self-interest to constitute a network of reciprocal obligation, as evidenced in the economies he analyzed in The Gift.

My project on disenchantment and the construction of the boundary between things and persons in a rapidly transforming Melanesia similarly has an ethical valence, insofar as it centers on the consolidation of the modern model of agency: the boundary between things and persons is important insofar as persons are morally accountable, while things are not. 

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I enjoyed designing an ethics course to introduce undergraduates to the basic paradigms of ethical thinking through the consideration of several contentious issues. My course "A Brief History of the Self" draws from my experience in teaching in the University of Chicago's famous 'great books' course, "Human Being and Citizen."