The social character of ethics is best revealed by exploring the complex dynamics linking individuals’ freedom to moral requirements. In this article, we consider James Laidlaw’s influential proposal that an anthropology of ethics makes freedom central to what is distinctively ethical in human life, but we argue that it unduly restricts the proposed scope of anthropology. This account of freedom is both overly cognitive, focusing on reflection, viewed as involving distance, decision, reasoning and doubt, and too individualistic, downplaying the importance of freedom’s normative background and excluding from consideration many documented forms of ethical experience. We propose instead an alternative, more open-ended conceptualization of freedom, distinguishing a concept of freedom that differs from its widely varying conceptions, and drawing on ethnographic material from the Hunza Valley in Northern Pakistan and elsewhere to illustrate multiple ways in which the constitution of selves and normative constraints impinge on one another.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)