The Relevance of Kinship to Moral Reasoning in Culture and in the Philosophy of Ethics

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Abstract:

This article argues that the moral dimensions of the term 'culture' have been under-theorized in anthropology. The argument stems from a particular reading of the Western philosophy of ethics. Based in economic anthropology, I explore how an understanding of the moral imperative can illuminate differences in processes of accumulation. After a discussion of the concept of morality in philosophy and in recent anthropology, I go on to examine the principles of altruism and reciprocal utility in the light of theories of kinship and of rational choice. I then outline an argument concerning the general form of moral reasoning. According to this argument, kinship classifications function logically to synthesize variable distributions in different societies of two interconnected principles—altruism and reciprocal utility.

Keywords: ALTRUISM; CULTURE; KINSHIP; MORALITY; PHILOSOPHY; POLYGYNY; RATIONAL CHOICE; RECIPROCAL UTILITY

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.3167/sa.2007.510110

Publication date: March 1, 2007

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  • Social Analysis has long been at the forefront of anthropology's engagement with the humanities and other social sciences. In forming a critical, concerned, and empirical perspective, it encourages contributions that break away from the disciplinary bounds of anthropology and suggest innovative ways of challenging hegemonic paradigms through 'grounded theory', analysis based in original empirical research. The journal invites contributions directed toward a critical and theoretical understanding of cultural, political, and social processes, as well as the work of active ethnographic researchers who study the forces involved in the production of human suffering, poverty, prejudice, war, and violence.
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