Ongoing Projects

The Moral Sciences of Hypermoral Animals

"Morality, by its very nature, makes it hard to study morality," notes moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt. As a historian and anthropologist of science, I am interested in how behavioral scientists respond to this challenge as they redefine morality in naturalist terms.

    Historically, the proposed project measures the distance between the moral sciences, as they emerged in the 18th and 19th centuries, and 21st-century research in primatology, evolutionary anthropology, developmental psychology, and behavioral economics, which has returned to the question of who we are as a moral species in a very different moral economy of science.

    Ethnographically, I would like to see how behavioral scientists respond to the problems provoked by the fact that it is as moral animals that they study moral animals. I would like to compare the responses developed in the behavioral sciences to those in the contemporary humanities and interpretive social sciences, which also originated from the moral sciences. In what forms would consilience between these bifurcated approaches to morality be possible and desirable?

    Philosophically, this project seeks to generate conversations about Niklas Luhmann’s statement that it’s the job of ethics to warn against morality. Is it always good to distinguish between good and evil?