The Roy A. Rappaport Lectures, Fall 2015: Ethical Life: Its Natural and Social Histories
The natural home of ethical reasoning is face-to-face interaction. It is when people need to account for themselves to one another that they are most likely to feel compelled to offer excuses and justifications, utter criticisms and praise, and invoke norms and values. Viewed in this light, ethical reason is not a private matter, but is something that must be worked out between people. Because these processes transpire over time, and involve more than one set of intentions and interpretations, the outcomes are never given in advance. One consequence is that people can make ethical discoveries about themselves and others. At the same time, however, because giving an account of oneself must be something that others understand, it requires a shared ethical vocabulary, the public face of ethical thought. This lecture discusses research on social interaction and its implications for our understanding of ethics. It draws on findings from a range of cultural contexts to show how different societies have formulated distinctive ethical concepts that reflect on certain ubiquitous features of moral psychology and face-to-face interaction.