Bioethics Blogs

A reader’s guide to the anthropology of ethics and morality – Part I by C. Jason Throop

Editors note: We asked several scholars which readings they would recommend to students or colleagues interested in familiarizing themselves with the anthropology of ethics and morality. This is response we received from C. Jason Throop, Professor of Anthropology at UCLA. Reading lists from other scholars will be forthcoming in this series.


Directly tied to my efforts to analyze moral aspects of pain and suffering in the context of my ethnographic work in Yap, in the fall of 2007, I decided to offer a new graduate seminar at UCLA entitled “Morality, Virtue, and Subjectivity.” My goal at the time was to put together a seminar that would explore the ways that philosophical and anthropological literatures on morality, virtue, and subjectivity might critically inform one another. There were two major problems I faced, however, when it came to selecting relevant readings. First, on the philosophical side, there was the problem of selecting which readings, out of a vast existing literature, would be deemed both accessible and anthropologically relevant to the students. Assuming that most students had very little exposure to longstanding debates between virtue ethical, consequentialist/utilitarian, and deontological traditions in philosophy, I had to find a way to cover some of the basics without overwhelming them. Second, on the anthropological side, I struggled with the fact that there were very few examples of anthropologists directly engaging the topic in either an analytically sophisticated or an explicitly philosophically informed way. The result was a syllabus that covered much more philosophical than anthropological ground, with the anthropological contributions more often than not merely hinting at, rather than explicitly engaging in, a discussion of the key philosophical issues.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.