School of Social Science, Princeton
Morals and Moralities
Didier Fassin, Organizer
Moral issues – viewed broadly – have become crucial in the public sphere. Whether they concern abortion, stem cell research, defense of human rights, control of immigration, penal treatment of delinquency, social responses to poverty, humanitarian justifications for war or interpretation of the financial crisis, moral arguments and moral sentiments are constantly mobilized in policy decisions. The inscription of this recent evolution in a longer history of the formation of ethical subjectivities certainly needs to be explored. Similarly, encounters and conflicts between moral models should be analyzed.
The politics of moralities manifests itself in the everyday life of institutions. Justice, police, prison, education, medicine, mental health, social work are privileged domains for the study of moral economies. Situations of violence, suffering, exclusion, discrimination, and stigmatization also involve the construction of moral communities and boundaries, moral categories and judgments. In all these cases, moralities are not given realities: they are combined with affects and norms, just as the moral sphere is closely linked to law and religion. Social scientists themselves are personally involved in these moral issues, therefore needing to develop reflexive stance and epistemological caution.
Interest in moral issues is certainly not recent. Philosophers have always dealt with morality; historians, sociologists, anthropologists, and economists have analyzed the formation and implementation of moral norms and values; and emerging fields, such as moral psychology and neuroethics, propose innovative understandings. But how can we articulate these disciplinary paradigms? How could the study of morality move beyond formal dilemmas to comprehend the ordinary functioning of social action? How could the interpretation of moralities resist reduction to a choice between relativism and universalism? How are moral economies permanently negotiated and transformed in confrontations with each other? How are moral and political issues increasingly associated, particularly around human rights and humanitarian intervention? How can social scientists continue to develop their critical approach when accounting for situations and facts so morally loaded? Under the direction of Professor Didier Fassin, these are some issues the seminar – which is the second part of a two-year cycle on “Values in a Changing World” - will examine.