The seven moral rules found all around the world

Departmental Seminar Trinity Term 2018

Fridays, Weeks 2-5, 3.15pm, **Please note the change of venue for this one seminar - 64 Banbury Road**

Dr Oliver Scott Curry is a Senior Researcher, and Director of the Oxford Morals Project, at the Institute of Cognitive and Evolutionary Anthropology, University of Oxford. His research investigates the nature, content and structure of human morality, using a range of techniques from philosophy, experimental and social psychology and comparative anthropology. Oliver’s work argues that morality is best understood as a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life. 
Abstract: What is morality? And to what extent does it vary around the world? The theory of morality-as-cooperation argues that morality consists of a collection of biological and cultural solutions to the problems of cooperation and conflict recurrent in human social life. By using nonzerosum game theory to identify distinct problems of cooperation and their solutions, morality-as-cooperation exhibits a theoretical precision, explanatory scope and predictive power, exceeding that of previous atheoretical accounts of morality. For example, morality-as-cooperation predicts that specific forms of cooperative behaviour – helping kin, helping your group, reciprocating, being brave, deferring to superiors, dividing disputed resources, and respecting prior ownership – will be considered morally good wherever they arise, in all cultures. We test this prediction by investigating the moral valence of these cooperative behaviours in the ethnographic records of 60 societies. We find that, as predicted, their moral valence is uniformly positive. We find also that the majority of these cooperative moral values appear in the majority of cultures, in all regions of the world. We conclude that morality-as-cooperation could at last provide the unified theory of morality that anthropology has hitherto lacked.

An Anthropology of the Controversial

We live in unsettling times. Climate change, global income inequality, and populist politics prompt hand-wringing and moral panics, while mainstream analysis often barely scratches the surface of complex issues. Anthropological perspectives are needed, but the speed, length, and framework of public discourse on controversial issues make it challenging to reach audiences beyond a narrow group of specialists. Too, research on controversial topics presents methodological and analytical challenges related to access, data protection, representation, and complex obligations to research participants that, while not new, are intensified by political circumstances. This seminar series explores what an anthropology of the controversial might look like.