Working Paper 37

Towards a theoretical approach to the moral dimension of access

Thomas Widlok

Department ‘Resilience and Transformation in Eurasia’

Year of publication

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Working Paper 37

In the post-Cold War period the competitive self-representation of distinct social systems as being morally superior has been transformed into wide-spread uncertainty as to what constitutes a good society. In this article I suggest that comparative research into ethical systems and moralities can be productively complemented by an anthropology of virtue. Ethnographic examples and experiences from Australia and Namibia serve as a starting point in my attempt to outline such an anthropological theory of virtue. The anthropological approach to virtue outlined with reference to these examples is both non-consequentialist and realist in orientation. It is non-consequentialist in that it accounts for the moral dimension of practices such as "sharing" and "reciprocal exchange" without relying on problematic presumptions about net results or ultimate consequences. It is realist insofar as it is based not on rationalist categories but on situated social practices which entail reference to basic human goods like sustenance and mutual engagement.

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