Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

Moral, Believing Animals: Human Personhood and Culture

Synopsis

What kind of animals are human beings? And how do our visions of the human shape our theories of social action and institutions? In Moral, Believing Animals, Christian Smith advances a creative theory of human persons and culture that offers innovative, challenging answers to these and other fundamental questions in sociological, cultural, and religious theory. Smith suggests that human beings have a peculiar set of capacities and proclivities that distinguishes them significantly from other animals on this planet. Despite the vast differences in humanity between cultures and across history, no matter how differently people narrate their lives and histories, there remains an underlying structure of human personhood that helps to order human culture, history, and narration. Drawing on important recent insights in moral philosophy, epistemology, and narrative studies, Smith argues that humans are animals who have an inescapable moral and spiritual dimension. They cannot avoid a fundamental moral orientation in life and this, says Smith, has profound consequences for how sociology must study human beings.

Excerpt

The ideas of culture and action are central in sociology and social theory. But what do we need from a theory of culture that will adequately explain human action and account for the complexities of the human experience? We need a theory of culture specifying the means by which people construct strategies of action, but also culture as providing the normative ends toward which people act. We need a theory of culture that recognizes the powerful influences on human action of forces that do not operate directly through human consciousness and intention, but also of forces that importantly motivate human action through consciously held ideas, beliefs, and commitments. And we need a theory of culture that accounts for the very real operation of rationally self-interested choice in human life, but also the pervasive and powerful human enacted affirmations of moral commitments that are not reducible to self-interest.

In what follows I argue that the most adequate approach to theorizing human culture must be a normative one that conceives of humans as moral, believing animals and human social life as consisting of moral orders that constitute and direct social action. Human culture is always moral order. Human cultures are everywhere moral orders. Human persons are nearly inescapably moral agents. Human actions are necessarily morally constituted and propelled practices. And human institutions are inevitably morally infused configurations of rules and resources.

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