Experiments in Living: A Study of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals in the Light of Recent Work in Social Anthropology

Experiments in Living: A Study of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals in the Light of Recent Work in Social Anthropology

Experiments in Living: A Study of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals in the Light of Recent Work in Social Anthropology

Experiments in Living: A Study of the Nature and Foundation of Ethics or Morals in the Light of Recent Work in Social Anthropology

Excerpt

This book is a study in comparative ethics. Its purpose is sufficiently explained in the first lecture, but certain features of the treatment require some further explanation.

I was led to undertake a study of the experiments in living of primitive peoples because I found writers on ethics with the most divergent views about the nature of morality and the principle of moral judgement appealing for support for their theories to the moral ideas of primitive peoples. After I had spent several years reading anthropological literature, as opportunity offered, I decided to confine my attention to contemporary primitive peoples; for the number even of these is considerable and the literature about them extensive; and fuller and more accurate information is available about them than about the early ancestors of people who are now advanced. But even with this limitation, the problem of the form in which the results of my enquiries should be presented for publication troubled me not a little. The main difficulty was to decide how much detail about particular primitive peoples should be included; and the difficulty was aggravated when I tried to put the results in a form which would satisfy the requirements of the Gifford Foundation. For by the will of the founder the Gifford Lectures are 'public and popular', which I take to mean that they should be intelligible to educated members of the general public who are not experts in ethics or anthropology. Such people could not be expected to read for themselves the accounts which anthropologists have given of the ways of life of primitive peoples, while the time at my disposal made it impossible for me to describe many of them in detail. In the end I decided to give a fairly full account of the ways of life of four representative primitive peoples, to use these as illustrations of the nature of primitive morality, and, where necessary, to supplement them by briefer references to other peoples. How far this compromise has been successful I must leave the reader to decide.

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