The Genre of Judgment

24 Jan 2019

What part should description play in coming to judgment? Questions about genre have become more important in religious ethics as many seek to reform “thin” models of ethical arbitration by recourse to artistic, literary, and historical descriptions in their texts. In this book discussion, I explore what the consequences would be of pursuing this reform by turning to social anthropology—a discipline that relies on extensive empirical descriptions. I do this by considering the anthropology of ethics: a movement that seeks, for the first time, to devote systematic and sustained attention the moral lives of ethnographic informants. I focus on the ways that authors within this field attempt to arrive at more realistic portraits of the different ways societies play out the familiar ethical themes of freedom, responsibility, suffering and agency. Their work challenges religious ethicists to consider what ethical conversation across these differences would look like, and thus to reconsider the relationship between description and judgment in their work.