Moral Philosophy and the ‘Ethical Turn’ in Anthropology

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Moral philosophy continues to be enriched by an ongoing empirical turn, mainly through contributions from neuroscience, biology, and psychology. Thus far, cultural anthropology has largely been missing. A recent and rapidly growing ‘ethical turn’ within cultural anthropology now explicitly and systematically studies morality. This research report aims to introduce to an audience in moral philosophy several notable works within the ethical turn. It does so by critically discussing the ethical turn’s contributions to four topics: the definition of morality, the nature of moral change and progress, the truth of moral relativism, and attempts to debunk morality. The ethical turn uncovers a richer picture of moral phenomena on the intersubjective level, one akin to a virtue theoretic focus on moral character, with striking similarities of moral phenomena across cultures. Perennial debates are not settled but the ethical turn strengthens moral philosophy’s empirical turn and it rewards serious attention from philosophers.
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Ethics and Moral Philosophy
Publication statusPublished - 2019


  • Metaethics
  • Moral anthropology
  • Ethical turn
  • Moral progress
  • Moral disagreement
  • Cultural anthropology

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