Evidence of Ethics in Action

Evidence of Ethics in Action is an interdisciplinary workgroup at the University of Michigan dedicated to discussing the ethical dimensions of social life.

In each of our workgroup’s meetings, we combine readings of ethical theory with the analysis of evidential materials, including but not limited to written summaries, audio recordings, and films of social interactions. In doing so, we hope to facilitate cross-disciplinary discussion of ethical theories and the methods used for studying them.

Our meetings are divided into two parts. During the first part, we discuss a theoretical piece on the nature of ethics. The piece is selected by that day’s session leader and distributed before the meeting. We might, for example, read a passage from Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics or an article by sociologist Erving Goffman. During the second half of each meeting, the session leader presents evidential material, which we discuss and analyze in relation to that week’s theoretical piece. This second hour is a time for experimentation and thinking together, and is generally not for the presentation of thoroughly developed arguments or research papers. Can we see evidence that people are orienting to an Aristotelian “good” or Goffman’s notion of “face,” for example, in a video recording of a casual dinner conversation? The evidential material may be from fieldwork or an experiment, it may be published work or something gathered specifically for the purpose, such as a video from youtube, but while we accept a variety of different forms of evidential materials, our focus is on bringing clarity and insight to the understanding of how ethics works in actual social settings.

Note that while we take ethics as our intellectual focus, this group does not assume that the ethical can be rigorously defined as a field of inquiry, nor that ethics are a universal aspect of human sociality. Rather, we take the boundaries of the ethical (and the often synonymous “moral”) as a part of what we set out to explore, considering various proposals for where the ethical is to be found or not and challenging them by viewing them through empirical data.

To be clear, this group does not inquire into what one ought to do—that is, we are not trying to develop our own ethical standards—but rather how people answer such questions, how they attempt to live out such answers or hold others accountable for them, and what part all this plays in social life. We welcome scholars from as wide an array of fields as might wish to contribute, knowing that these are questions of broad concern throughout the social sciences, the humanities, and the professions.

EEA is sponsored by the Rackham Graduate School at the University of Michigan.

Please email zuckermc@umich.edu or jmathias@umich.edu if you would like to participate or learn more.

Evidence of Ethics in Action