Richard (Rick) Feinberg, Department of Anthropology, and Gina Zavota, Department of Philosophy

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Richard (Rick) Feinberg, Department of Anthropology, and Gina Zavota, Department of Philosophy, presented “Behaviorist Ethics in Polynesia” at the American Anthropological Association annual meeting in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 1, 2017.

Summary: People of Anuta, a Polynesian community in the southeastern Solomon Islands, conceive of ethics in a way that is, broadly speaking, utilitarian. Two central principles that guide Anutans’ moral choices are, in their words, “the ancient custom of this island” and “to make us happy.” However, two aspects of the Anutans’ view of happiness are unusual: the openness with which they laugh at others’ minor misfortunes and their practice of evaluating others’ happiness on the basis of outward appearance and actions. Contrary to the Euro-American tendency to downplay external expressions as mere reflections of inner mental states, we argue that Anuta ethics are best understood as “behaviorist” and should be regarded as complete and sufficient expressions in and of themselves.

Web link: http://www.americananthro.org/