Devil’s advocate: Sketch of an amoral anthropology

Nicolas Langlitz


This essay polemicizes against contemporary anthropology’s ubiquitous moralism and its demand for engagement. It does so by trying on the glasses of evolutionary theories of moral behavior. If we take Homo sapiens to be a moralistic ape and consider that anthropologists are members of the species they study, their moralizing appears only natural. In the past decade, however, the moral and political landscapes of North America and Europe have changed dramatically, which has provoked a renewed problematization of moral discourse. Like all polemics, this essay proposes an alternative to what it attacks: the possibility of an amoral anthropology, in which the anthropologist plays the role of devil’s advocate. The project refurbishes the ivory tower as a high-containment laboratory for ideas, especially dangerous ideas that we might have good reason to sanction in public.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/711682