Ordinary possibility, transcendent immanence, and responsive ethics: A philosophical anthropology of the small event

Cheryl Mattingly


Based upon long-term fieldwork among African American families in Los Angeles, this article offers a phenomenological investigation of the indeterminate structures of ethical experience. Drawing upon Waldenfels’ responsive phenomenology in the context of one particular family, it explores the way ordinary life serves as a crucial, indeed privileged space in which to investigate ethical possibility. The ethnographic material is not intended to fill out abstract proposals concretely but to elaborate, challenge, and amend formal philosophical claims in light of socially grounded material. How might the existential question of human possibility be asked when focusing on the way it is addressed by particular people facing situations shaped by structural conditions and cultural norms? How might anthropology and philosophy together rethink humanism in relation to human possibility?


phenomenology, ordinary ethics, humanism, transcendence, African Americans

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/698269