From moral facts to human finitude: On the problem of freedom in the anthropology of ethics

Rasmus Dyring


The ethical turn in anthropology was to a large extent premised on a decisive break with Durkheimian “unfreedom.” This essay explores the theoretical condition in which this break has left the project of describing ethnographically the possibilities of human freedom. The essay explicates some ambiguities in the way freedom has been conceptualized in the current anthropological debates, and proposes to view freedom in terms of excessive experiences of existential transcendence surging from human finitude. Guided by the notion of “existential transcendence,” the essay contributes to a new humanism by tracing an intimate connection between “the ethical” and finite human existence as such.


anthropology of ethics and morality, ontology, freedom, transcendence, humanism, phenomenology

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.1086/698433