Durational ethics

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons | © Jane I. Guyer. ISSN 2049-1115 (Online). DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.14318/hau4.1.022


Durational ethics

Search, finding, and translation of Fauconnet’s “Essay on responsibility and liberty”

Jane I. GUYER, Johns Hopkins University

Abstract: This paper introduces and explains the forum around my translation of the appendix to Paul Fauconnet’s 1920 book, entitled La responsabilité. Étude de sociologie, which resulted from his doctoral thesis. The appendix of this book is devoted to “The sentiment of responsibility and the sentiment of liberty.” The ideas in this piece on liberty were clearly developed in conversation with Durkheim and with other members of the group. My reading in the anthropology of ethics for papers of my own, led me to new work on liberty, but I found less attention than I expected in our contemporary anthropological scholarship to what I called durational ethics, which encompasses concepts such as responsibility, in the prospective sense, and fortitude. The following introduction explains this trajectory of exploration, which led me to Fauconnet’s work, excerpts passages from a conference paper of mine entitled “Steadfastness and goodness,” and prefaces the translation. In addition, it profiles Fauconnet and offers a background to the concept of libre arbitre in Romance language thought, as differing from its usual translation as “free will” in the Germanic register of English.

Keywords: responsibility, durational ethics, free will, L’Année Sociologique, Fauconnet, translation

The logic

I happened upon Fauconnet’s book La responsabilité (1920) while researching what I had termed durational ethics for two invited presentations in the spring of 2013. Those papers were entitled “Response and responsibility” and “Steadfastness and goodness.” These themes were provoked by my (Guyer 2011) earlier reading for an article on “perseverance,” with respect to both personal and professional engagements. These papers were not primarily informed by my own ethnographically based or even theoretically based scholarship, although I will mention a Yoruba instance from field research later. I had found the themes of responsibility and perseverance to be personally provocative and challenging. And, even though the concept of a covenantal relationship between anthropologists and the communities in which we work had been envisaged in the American Anthropological Association ethical guidelines, the combination of responsibility and perseverance seemed to be writ rather small in our current literature on ethics. This is especially true in the durational, prospective sense of taking responsibility for a situation, domain, or activity, and sticking with it, which includes going forward toward some kind of benchmark in the future whether immediate, near, far, or eternal. I had in mind a quality that went beyond fulfilling a defined role in a plan or structure, a quality that comprised a certain imagination and commitment with respect to whatever might arise within a particular context, as time frames played out.

One relevant quality arose early in my searches: the concept of fortitude, or courage, which—as one of the four cardinal virtues along with temperance, prudence and justice—has a long history in Christian religious thought, from St. Augustine to Paul Tillich. Additionally, the related quality of perseverance emerges in Spinoza’s thought. This was clearly deep theological and philosophical water, and I wondered whether the secularization of ethics had worked its own selectivity, enhanced by a sense of a slow advance of general peace and wellbeing, to relocate fortitude back into the military context that it had occupied in Greek thought. In comparative and historical study, however, I thought that it was still a relevant concept in the present.

Fauconnet’s book turned out to be relevant to this line of thinking for several reasons. In his appendix, he had developed the concept of responsibility beyond its legal-juridical context, to discuss it as a sentiment, in relationship to the sentiment of liberty. So, both of them together were thought of in a particular configuration of convictions and capacities, which he was also clearly taking beyond its grounding in Christian thought (“whom to serve is perfect freedom”), and which he was explicitly abstracting from the theologically-based libre arbitre version of free will (to be discussed later in my appendix). At the same time, his formulation evaded the autonomous individual of liberal thinking as a first principle, which the Année Sociologique school found philosophically overstated. Although this book is not Durkheim’s own work or in Durkheim’s voice, it is deeply influenced by Fauconnet’s years of collaborative work with both him and with the Année Sociologique school. Therefore, it can possibly contribute to a fuller picture of their work on morals than the various unsynthesized sources that were left by Durkheim himself. The book explicitly incorporates Durkheim’s lecture notes at his own request, and it was read in its entirety by Marcel Mauss. It has never been translated into English, and since it could possibly be a useful original source—precisely on issues raised by James Laidlaw (2002) in his important article on the anthropology of ethics and by Michael Lambek (2010) in his edited collection on “ordinary ethics”—it seemed worth placing it in the English-speaking intellectual world.

It was in order to provide the source in an accessible form, with a commentary by a social theorist, John Kelly, that this work was undertaken and supported by the HAU editors, for whom I was already carrying out another translation during the summer of 2013 (Marcel Mauss on joking relations—see HAU Volume 3, Issue 2). It is by fortunate chance, not by design as a critique, that our publication date coincides with the symposium on James Laidlaw’s (2014) new book. I had not read any of this book until the last minute before the co-publication of the symposium and our forum, so the points I bring out here are entirely a function of my past reading and simply a recognition of the importance of the challenging juxtaposition that Laidlaw puts before us, as a comparative anthropological topic of study: freedom and ethics.

I am not an erudite scholar in the anthropology of ethics, so I may be overstating the situation here, but, in my reading for the preparation of my previously mentioned papers, I did not find sustained attention to particular temporal framings that fall between the immediate and the long term. The literature I consulted was stronger on: cause and effect one act at a time; the very long time framework of self-cultivation; and the formal fulfillment of roles whose features would endure beyond any particular incumbent’s tenure of the position. Neither are the orientations and actions in the temporality of prospective responsibility reducible to the classic obligations of promise, deferral, and eventual repayment in reciprocal exchange relations, as has sometimes been inferred from Mauss’ Essay on the gift. The kind of personal commitment I was searching for inhabits “near futures” under conditions where indeterminacy is a fully recognized feature of the prospects looking forward (Guyer 2007). My reading made me wonder how the new virtue ethics configured this component of moral regimes, where accepting a domain, then holding steady, hanging in, keeping going and enduring through thick and thin would be individually ethically crucial. It would also be radically contingent upon what such acceptance could bring in the eventual playing out of life, where each small intervention or abstention might be profoundly consequential because of its insertion in complex mutual concatenations. Because of duration and contingency, which require recurrent, nested temporal-ethical imaginations, the narrow cause and effect interpretation of the durational aspects of responsibility and perseverance does not seem reducible to simply submitting to obligations that have been specified and imposed from outside, or even committed to explicitly at the outset.

I began to wonder whether the use of responsibility in this sense, and such vernacular concepts as steadfastness were class specific in Europe. Although, they certainly exist in other cultural regimes as I will suggest later. The word steadfastness had been used by my mother (Mason 1973) in her family history. She applied the term to kin and neighbors who took care of three little sisters during WWI after their mother died following childbirth and their father was drafted to military service in France. The lower classes of Western Europe have a social-experiential history for which modernity and enlightenment would be a hypocritical misrepresentation, if taken under the general rubric of a shared “western culture.” Service and suffering during frequent warfare across the centuries, the centrality of variously mobilized and exploited labor in social history, serious punishments for delicts that now seem minor and largely a function of inequality, and deep skepticism about the claims of the upper class to virtue: These are issues that might give a different grounding to the meaning of responsibility, linking it to perseverance in both a defensive and aspirational manner. For the lower classes, this link to perseverance is over the foreseeable near futures, which might be the only time horizon for which they could realistically hope to plan. While certainly being participants, as foot-soldiers, in the massive interventions in world history constituted by the slave trade and colonial rule, it seems unlikely that the European working class would have been surprised that John Locke, the father of liberalism, invested in the United Africa Company, which made much of its money from the slave trade. Likewise, ideological capture of ordinary ethical concepts for political purposes, such as the recent neoliberal emphasis on responsibilization, has been a recurrent phenomenon that does not, however, make the continuing vernacular practice necessarily a sham. Ideology and ethical practice share terms in deeply disconcerting, but analyzable, ways.

I was particularly struck by the way in which Fauconnet placed the sentiment of responsibility as a precondition to the sentiment of liberty, rather than as a result of it, and by how, for him, the primary ethical act was to “make an effort” in life, which had a reciprocal, reflexive effect on the self rather than being a constraint. He was referring to an orientation to the good, but not an orientation by imposition. I thought this was useful to put into the archive of thought on ethics. In order to make more of this source than I am able to do myself, philosopher Souleymane Bachir Diagne then offered a guide on the religious grounding of the concept of libre arbitre (usually “free will” in English) which recurs in Fauconnet’s text. Additionally, John Kelly offered to contextualize the Fauconnet work within our received understanding of Durkheim on morality. The coincidence of publication of the Forum and the Symposium allows me to make parts of my logic more explicit, very briefly, and to include a few paragraphs from my paper, “Steadfastness and goodness,” written for the 2013 conference “The Comparative Study of the Good” organized by Joel Robbins and held in Helsinki..

Freedom and durational ethics: Relative to the anthropology of ethics (2012–13)

Responsibility in this durational sense can come under the rubric of care, and is interspersed in many other places in our anthropological literature. The freedom that Laidlaw importantly inserted into the anthropology of ethics in 2002, drew on the crucial centrality of reflection, as distinct from submission, in ethical reasoning. The small interventions in the entailments of everyday life seemed, however, to be assimilated to unreflective routine. In a concatenated, futures-oriented, assumption of responsibility, what appears to be routine might matter profoundly. Working from my reading of the literature so far, the following paragraphs are from my 2013 paper “Steadfastness and goodness,” which are relative to “freedom” and the “school of life”, as distinct from “reflection” in the sense of contemplation:

By taking ethics out of a version of Christian history, as necessarily self-denying and ascetic, and necessarily encapsulated in consequentialist “agency,” Laidlaw (2002: 322) opens up a much broader terrain of potential for what is considered to be ethical, and suggests life-projects of self-fashioning where people “transform themselves, modify themselves … to attain a certain state of perfection, happiness, purity, supernatural power.” It is worth noting the examples given, even if only briefly. He does qualify the emphasis Foucault gives to sexuality as central, but nevertheless the sexual-sensual and intellectual domains are those within which the theory is developed (as distinct, for example, from the domestic domain, or a community context, or work, or an environmental point of reference). Thus, the examples tend to be of self-selected disciplinary acts, rather than the facing of multitudinous and multifarious life-situations, or the persistent conditions of, for example, very hard work. He draws on monastic disciplines, and an ascetic training in Jainism. Clearly a certain constancy and consistency is implied, but what is not yet clear here is whether, and how, the disciplines-of-the-self in a secularized ethical context are based on anticipation, response, and responsibility in the context of “matters arising” in the course of life-as-lived. Do we expect life to be demanding, turbulent, and a recurrent challenge (demanding and dreadful situations? temptation? fulfillment?)? Under a regime of “care-of-the-self,” are there guidelines for how to meet the many challenges in a “careful” way such that our situational responses and reflections have an incremental effect on that “self”?...

Laidlaw’s contribution to Michael Lambek’s (2010) collection Ordinary ethics gives us an insight to how “life itself” might not figure too prominently in an anthropology of ethics derived through Foucault. Citing Sherry Ortner, Laidlaw (2010: 144) suggests that ethical agency should be distanced from “merely routine practices,” just as it should also be taken out of a necessarily structure-oriented understanding of efficacy. “Mere routine” may be a problem, however. Veena Das (2010: 377), in the same volume, locates ethical practice—in the literal self-pedagogic sense as well as the social sense—precisely in the “everyday” by defining “a notion of the everyday in which how I respond to the claims of the other, as well as how I allow myself to be claimed by the other, defines the work of self-formation.” She (ibid.: 395) opposes seeing morality as “some version of following rules” (even, I suggest, as a pedagogy of the self), but rather seeing “everyday life as an achievement.”

Are there precursors to her position? Ralph Waldo Emerson, in The conduct of life (1883) and especially in a section entitled “Conditions by the way” (so, not specific to a particular type of conduct), makes eloquent claims for everyday life and its challenges as the grounds and terms for self-formation. “By humiliations, by defeats, by loss of sympathy, by gulfs of disparity, (we) learn a wider truth and humanity than that of a fine gentleman.… What tests of manhood could he stand? Take him out of his protection?” (229). In fact, adversities alone—and explicitly not pedagogy—offer training, so he advocates facing them: “We acquire the strength we have overcome” (224); “life is rather a subject of wonder than of didactics” (215). Courage is both the condition for, and an outcome of, a life in which “The high prize (of life), the crowning fortune of a man is to be born with a bias to some pursuit, which finds him in employment and happiness—whether it be to make baskets or broadswords, or canals, or statutes, or songs” (234). What then emerges in the end—and this is the last sentence of his book—is “the courage to be what we are” (263). What we are, for him, is a person with a “bias” for a specific kind of creative work, and a capacity for friendship. So we keep creative work, friendship and the domestic sphere in mind as Emerson’s own definitions of the “good.” For him, in his time and place, one actively sought out the many challenges that life itself posed.

The move into “life itself” as offering the recurrent ethical discipline does begin to take on new meaning in some new comparative work, for example on the cultivation of a new disposition in South India (see Pandian 2009). But durational virtues such as fortitude are not yet a prominent theme within this theoretical development. The main place where we do find it returning is in relation to the conditions of late liberal life in turbulence (Povinelli 2011; Butler and Athanasiou 2013). Here the sociopolitical referent to endurance and other durational dispositions becomes central, and takes us back to the social grounding questions with respect to virtues that are raised by Alasdair McIntyre.

A subsequent reading of the chapter “Taking responsibility seriously,” in Laidlaw’s (2014) new book, whose title links virtue, ethics, and freedom and which is discussed in the Symposium in this issue, shows that he still addresses responsibility more forensically, in retrospect or with an immediate future referent, than prospectively, toward complex near futures with respect to imagined but varying temporal durations, social spans, and uncontrollable contingencies. He writes of “the attribution of responsibility (cause, intention, state, response)” (ibid.: 201). Many of the examples are of the modular, exemplary kind, where these four components can be intellectually isolated. This is certainly one important intellectual endeavor. A full comparative treatment of ethics, however, would seem to require complementary attention to the complications of responsibility as assumed for contingent situations, within concatenated interconnections, with respect to possibly obstreperous or vulnerable other people, and near futures when anything could happen, which do not easily lend themselves to precise forensic analysis, even though such responsibilities are, in fact, taken up by people in the throes of what Emerson might have concurred to be “the school of life.” Here, freedom and responsibility interpenetrate rather than emanating from autonomy as the reference point.

Two short ethnographic moments

This first ethnographic example amplifies the notion that, even as MacIntyre himself notes, virtue ethics was culture and class specific in its Greek origins. During fieldwork in Western Nigeria, I was asking about debt repayment. The manager of a contribution club told me that sometimes they have to invoke asa, in light of the debtor’s circumstances when the date for repayment arrives. Asa translates roughly as “custom,” but its etymology is “choice,” so with no intimation of constraint. In Yoruba thought, what is handed down is a kind of archive of heterogeneous wisdoms. The diviners or elders then match the specific case and person at hand, to a vast corpus of poetry and experience, and then choose an apposite resolution as guidance for action, in that case. In the case of a routine secular issue, such as debt repayment on time, to act in accordance with asa is to riff through this archive to find a solution that “won’t make everything worse.” This would clearly index to a collectivity of some sort, and to a general responsibility to keep picking up the pieces and reconfiguring them. In Western thought, this kind of grounding is inaccurately considered as a kind of constraining lockstep of traditional solidarity. Indeed, a certain kind of original freedom is presupposed by the Yoruba concept of temperament and destiny being chosen by each individual before birth, and embodied in the ori or “head.” The recognition that there are different emphases, in different ethical regimes, on varied temporalities becomes crucial. My second, different, example comes from my (2013) “Steadfastness and good ness” paper, and is quoting and commenting on a rural, working class ethic in wartime that is occasionally inflected with explicitly Christian values. The following quoted material in this passage from my paper is from the daily journal of Iris Origo ([1947] 1984), War in Val D’Orcia: An Italian war diary 1943–1944.

When I look back upon these years of tension and expectation, of destruction and sorrow, it is individual acts of kindness, courage or faith that illuminate them.…” (15) She poses ethical questions and makes ethical observations: “At the end of each day prudence inquired, ‘Have I done too much?’—and enthusiasm and compassion, ‘Might I not, perhaps, have done more?’” (12) She asks: what motivates the kindness? As described by an Italian partisan (13), it is “the simplest of all ties between one man and another; the tie that arises between the man who asks for what he needs, and the man who comes to his aid as best he can,” regardless of political affiliation. And, “some old peasant-woman, whose son was a prisoner in a far away camp … might say—as she prepared a bowl of soup or made the bed for the foreigner in her house—‘Perhaps someone will do the same for my boy?’”(14–15). Of another case she observes: “Here is a man (and there are hundreds of others like him) who has run the risk of being shot, who has shared his family’s food to the last crumb, and who has lodged, clothed and protected four strangers for over three months.… What is this if not courage and loyalty?” (146). “The patience and endurance, the industry and resourcefulness of the Italian workman … in times of crisis, these qualities reach a degree that is almost heroic.… Resigned and laborious, they … turn back from the fresh graves and the wreckage of their homes to their accustomed daily toil. It is they who will bring the land to life again” (239).

Origo makes the link from a capacity for kindness in extremity, to mundane and routine work, and the ordinariness of the people, that together can make of “courage” a cultivated discipline of the self, when life itself is thought to be the ethical “school” and where the terrible frequency of war has made that real and imperative. This is not an inevitability, but a quality of experience and conceptual and material coordinates. If we turn to Michael Jackson’s work on Sierra Leone in the aftermath of war and in Aboriginal Australia, he writes of courage, of the “patience and stoicism with which they go on” (2013: 223), where “it takes all our will simply to endure” and the “struggle to create viable lives” (216)—but does not yet analyze this as a specific ethical disposition. Indeed he desists from over-interpreting, and thereby perhaps distorting for one’s own purposes, what he sees as created in experiential contexts.

The dangers of ideological capture certainly enter, as in the neoliberal emphasis on responsibilization which shifts the blame for clearly structural circumstances to individual culpability. But it seems clear that there are terms under which the ordinary people, practicing ordinary ethics, do experience and cultivate durational ethics, for their own immediate circumstances as well as for political struggle, of the we shall not be moved kind.

Indeed, training in routine coordination, through song, work, narrative participation, and ritual collaboration, may be the grounding in which novel possibilities can find traction and from which they may eventually take new flight. And intimate memories of small gestures, through which everything awkward—from confusion to extremity—has already been navigated by oneself or others, may provide compasses, and other tools, for an indeterminate future.

Return to Fauconnet’s text

Thinking about cases such as these, and two war-time and post-war episodes described by my mother in her Family Album (and quoted in full in my “Steadfastness and goodness” [2013] paper), Paul Fauconnet’s appendix became useful in itself, and also as a source on the themes and collaborations characteristic of the Année Sociologique School: themes which may come through rather faintly, as we read the works one by one, in selective English translations. In fact, the members of the Année Sociologique worked very closely together, as Mauss expressed so movingly in his eulogy that precedes the Essay on the gift in the issue of the journal published in 1925 (see Guyer 2014). This appendix addresses issues that have arisen in later assessments of Durkheim’s position on the externality of moral force, the meaning of that “force,” the place of freedom (in an anti-utilitarian orientation), the place of moral feelings, and the play of experience in the course of self-fashioning. As Fauconnet’s preface suggests, he saw himself as carrying forward a collective concentration on these issues that were cardinal to Durkheim’s legacy, without necessarily being a direct mouthpiece for his master on all points. A translation also offers the opportunity for us anglophone scholars to become more familiar with the French vocabulary in moral philosophy and sociology. I myself found difficulties, faced with translation of French into the mixed Romance-Germanic vocabularies of English. Is libre arbitre well rendered as “free will,” as it is conventionally? Volonté seems more like “willingness” in some places, than like “will” in English, especially since “will” is so closely associated with German philosophical ideas, such as the will to power. With the concept of indole, Fauconnet is invoking an Italian theory of pedagogy concerned with temperament and natural inclinations, or perhaps disposition, to which John Kelly drew my attention. Where the correspondence of concepts seems to me questionable, I have kept the French original in parentheses. And, even where clumsy in English, I have tried to render reflexive verbs as they are, in order not to shift the sense of subject-object identity in action. In the spirit of appendices, I have appended to this introduction a discussion of the history of the concept of libre arbitre, helped by S. B. Diagne. In order to make available the argument of the whole work, I have translated and appended the extensive table of contents, which does address the legal-forensic issues in great detail.

All contemporary readers will surely remain with unanswered questions after reading this text. My own would relate to the specific precepts and the moral and empirically-imagined terrain that fill the space of imagination and aspiration between the sacred things in life and the effort in the everyday. The sociology of the time was extricating itself from concepts and problematics coming down in a direct line of descent from theology to philosophy to science. In the spirit of both recuperation of the past text, in its place in intellectual history, and further exploration of its lacunae, I am grateful for the confidence that Diagne and Kelly placed in the worth of what became a shared endeavor.

Fauconnet himself

Sociologist Paul Fauconnet (1874–1938) was a young member—sixteen years Durkheim’s junior—of the Année Sociologique School at its foundation in the 1890s, and he continued to belong throughout its heyday. Marcel Fournier’s (2007) magisterial biography of Durkheim suggests that Fauconnet came into the School through friendship with Marcel Mauss (322); took up a central role in the “syndicate” of “good workers” by 1894 (206); became a “close collaborator” on the inaugural issue of the journal in 1898 (350); took over the management of one of the review sections (on “contract, responsibility and procedure”) in the third edition (414); co-authored an encyclopedia article with Durkheim on “Sociology and social sciences” in Revue Philosophique of 1903 (170); and continued close engagement with the group as his career developed. Fauconnet had chosen the topic of responsibility for his thesis by 1911, and hoped to finish it by 1913. Durkheim mentions taking time to correct the proofs in 1915 (891), but he died before the doctoral thesis was presented at the University of Paris in 1919. The text had been completed sometime during 1914, but the war had intervened in all scholarly endeavors. The book is dedicated, posthumously, to “the memory of my master, Émile Durkheim,” who had died in 1917. By the time of Durkheim’s death, Fauconnet had been working with him for about 25 years. He acknowledges the enormous influence of Durkheim, but Fournier’s account also draws attention to Fauconnet’s close intellectual affinity with Mauss, especially in relation to the rules of method. Both were seeking to “attenuate” Durkheim’s tendency to methodological “dogmatism” (471), by keeping “consciousness” within the sphere of their own science rather than defining it entirely under the auspices of psychology. We keep in mind, then, that this book is the product of a deep and long mutual engagement within the group, where a certain independence of intellectual temperament and political conviction was also maintained, amidst the vast shared erudition that was cultivated by the work of the group as a whole.

From Catholic libre arbitre to Protestant “free will”?

Here is a brief review of the stakes in translation of the appendix to Paul Fauconnet’s Responsibility: “The sentiment of responsibility and the sentiment of liberty” (with the help of Souleymane Bachir Diagne)

The challenge of rendering the concept of, and therefore the discussions around, libre arbitre in translation from French to English, where it is conventionally translated as “free will,” has encouraged us to write a brief explanation of the concept, as it is discussed in French. It derives from the Latin of the early Church fathers, particularly St. Augustine of Hippo in the fourth century CE who wrote a treatise precisely entitled De libero arbitrio. Its development in the Middle Ages by the scholastics, and in the early modern period by philosophers, including Spinoza, drew even further back in classical philosophy, to Aristotle’s Nichomachean ethics. The deep history of the concept is clearly classical and Mediterranean in origin, and thereby nuances, very differently from the German cultures and languages, the meaning of “will,” and thereby might be better rendered as “willingness” (volonté). “Will” has gained a valence of individualized power that willingness does not evoke in the same way, although willingness, also, fails to convey adequately the centrality of choice in the concept of arbitre.

The slippage in meaning between libre arbitre and its conventional translation as free will (Willensfreiheit in German) is noted immediately in the lengthy French Wikipedia review for libre arbitre (consulted April 16, 2014). This is a summary of the definition given: libre arbitre is the faculty that the human has to determine itself freely and by itself alone, to act and to think, in distinction from determinism or fatalism. By contrast with English and German, the French expression maintains the centrality of choice. The basis for this is its roots in a theology of causation in the world, which defines evil as the responsibility of the “creatures of God” but not of God Himself. The problem is how to locate responsibility for evil. Augustine’s answer was that volonté, the capacity for choice, is a good that gives dignity by being also open to abuse. If it were not exercised consciously it would bring no dignity. It is by grace that original sin has not destroyed this capacity. Choice is thereby not a narrowly rationalized action, but fundamentally an expression and aspiration within a world in which humans act in concert with their Creator, supposing a chosen union of spontaneity and intentionality: self-cultivation and purpose in the world, as reflexively intertwined.

The scholastics introduced reason more forcefully into this framing of the dynamics of choice: to orient urgently towards something (vouloir) involves decisions. The Christian theologians retained from Aristotle the idea of liberty as necessarily associating will and reason, as the basis for human responsibility before the moral, penal, and divine law. Thomas Aquinas placed choice at the center of this refinement of the theory de libero arbitrio, but without secularizing the framework.

The concept of libre arbitre has been the object of three categories of critique. One is theological, where to attribute libre arbitre to man is to deny, or at least minimize, the role of divine grace in good works, and to eliminate Calvinist conceptions of predestination. A second is philosophical, that libre arbitre fails to take into account the motives and influences on our choices and actions, to note that there are necessities. Because after all, libre arbitre could only fully exist as freedom of indifference, that is, when the capacity for conscious choice has no reason, and exerts no reasoning, for going one way or the other. But does such a notion make sense? Descartes thus considered freedom of indifference—that is, to suspend the capacity to reason—to be the lowest degree of freedom for humans (downgrading reason) and the highest for God (who has no need to reason). The third is psychoanalytic, that libre arbitre is not possible without a theory of the unconscious. A further extension of the third is associated with the Durkheimian school, namely that libre arbitre gave no place to constraints, which can be of several kinds: from legal to physical (that is, it simply cannot be done). Also interjected very early, was the idea that libre arbitre required a facet of reason devoted to truth and falsehood in the world, and not only to weighing the value of actions in the moral register. Spinoza raised the question of how freedom is even understood by a being who is part of nature, or how it could have been derived through a religion where God’s first action was to give freedom and immediately utter a negative injunction about its use (not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil).

Further discussion on the Wikipedia entry addresses determinism frontally: the possibility that one day there will be a theory of the nature and evolution of the world as a whole. How, and whether, this operates on the level of grand eras or of micro-moments is a point of debate, and—in a new era of declining religious faith—perhaps a disturbingly difficult question. But we can see, from this very schematic genealogy of ideas, two useful implications for English-speakers. First, more is at stake with libre arbitre than a secularized and individualized notion of free will. Responsibility in a created world seems always to be in the picture. Nothing and no one is radically autonomous. The gods, and God, are invoked in most western ethical thought, including the Greeks, for millennia: if only as our Creator and companion(s), and not primarily as our master or judge. Secondly, the forms of determinism put forward, either to argue with libre arbitre or to see how combinations might work, have been very varied and very debated for a very long time—probably since the beginning. Apparently, a resolution is not expected, perhaps because—in the Romance configuration of ideas—the individual has never been conceptualized in the same fashion as under the Calvinist combination of radical autonomy to make totally individuated choices, and to accrue them along a totally personal trajectory to a predestined future in the afterlife. That improbable combination of total autonomy and total determination escapes from the moral world of libre arbitre into which a secular scientific sociology of morality and religion was intervening at the time when Fauconnet wrote his book on responsibility.


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L’Éthique étendue : chercher, trouver et traduire « L’Essai sur la responsabilité et de la liberté » de Fauconnet

Résumé : Ce texte présente et explique le forum autour de ma traduction de l’annexe de 1920 au livre de Paul Fauconnet, intitulé La Responsibilité. Étude de sociologie, qui a résulté de sa thèse de doctorat. L’annexe de ce livre porte sur « Le sentiment de la responsabilité et le sentiment de la liberté ». Les idées relatives à la liberté furent clairement développées en conversation avec Durkheim et d’autres membres du groupe. Mes lectures en anthropologie de l’éthique pour mes propres écrits m’ont conduit à de nouveaux travaux sur la liberté, mais contre toute attente l’anthropologique contemporaine semble avoir accordé moins d’attention à ce que j’appelle une éthique étendue, qui englobe des concepts tels que la responsabilité, dans un sens prospectif, et la force morale. Cette introduction explique ce parcours exploratoire, qui m’a conduit au travail de Fauconnet, cite des extraits d’une de mes conférences intitulée « La constance et la bonté », et tient lieu de préface à la traduction. En outre, j’y dresse un portrait de Fauconnet et apporte un arrière-plan à la notion de libre arbitre dans la pensée et la langue romane, en opposition à sa traduction habituelle de free will dans le registre germanique de l’anglais.

Jane I. GUYER works primarily on economic topics, broadly speaking, and particularly on the anthropology of money in the present world. The present work grows from a long-term interest in the larger archive of L’Année Sociologique, most recently represented in two articles focused on Marcel Mauss, in the Journal of Classical Sociology (2014), and Social Anthropology (2012). She is currently working on a book of collected essays with the working title of Legacies, logics, logistics: Towards an economic anthropology of the present.

Jane I. Guyer
George Armstrong Kelly Professor
Department of Anthropology
Johns Hopkins University
Baltimore, MD 21218