The Return of “Moral Progress”? a Proposal

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 10:00
Location: Hörsaal 18 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Maxim KUPOVYKH, University of Amsterdam, Netherlands
The notion of “the moral development of the human species” has almost disappeared from the sociological theorizing and research as a result of the decades of often justified criticisms of this notion from post-positivistic and post-modernist perspectives.   While political and moral philosophers have recently been actively reclaiming the idea of moral progress, we, sociologists, have largely ignored this trend. In this paper, I propose some reasons for revisiting this attitude and outline a project of how relevant debates can be reinterpreted from a sociological perspective. I proceed from the idea that sociological theory—from Durkheim to Parsons, Simmel to Elias, and Mead to Habermas—has a rich tradition to discussing moral development in terms like “value generalization,” “social learning” and “the civilizing process.” Disentangled from the vestiges of the 19th century notion of unilinear, deterministic and Eurocentric notion of “moral progress”(and “decline”), these ideas, I argue, are still fit to guide us interpreting contemporary research data and current social controversies. To “idealistic” (the development of human reason) and biological-deterministic (evolutionary) approaches, sociology is able to offer a “materialistic” alternative, which directs the researcher’s attention to the changing forms of association and the developments in social technologies.  In particular, I outline the interrelations and analogies between the developments in social technologies of control and surveillance (including the “technologies of the self”) and the trends in material technologies, especially communication technologies. In addition to these conceptual benefits, I explore the practical implications of the proposed perspective on moral development for analyzing and informing current public controversies on such issues as marriage equality and the refugee crisis.