Volume 38, 2013
There’s Some Fetish in Your Ethics
A Limited Defense of Purity Reasoning in Moral Discourse
Call the ethos understanding rightness in terms of spiritual purity and piety, and wrongness in terms of corruption and sacrilege, the “fetish ethic.” Jonathan Haidt and his colleagues suggest that this ethos is particularly salient to political conservatives and non-liberal cultures around the globe. In this essay, I point to numerous examples of moral fetishism in mainstream academic ethics. Once we see how deeply “infected” our ethical reasoning is by fetishistic intuitions, we can respond by (1) repudiating the fetishistic impulse, by (2) “sublimating” our fetishism into liberal rationales, or by (3) accepting the fetishism on its own terms. Of these options, I argue that sublimating our fetishism is not advisable, and that embracing our ethical fetishism isn’t as obviously misguided as some suggest.