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Seminars and lectures winter term 2014/15

Block-Seminar: Problems of Free Will
Prof. Dr. Stephan Sellmaier, Prof. Dr. Richard Holton (Cambridge University)

1 - 5 October
Venice, San Servolo (VIU)

Preparatory meetings:25 August and 1 September, 9:00-15:00, GSN course room, D00.003 (Biocenter)

(GSN students only)


Block-Seminar: The Ethics of Violence
Prof. Dr. Stephan Sellmaier, Prof. Dr. Mechthild Schäfer, Dr. Michael von Grundherr

10 - 14 November
Venice, San Servolo (VIU)

! Please register as soon as possible and no later than 30 August !

Paradigmatic moral norms (“Thou shalt not kill”) set limits to violent behaviour and many ethical theories see a breakdown of moral regulation as a main cause of violence. They attribute it to a breakdown of moral self-control, to a failure of the moral sense, to a lack of moral judgment or to moral disengagement. From an anthropological perspective, this line of thought is at least incomplete. Although all moral systems contain norms that prohibit certain types of violence, there is good evidence that much (or almost all) violence is morally motivated; it is based on moral judgment and requires self-control (cf. Rai and Fiske 2011). Honour killings are impressive examples of morally motivated violence. More generally, punishing of moral transgressors is the most typical case of morally motivated violence. In modern societies, the state has usually monopolized the use of physical violence, which may be the reason why we find it difficult to see the link between private morality and violence.

In the seminar we will scrutinize Fiske’s anthropological theory that regards morality as a mechanism of relationship regulation, which systematically requires violence on part of moral agents. We will use aggressive behaviour in school bullying as a test-case for the theory. More specifically, we will ask whether certain bullying behaviours can be explained as morally motivated violence that stabilizes social relationships (e.g. dominance structures). As bullies often use pseudo-moral arguments to justify their behaviour, it is not implausible to assume that they manage to frame their aggression as morally justified punishment serving the group. We will discuss representative texts from recent bullying research. Finally, we will discuss implications for the normative evaluation of bullying behaviour and for moral education. Descriptive theories from anthropology and social psychology do not forestall ethical judgment, but they may substantially inform it.

The seminar is open to advanced students with a background in psychology, philosophy or related disciplines.

Please register:



BA-Lektürekurs: Elizabeth Anscombe: Intention
Prof. Dr. Stephan Sellmaier

Thursday, 14:15-15:45
LMU main building, M210

The book attempts to show in detail that the natural and widely accepted picture of what we mean by an intention gives rise do insoluble problems and must be abondoned. "Anscombe's Intention is the most important treatment of action since Aristotle." so Donald Davidson. It is one of the masterworks of twentieth-century philosophy.