Ethics and Lives Less Ordinary: Ideals of Coherence and Compartmentalisation 

Ethics and Lives Less Ordinary is my primary research project until September 2018. The project is funded by the British Academy and based at the University of Oxford. I am pursuing the project by drafting articles on its core themes, and aim to produce a detailed book plan by the end of year three. 

Project Abstract

My project contests the philosophical ideal of a coherent and uncompartmentalized life. I examine three ‘experiments in living’ – (1) contemporary polyamory, (2) radical attempts to combine family and career, and (3) contemporary first nation peoples who live between traditional and modern culture – in order to examine the diverse ways that people actively try to structure their desires, values, and emotions. These forms of life typically revolve around explicitly stated ethical principles. I will argue that these countercultural forms of life pose a challenge to arguments that conclude that compartmentalized lives are ethically problematic and/or psychologically unstable. I propose to argue, first, that these forms of life show that there are many distinct forms of coherence in life that often must be traded against each other, and that compartmentalized lives can be good. I am exploring these themes in separate journal articles. My project will culminate in a detailed plan for a book, which changes ethical thinking by grounding ideals of life in a richer understanding of how people navigate complexity whilst heeding ethical principles.