Westermarck, Edward (1862–1939)

Edward Westermarck, the Swedo-Finnish moral philosopher and comparative sociologist who held the first chair in anthropology at the London School of Economics (from 1907), is generally known for two things that have been normally kept apart but are increasingly brought together. First, he provided theoretical arguments for moral relativism, which spurred greater open-mindedness toward the customs of nonWestern cultures, as well as anticipated logical positivist analyses of ethics as the expression of emotion toward people and objects. Second, he contributed empirical arguments against the uniqueness of the incest taboo to human beings, which scholars consider as evidence for the continuity of social norms with the hidden logic of evolutionary fitness.

Until recently, the disparate nature of these two contributions left the impression that Westermarck, an irreverent ...

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