What Do We Owe Each Other?

Wednesdays, 7-9pm, 5 weeks

Instructor:  Joshua Ramey, PhD | A Rogue Scholars Course

What do we owe each other?   And what does morality have to do with debt?   Why does the language of right and wrong, good and evil, just and unjust, so often become the language of exchange—of what is due, what is owed, and what it is fair to expect in return for what one has given or as restoration for what one has lost?   If conceptions of the good life are always bound up with how we conceive fairness, equality, and justice, then perhaps all of morality is a kind of exchange.  But is it an exchange of commodities, an exchange of gifts, or an exchange of life itself?   Is there something inappropriate about the blend of economics and ethics that seems intractable in human culture and civilization?   Is it possible to think of ethics without thinking of some kind of economy or realm of exchange?   In view of the massive debt structures that govern contemporary life and concern contemporary politics, is it possible to distinguish financial decisions from moral ones?   What makes debt sacred, and is there a way to think about the sacredness of our obligations—to each other, to “society,” even to God—without thinking about exchange?  

In this five-week course, open to readers of all ages, we will discuss selected passages from two books that address these difficult questions:  the sociologist Marcel Mauss’ classic 1950 study The Gift:  The Form and Reason for Exchange in Archaic Society, and the anthropologist and activist David Graeber’s 2011 Debt:  The First 5,000 Years.  Readings from both books will be freely available as PDF’s.  

$100 per person. LAST MINUTE REGISTRATION DISCOUNT:  $50 through 7/23!!

Min. 5, Max. 12


Joshua Ramey is a philosopher, writer, and professor at Grinnell College.  His work addresses issues in contemporary politics, economics, culture, and spirituality.  He is the author of Politics of Divination:  Neoliberal Endgame and the Religion of Contingency (Rowman and Littlefield, 2016) and The Hermetic Deleuze:  Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal (Duke University Press, 2012).  https://www.grinnell.edu/users/rameyjos