March 1, 2021 – July 31, 2021
The proposed research group will fill a gap in the global history of the human interaction with non-human animals. It will examine the diverse roles that animals – real and metaphorical – have played in Chinese history, society, and culture. Bringing together scholars working in the diverse disciplines of archeology, history, anthropology, art, religious and literary studies, the group will provide a comprehensive picture of the representations, roles and attitudes towards animals in Sinitic world (including not only China proper but other regions that were in contact with it and adopted elements of the Chinese culture). Extending from prehistoric times animals, through dietary practices and sacrifice, to the representation of pets in Chinese literature and art, the research group will make multiple contributions to Chinese studies. At the same time, it will provide a crucial and hitherto neglected perspective on the human interaction with the environment. In recent decades the humanities and social sciences have become increasingly aware of the significance of the interactions between human and non-human animals.
Anthropologists have termed the growing interest in human-animal relationship the "animal turn," the "trans-species turn" or the "post-human turn." This new perspective is transforming our understanding not only of animals’ effects on the development of human society and culture, but also of the rigid hierarchy where humans are on top and the rest of the natural world is subordinate to them.
The "animal turn" has largely passed China by. We still lack detailed studies not only of the literary and artistic representation of animals but also of the roles they have played in practice during the temporally long, and throughout the geographically vast, Chinese universe. Moreover, no integrative research have been carried on the complex networks of human-animal interactions, including the influences of those interactions on the shaping of human society and culture in the Sinitic world. The proposed interdisciplinary research group will fill this scholarly lacuna.
Anthropologists and historians alike have noted that the self-definition of humans is inseparable from their conception of non-human animals. Similarly, human attitudes towards beasts all too often tell us how they perceive fellow humans. In this respect, it is important to compare the Sinitic worldview to the Western one. Unlike the monotheistic faiths that have humans fashioned in god's image, the Chinese philosophical tradition holds that humans and beasts differ in degree, rather than essence, of spirituality. Imported from India, the Buddhist theory of transmigration contributed to the Chinese tendency of minimizing the existential divide between human and non-human animals. Does this theological affinity between people and their beasts of burden have any bearing on the latter's fate in human hands? Dose it create specific types of human-animal interactions that are Sinitic and different from Western types? The research team intends to investigate these questions, which answers are likely to be complex.
October 12, 2020 - February 11, 2021
The fourth century BCE saw a flourishing of philosophical speculation centered around the figure of Socrates. More than a hundred different Socratic compositions were produced between 394 and the middle of the fourth century. This unprecedented flourishing of philosophical literature in this period created not merely a new literary genre, but a new cultural phenomenon that eclipsed the previous intellectual traditions, both naturalistic and sophistic. It would influence the major philosophic traditions of the ancient world, not only the Platonic and Aristotelian schools, but also the Stoic, Skeptical and Cyrenaic schools; and it has had a huge influence on the modern world, including on the curricula of today's leading universities. This project aims to recover the unique features of the Socratic revolution by exploring the diversity of opinions within and around the Socratic circle. Our hypothesis is that the impact of Plato and Aristotle has effectively blocked out alternative views of the nature of virtue and the human good and reduced our appreciation of what is unique in Plato and Aristotle. In particular, we expect to challenge the Aristotelian conception of the virtues as fixed traits of character acquired through repetition and practiced with pleasure. This account of the virtues, which has become almost self-evident to scholars in all fields, does not fit well with the descriptions of virtues found in the full Socratic corpus. Xenophon, for example, believes that virtues are inherently unstable, require constant supervision and effort, and are not necessarily practiced with pleasure. This view requires the re-examination of the concept that virtues are ends in the themselves, so familiar from Platonic and Aristotelian thinking. We also find a much wider range of virtue terminology in the full Socratic corpus. Aristotle seems to restrict the virtues by schematizing them in relation to distinct emotions and behavioral challenges. By examining the other Socratic writers, we hope to be able to reconstruct an alternative account that can stand up to philosophical challenge.
In order to recover and test alternative views, we will make use of a variety of methods. Where complete literary texts remain (as in the case of Xenophon and the Platonic pseudepigrapha) we will attempt to reconstruct the author's views of the substantial issues connected with the virtues and the human good by standard literary and philosophical analysis. Work on this has been started by members of the group and others. In cases where we only have fragmentary remains we will focus on comparative semantic analysis of ethical and political terms and concepts, following principles of the history of concepts (Begriffsgeschichte) which pays careful attention to the historical and philological roots of philosophical concepts. While not a replacement for philosophical interpretation, this approach provides a necessary starting place and corrective to purely philosophical research. It will be supplemented by philosophical analysis and defense.
September 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021
Islamic civilization is a term used to describe a set of shared cultural, confessional, and social ideas, institutions, practices, and conventions, all positively related in some manner to Islamic revelation and the notional community of Muslims. It took shape over many centuries following the formation of Muhammad’s community in the seventh century and, to an extent, is still undergoing change. Recent studies on different aspects of Islamic civilization have challenged the notion of a linear formation ex nihilo and advocated instead that we think in terms of processes by which diverse cultural phenomena took on an Islamic coloring. Thus, in contrast to an image of an emerging Islamic civilization that sprang up in a particular location and time, a revised interpretation offers a dynamic by which Islamic civilization was informed by cultural polycentricism and pluralism, and which multiple groups and traditions took part in molding. Islamic civilization, therefore, did not originate, but began when diverse cultural traditions entered into dialogue with Islamic history; it took on variegated interpretations in diverse social settings and has remained multifaceted to this day.
This revised outlook, however, does not rule out moments of exchange, borrowing, influence, or hybridity, but rather broadens the scope of inquiry by suggesting alternative forms of cultural motion. It is in the course of these processes that a variety of individuals played decisive roles as the human vectors through which cultural commodities of different sorts were gradually integrated within (and disseminated from) Islamic civilization. Such individuals acted as cultural brokers, a term derived from anthropological and historical literature, where it refers to individuals who serve as mediators between what are often (though not always) distinct social and cultural groups. They served as conduits of cultural transmission by transferring, mediating, embodying, and exchanging various social and cultural capitals,e.g., spiritual authority, erudition, kinship ties, legal capacities, and more. Yet their roles, intriguing in themselves, also highlight the complex nature of the societies they inhabited and the subtlety of intergroup relations. The proposed research group seeks to address the role of cultural brokers in premodern Islam; in particular, to identify the different types of brokers (courtiers, converts, communal leaders, women, missionaries, merchants, holy individuals, etc.); the circumstances which facilitated their activities (intellectual encounters, translation requirements, bureaucratic services, technological exigencies, trade and travel, enslavement, etc.); and the cultural outcomes or products of those activities (the availability of information and its types, literary enterprises, poetic styles, technology, urban planning, architecture, etc.).
We thus propose to assemble a group of leading specialists in Classical Islamic history whose scholarly concerns are related to the social and/or cultural aspects of cultural brokerage. Our intention is that this collaborative endeavor will allow for a fruitful investigation into the circumstances that facilitated multidirectional cultural brokerage around the edges of Islamic societies, the type of cultural commodities that were brokered, modes of reception and impact of brokerage, and the correlation between historical phenomena and the activities of cultural brokers.
September 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021
Adi Libson (Bar-Ilan University)
Research Group Assistant: Barak Or
Over the last few years, there has been a growing academic interest in the field of behavioral ethics: people’s ethical biases in decision making. This scholarship has focused on the behavioral mechanisms that explain why ordinary unethicality is so common among people who view themselves as law-abiding individuals.
A recently published book by Professor Yuval Feldman (2008) systematically explored the far-reaching implications of this literature to the legal field: Instead of assuming that its primary target are "bad people" which the law must deter from maximizing their own self-interest, the law should aim to address "good people." These changes require a better understanding of the mechanisms which cause good people to do wrong. Better understanding will also lead to better ways of addressing this problem, by designing the situation in ways which would reduce people’s unethicality, such as verifying they have fewer justifications to behave unethically or ensuring they have a clear view of who are they harming.
The proposed research is aimed at examining the interaction of the behavioral ethics literature with the legal field which provides the most fertile ground for its acceptance: corporate law and governance. The corporate context serves as a 'perfect storm' combining and exacerbating several aspects emphasized in the behavioral ethics literature that lead individuals to act wrongly, such as doing things for the benefit of others, diffusion of responsibility, remoteness of the victim and contagiousness.
Furthermore, addressing the issue of conflict-of-interests and agency problems is central to the field of corporate law. As such, the understanding that a central way for curbing conflicts-of-interest is by increasing the saliency of the conflict-of-interest in the eyes of the agent may have far-reaching implications in the realm of corporate law and completely alter the arsenal of its tools. In many instances, such an analysis may reach opposite conclusions to that of the conventional law and economics framework on the effectiveness of certain instruments in curbing conflict-of-interest problems. Are independent directors an effective tool for monitoring conflicts-of-interests? How significant should be the role of fiduciary duties in dealing with the agency problem? What effects does the group dynamics of boards have on the monitoring of conflict-of-interests? Two types of implications of behavioral ethics on corporate governance will be examined: structural implications and procedural implications.
The central goal of the group is to facilitate a reciprocal engagement: examining the possible contribution of behavioral ethics to the corporate governance literature and the contribution of corporate governance to the organizational psychology literature. Behavioral ethics has many potential implications for corporate governance and can yield various feasible policy applications. Legal corporate scholars can also contribute to behavioral ethics scholars, by providing real-world contexts and suggesting additional experiments which can validate experimental findings in the field of behavioral ethics. This is an important contribution to the behavioral ethics literature, which faces a serious challenge concerning the extent of its external validity.
General Director: Roger Kornberg (Stanford University)
Eran Meshorer (The Hebrew University)
Nissim Benvenisty (The Hebrew University)