The Metaphorical Dimensions of Hopi Ethics (Report) - Journal of the Southwest

Title: The Metaphorical Dimensions of Hopi Ethics (Report)

Author: Journal of the Southwest

Date: 2009-06-22

The Metaphorical Dimensions of Hopi Ethics (Report) - Journal of the Southwest

Richard Brandt, author of the seminal work Hopi Ethics (1954), was one of the first philosophers who emphasized the importance of understanding local ethics of native peoples for the analysis of philosophical problems in Western ethics. At the time he conducted his research, the Hopi did not have a writing system for their language. Brandt (1954:69) noted that the Hopi did not appear to have developed distinctly ethical terminology: "For the Hopi apparently do not have a term like 'moral' by which to make sharp distinction between 'wrong' and 'morally wrong' nor they seem to have a pair of terms as exclusively associated with the ethical as 'praise-worthy' and 'blame-worthy.'" I concur with Ladd (1957:316) that Brandt's approach indicates that he applied a Western classification of moral principles to order his findings. To analyze or evaluate any of the Brandt's findings goes beyond the scope of this paper. The findings are based on an outsider's interpretative categories and a methodological approach that uses a priori premises. Brandt's work on Hopi ethics has been thoroughly reviewed by scholars representing fields of anthropology and philosophy; for example, Titiev (1955), Edel (1955), and Bidney (1955:49), who criticizes Brandt for making "no significant contribution to ethnological theory or ethical theory in particular." One of Brandt's techniques was to present the Hopi informants with eighteen problem stories and ask them to evaluate these problem stories in ethical terms. As Titiev (1955:1307) rightly points out, some of the episodes Brandt presented were "so far out of the range of the Hopi world as to appear fantastic." He continues, "Imagine asking the semi-desert dwelling Hopi to judge (p. 228) if 'ten ship wrecked men' ought to eat some of their number in order to save the rest!" (1955:1307).