Two Dartmouth professors have been selected as NEH Fellows. The fellowships allow scholars to spend up to a year working on individual projects.
Julia Driver, Professor of Philosophy, will use the fellowship to complete her book The Greatest Happiness Principle. The title refers to John Stuart Mills principle of utility, a theory that defines the right action as the one that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism, as the theory is known, has fallen into disfavor among many contemporary philosophers, but Driver believes the theory can be a useful tool, particularly for policy-makers.
Drivers book will address some criticisms leveled against Utilitarianism, many of which derive from outdated interpretations. For example, if an individual had to choose between saving the lives of hundreds of people or saving his or her own child, a simplistic understanding of Utilitarianism would suggest that the right action would be to save the group. However, Driver offered a more sophisticated utilitarian interpretation.
If we explain the situation in terms of the certain bonds we have with people, like our children, we can say that recognizing these bonds is good for society.
John Watanabe, Associate Professor of Anthropology will use the fellowship to complete a book about the relationship between the Maya Indians of western Guatemala and the modernizing Guatemalan state in the late 1800s. The labor demands of the coffee economy were beginning to increase at the time, putting the Mayas and government officials in an increasingly antagonistic relationship that set the stage for conflict throughout the 20th century.
Watanabes study suggests that, contrary to some contemporary interpretations of history, the Mayas were not passive victims of the state, but sophisticated political actors. He believes his research could have implications for understanding the cultural and political climate of Guatemala today, as well as for studying other societies in which indigenous peoples and the state are in conflict.