Why do we do what we do? How should one describe the mental process that leads from inaction to action in response to some stimulus? What sounds so simple is of course hugely complicated, and in his new book, published fully open access by De Gruyter Open, Ramsay MacMullen must look for answers in all four research areas that are most relevant: anthropology, psychology, sociology, and behavioral (not theoretical) economics. In "Why do we do what we do?" his focus, however, is clear: it is on collective, not individual, motivation in groups such as historians deal with: sects, crowds, classes, unions, peoples, tribes. Here are "fascinating questions", as the psychologist Keith Oatley says,"and Ramsay MacMullen tackles them head on".
A historian's view has the special virtue of reaching beyond the most common populations for psychological study, that is, samples of ourselves, to include a range of cultures and settings. Despite the complexity of the discussion, MacMullen manages to sustain an easy style and clarity that reviewers notice in his many books. As another historian says (Philippe Buc, professor at Stanford and now at Vienna), readers will find "A wonderful, readable panorama of psychological, materialist, and culturalist theories from a tested master in History", one who is "always an original thinker". From the social sciences comes further praise for the author's "courage, authority and effect. Few have had the nerve to ask the large question, few could have approached it with the breadth of a distinguished historian who has reflected at length on the social sciences, few can write with his openness and independence of mind, and few have arrived at such an interesting answer. ... All who have thought about his question will be in turn informed, assured, and provoked and those who have not before done so could not have a better guide." (Geoffrey Hawthorn, Professor of International Politics and Social and Political Theory at Cambridge).
The book is available fully open access to read, download and share on De Gruyter Online.
About the Author:
Ramsay MacMullen is one of the greatest historians of the Roman Empire alive today. He is an Emeritus Professor of history at Yale University, where he taught as Dunham Professor of History and Classics until 1993. He received a lifetime Award for Scholarly Distinction from the American Historical Association and is the author of numerous works on Christianity and the Roman Empire.