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Micro-Historical Perspectives on Moral Choices: Case Studies from Early Modern Portugal

Author(s): Joaquim de Carvalho

Journal: E-Journal of Portuguese History
ISSN 1645-6432

Volume: 2;
Issue: 2;
Date: 2004;
Original page

Keywords: Moral behavior | Episcopal Visitations | Network Analysis | Micro-history

Moral choice is often discussed in the context of conforming to religious norms, with immoral behavior explained as a consequence of imperfect indoctrination or a lack of control and dissuasion mechanisms by the church and other institutions that promote moral concepts. Our findings point in a different direction: moral choice in sexual matters seems to be the result of an equation that relates the perception of the alternative paths of action, the place of the individual in networks of relations and resources and various trade-offs. It is a question of strategy, at a personal or small group level, and less a question of belief. We use intensive cross-linking of sources to reconstruct individual biographies and networks of relations to gain a micro-historical view on a set of case studies involving public sinners in a Portuguese parish in the 17th and 18th centuries. By placing individual cases in the context of individual life cycles and in the context of family and social relations, we gain relevant insights into motivations for immoral behavior and its role in personal strategies.
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