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Title: Language and morality : evolution, altruism, and linguistic moral mechanisms
Author: Poulshock, Joseph W.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 2006
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This thesis inquires into how human language relates to morality – and shows the ways language enables, extends, and maintains human value systems. Though we ultimately need to view the relation between language and morality from many different perspectives – biological, psychological, sociological, and philosophical – the approach here is primarily a linguistic one informed by evolutionary theory. At first, this study shows how natural selection relates to the problem of altruism and how language serves human moral ontogeny. Subsequently, the argument demonstrates how language helps enable cultural group selection. Moreover, as language helps influence human behaviour in an altruistic direction beyond in-group non-kin (helping facilitate cultural group selection), we also consider how language can help facilitate altruistic behaviour towards out-group non-kin. This therefore raises the prospect of a limited moral realism in a world of evolutionary processes. With these issues and possibilities in mind, we consider and analyze the properties of language that help extend human morality. Specifically, discussion covers how recursion, linguistic creativity, naming ability, displacement, stimulus freedom, compositionality, cultural transmission, and categorization extend moral systems. Moreover, because language so broadly influences morality, the inquiry extends into how linguistic differences (specifically between English and Japanese) might also cause subtle differences in moral perception between Japanese and English speakers. Lastly, we consider how moral ideas might take on a life of their own, catalytically propagating in degrees dependent and independent of human intention.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available