Ethics, Anthropology, and Linguistics

doctoro
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Ethics, Anthropology, and Linguistics

I am interested it the usefulness of studying ethics with the tools of anthropology and linguistics.

I took several linguistics courses in college out of sheer intellectual interest without any benefit to my necessary credits for my degree.

Over this course of study, I learned an important principle: Some languages do not have words for very common concepts that I as an English speaking American take for granted.

By this statement, I do not mean that English is good or being an American is good in some imperialistic way and that other languages bad or uncivilized that do not have concepts that I know. I simply mean there are many concepts I understand or *think* are actual concepts that other people do NOT think are concepts at all.

For instance, I have been reading "Religion Explained" by Pascal Boyer.

He claims that in some African tribes, there is no actual word for "religion." These people have never been exposed to any other way of thinking, so they would NEED no word for religion. How would you distinguish your beliefs from someone else if you had never heard of any other beliefs contrary to yours?

Furthermore, I would note the Greek and Latin languages had far more terms for philosophy -- different kinds of love, knowledge, etc. that we really have no words for in English. We hijack them from Greek when we're discussing them. So in that way, perhaps English is "uncivilized."

So here is my question.

Given that some cultures probably do not even have a word for ethics and act instinctually, how does this affect our understanding of ethics in general?

Do you have to have a concept of ethics to act ethically?


Yellow_Number_Five
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doctoro wrote: Given that

doctoro wrote:
Given that some cultures probably do not even have a word for ethics and act instinctually, how does this affect our understanding of ethics in general? Do you have to have a concept of ethics to act ethically?

I think acting instinctually is the base when in a community. Humans are conditioned to share the concept of empathy, and this more than anything else, IMO, is what forms our ethics and morality. Rest assured, less noble traits like fear, xenophobia, jealousy, etc do compete with that. We've simply found that shared empathy, shared ideals and cooperation are mutually beneficial in times that are less than desperate.

I don't need to know about the concept of theft or have a word for it to feel slighted that another took something from me or to imagine how another feels in that situation.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins

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Vastet
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But you do have to be raised

But you do have to be raised in a culture that puts priority on posession. If raised in a communal setting where everything was shared, theft would be outside the concept of the community.

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Vastet
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I see ethics and morals as

I see ethics and morals as 100% evolution driven. In order to explain this it has to be put into proper context. Something that I achieved about 15 years ago thanks to Michael Chricton. I probably would have come up with it myself at some point anyway, but I was still young and he put it into words for me that made sense.

Before we were even really describable as humans, our brains were evolving to be larger as we used tools more and more often. This meant that children were born less equipped for immediate ability to move around on their own like the vast majority of species on the planet do. Effectively children are born immature, because carrying to term would result in the death of the mother. We aren't big enough to pass a fully developed child through the vagina, and c-sections are hardly natural. Thus education becomes a priority. Most species have a whole bunch of instincts that we don't have any perception of. A child isn't born knowing how to walk or being physically capable of it. But a horse can pull it off quite fine. Since we don't have these instincts or development to work with, instructing children becomes a requirement. We have to teach our offspring more than other species do. The best way to insure the instruction and safety of children is to surround them by capable defenders and teachers. Hence a community is ideal. 10 parents can teach and defend against what 2 cannot. As a result of this it would be impractical to lower the number of defenders simply due to a disagreement, and could put the whole community at risk of predation or disaster. Very likely a couple of early communities were almost wiped out due to such things, and taught thereafter that killing a fellow was a bad thing. Hence murder is against our moral code.

Sparse circumstancial evidence of this is found in some old laws that are still on the books in some communities. Laws that make absolutely no sense to us, but must have made sense to those that made it. And likely had a good reason to make.

More evidence is found in linguistics as was mentioned in the topic post. Many languages have dozens of terms for a concept that other languages don't even refer to.

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Of course if you were raised

Of course if you were raised in that communal setting, wouldn't someone who refused to share be seen as "unethical" or at least crazy or weird?

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ShaunPhilly
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MattShizzle wrote: Of

MattShizzle wrote:
Of course if you were raised in that communal setting, wouldn't someone who refused to share be seen as "unethical" or at least crazy or weird?

More than that, they would be less likely to reproduce.  And if they did reproduce, being not welcome in the community at large would make it harder to successfully raise a child.  

I think there might be a factor of this type of personality continuing because of the type of person who gets a woman pregnant, leaves, then the community of the woman helps raise the child.  Thus the unsocial traits can be continued in society.

Further, this might explain why marriage became so important, and why women who get pregnant and don't have a husband are generally seen as outcasts or have done something wrong.  The so-called honor-killing might even be related to this.

It id true that until we have words to express certain ideas, it is harder to develop more complicated ethics.  It's simply another reason to help educate more people.  

Shaun 

I'll fight for a person's right to speak so long as that person will, in return, fight to allow me to challenge their opinions and ridicule them as the content of their ideas merit.


doctoro
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Jared Diamond wrote a great

Jared Diamond wrote a great book on this topic called, "Why is Sex Fun?"  Same guy who wrote "Guns, Germs, and Steel."

The problem I run into with respect to analyzing the evolutionary foundations of romantic love, sex, and family is hard to explain.

If you have a solution to it, please share.

 I suppose as a theist, one views romantic love as something "transcendent" and spiritual.  There are such ideas as "destiny" and "soul mates."

I think that those ideas are very conducive to keeping a solid family unit together to ensure the survival of offspring.  Of course, this doesn't mean that any of the concepts I just discussed are actually real and not imaginary.

I suppose I compartmentalize some aspects of the atheist worldview and some aspects of the theist worldview.

 One issue with becoming philosophical-minded is that when you question -everything-, base human desires and characteristics such as romantic love come into question.

If the feeling you have for a member of the opposite sex is all about reproduction...  It would seem that romantic love...  or even love for friends or other family members is just an illusion to ensure survival of your genes ( Dawkin's "Selfish Gene" ).

 I suppose an analogy for all this would relate to the film "The Thirteenth Floor."

Artificially intelligent computer simulated humans learn what they are - not flesh and blood.  Does this devalue their existence?

Likewise, I feel that thinking of *everything* about human existence in terms of evolution -- pardon me for saying this -- as a mind f***. 

As a result, I've read about half of Diamond's book, and have had a difficult time finishing it -- as though I am discovering I'm a simulated being -- and a deterministic automaton.

 The trouble with this is that I know this is probably irrational, but I have found a difficult time with combatting such thoughts rationally.

 If you guys have any thoughts on how to overcome such ideas, please share... I'm all ears.