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A Linguistic Analogy

Earlier we compared ethical and linguistic intuitons ...

unreflective linguistic judgements

[1] He is a waffling fatberg of lies.

[2]* A waffling fatberg lies of he is.

How are these linguistic intuitions explained? Consider one possibility (which is far from the only one) ...


linguistic competence involves a special-purpose module

which operates according to linguistic rules

What is a module? This is actually a huge topic in its own right. We might come back to it. For now, see handout.
What are modules? They are ‘the psychological systems whose operations present the world to thought’; they ‘constitute a natural kind’; and there is ‘a cluster of properties that they have in common’ \citep[p.\ 101]{Fodor:1983dg}: \begin{itemize} \item domain specificity (modules deal with ‘eccentric’ bodies of knowledge) \item limited accessibility (representations in modules are not usually inferentially integrated with knowledge) \item information encapsulation (modules are unaffected by general knowledge or representations in other modules) \item innateness (roughly, the information and operations of a module not straightforwardly consequences of learning; but see \citet{Samuels:2004ho}). \end{itemize}


‘the mind contains a moral grammar: a complex and possibly domain-specific set of rules [...] this system enables individuals to determine the deontic status of an infinite variety of acts and omissions’

Mikhail, 2007 p. 144

You get the idea!
Researchers who consider various analogies between linguistic and ethical abilities include \citet{roedder:2010_linguistics}, \citet{mikhail:2007_universal}, and \citet{dwyer:2009_moral}.

Note: a the linguistic analogy

There are many possible points of analogy. (See \citet{roedder:2010_linguistics} for a discussion.) Here we are making just one: the idea that there is a distinctive, special-purpose and modular capacity
What evidence might bear on this question.

What evidence might indicate that humans have a language ethics module?


resistance to revisability

structure implicit in moral intuitions