Life As Language

Patrick Tucker searches for the essence of morality:

According to Hauser, the human brain learns right from wrong the same way it learns language. The vast majority of the world’s languages share at least one thing in common: a system of guidelines for usage. This is called grammar. Just as languages have rules about where to put a subject, an adverb, and a predicate in a sentence, so too every culture has a set of guidelines to teach people how to make moral decisions in different situations. So just as learning a language means learning not only words, but also a system for putting the words together, the same is true for morality; there are very specific “commandments” that are unique to every culture, but there are also softer usage guidelines. People who have mastered the moral guidelines of their particular culture have what some might call principles or scruples. Hauser calls this a moral grammar.