ANT100Y1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 8: Noam Chomsky, Moral Relativism, Cultural RelativismPremium
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ANT100 – LECTURE 8
Topic: Universal and Particular structures in Language and culture
Universal (absolute) and particular (cultural) values (?); cultural or moral relativism
Universal and particular structures in language
Universal and particular structures in culture
The ethics of field work
Case study: mother love and infant death in Alto do Cruzeiro, Brazil
Cultural Relativism: Assumptions and behaviours mean different things in different cultures.
Recognize that historical, social, and economic conditions strongly affect our behaviour and that
of others. It teaches us to understand the Other’s behaviour and thoughts, in context.
Moral relativism: There are no absolute values. What is good or evil depends on the culture.
ABSOLUTE OR RELATIVE MORALITY – QUESTIONS
Is female genital mutilation fine?
How about burning widows on the funeral pyre of their husbands?
Exposing the elderly to death? Polygamy? Abortion? Circumcision?
Should we agree for babies to die in places like Alto?
UNIVERSAL (ABSOLUTE) MORAL VALUES
Believing that these exist is the opposite of moral relativism. It is not necessarily the
opposite of cultural relativism. Cultural relativism allows for moral universals and moral
UNIVERSALS (AND PARTICULARS) OF LANGUAGE
Noam Chomsky: there is an Innate, Universal “language acquisition device.” He
redefined how linguists saw. Every baby has the ability to learn every language but after
a certain point of maturity we cannot learn languages without an accent. All humans are
programmed to learn a language fluently, but they lose this capacity after a certain age.
Language is an innate and universal ability
(Are absolute moral values also innate as well as universal?)
We learn specific languages from others in our society, but all humans learn a language.
Not right away, but by the age of 6 or more.
THE UNIVERSAL LEVELS OF LANGUAGE
Texts (studied in discourse analysis)
Sentences (studied in syntax)
Words (studied in morphology)
Phonemes (studied in phonetics)
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