Language and Ethics

How does the modern understanding of particular words, for example happiness, influence the understanding of the frameworks? How does it change the outcome?


Just as we, and many others, may argue the idea that ethics is derived from notions of attachment toward an individual’s perception or outlook on the subject matter at hand, Edward Sapir, back in the early 1900’s essentially proposed a hypothesis that connoted, similarly, that different language implies different systems of perception and the difference between societies’ cultural behaviors is communicated by and codified in the structure of its linguistic meaning (Moore 2012:81). That is to say that the study of a specific cultures or peoples language is more than just a study of the words that they use it is a study of their existence which encompasses their morals, ethics and practices – in effect their total being.

Mindful of this connection it is then possible to set out an assertion that despite relative differences based on who we are as individuals with in various culturally collective identities, a generalized understanding of the frameworks provided in Mill (1863) would appear to hold true. A popular example provided of this is that pleasure is the absence of pain. Notably, these are structuralistically categorized across most cultures as direct binary opposites, similar to good- evil, black-white, and are the result of humanistic needs or desires to impose a sense order on aspects of nature.

As humans of this generation and successive generations, like those of past generations, we will continue to attach varying senses of oppositional worth to aspects of nature and life which surrounds us. In doing this we are emphasizing the appropriateness of our structuralist values. This we could argue has the resultant effect that; while language content may change, linguistic meaning remains constant and it is this constant linguistic meaning that stresses our structuralistic values which form the attachment to the ethical frame work defined. In this sense modern usage of particular words holds no difference to the outcome.


Mill, J. S., 1863. “Chapter 4; What utilitarianism is”. In Utilitarianism, 1863.

Moore, J.D., 2012. Visions of Culture. Altamira Publishing. Maryland, USA.


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