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Communities of Judgment

  • Allan Gibbard (a1)

Walk across a campus on a beautiful fall day and observe what a conversing species we are. Chimpanzees can be taught to talk a little, in sign language. Put educated chimpanzees together, though, and they turn out to have nothing to say to each other. We humans are different; we can even find silence awkward.

Language does many things for us; conveying straight information is the most obvious. I want to stress, though, some of the ways that talk adjusts our terms for living together. What I say will be speculative and some of it will no doubt be wrong, but I suspect it is not completely off-base. Much of talk we can see as securing and adjusting terms of association – terms, among other things, of cooperation and mutual restraint. In part, this is a matter of governing our feelings toward each other. Feelings tend toward action; they can make for social glue or social bombshells. Nature, in the form of Darwinian evolution, has given us various ways to mesh feelings, and some of these. I think, are a matter of language.

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1 See especially Gibbard Allan. “Moral Judgment and the Acceptance of Norms,” vol. Ethics, 96. no. 1 (Oct. 1985), pp. 521.

2 Some of these phrases present the feelings as permissible, some as mandatory. I skip over the difference.

3 For the classic discussion of egoistic bargaining and coordination, see Schelling Thomas, The Strategy of Conflict (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1960), ch. 2.

4 My discussion of accommodation in this paper draws heavily on Rawls and his explanation of a “political conception of justice.” See especially Rawls John, “Justice as Fairness: Political Not Metaphysical,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 14. no. 3 (Summer 1985), 515–72.

5 Encyclopaedia Britannica, 11th ed., s.v. “Garrison, William Lloyd.”

6 Sabini John and Silver Maury, Moralities of Everyday Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), 8384.

7 See discussion ibid., pp. 77–83.

8 On dilemmas of compromise, see Luban David, “Bargaining and Compromise: Recent Work on Negotlation and Informal Justice,” Philosophy and Public Affairs, vol. 14, no. 4 (Fall 1985), 397416.

9 Some of the material in this paper comes from work done while the author was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College, with support from a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship.

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Social Philosophy and Policy
  • ISSN: 0265-0525
  • EISSN: 1471-6437
  • URL: /core/journals/social-philosophy-and-policy
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