Social Philosophy and Policy

Research Article

Communities of Judgment

Allan Gibbarda1

a1 Philosophy, University of Michigan

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.