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Elaborate dance with bands.

Co-operation and Language

[If] men live without other security than what their own strength and their own invention shall furnish them withal...[then] the life of man [is] solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.

Thomas Hobbes (1651)

We have already endeavoured to prove, ‘that there is a universal determination to benevolence in mankind, even toward the most distant parts of the species’...

Francis Hutcheson (1725)

Language is based on our cooperating with and trusting each other. A breakthrough in the social evolution of human beings - based perhaps on help with childbirth and childcare ... led to a new level of cooperation and trust within the group...That breakthrough paved the way for language and made its emergence possible.

Sverker Johansson (2019)


Hobbes expounded his famously pessimistic view of human nature amidst the turbulent middle years of the seventeenth century. The Scottish Enlightenment, lead by Francis Hutcheson, broke the ice of that previous dour Hobbesian Calvinism. And today, writers such as Johansson attribute that most treasured possession, language, Mist forming up the valley among the trees of Ae forest. But a warning, Johansson is not so alert when it comes to the danger of eliding thought and language. to our seemingly unique human cooperative spirit. Group of people sitting around food being cooked at floor level. On the spirit of cooperation as expressed by conviviality.

While many species have evolved highly interdependent patterns of living, and may show signs of sympathy, it is humans who have added planning, and developed empathy. Two women's faces embrassed by arms. The word 'empathy' was coined to describe two subjects having one feeling. Such complex dances as the one pictured above require intricate trusting agreements. Johansson cogently argues that language has developed uniquely for humans because of four traits, established by our ancestor species Homo erectus, over a million years ago. These were: the ability to point; The Cairnholy monument with its stone pointing at a moon. A page on the way that pointing stands at the base of communication prior to language.
mental processes which could recognise patterns; a memory able to construct hierarchical systems, Silhouetted Tree. On the importance of hierarchies to thinking. and, most importantly of all, the ability to cooperate. Two friends warming by a match. Which surely is a foundation stone of friendship.

Hobbes is arguing for strong government to counter the way humans would be without such; he paints this often quoted phrase; it comes from the 9th paragraph of Chapter 13 of Leviathan, and is available as a free ebook from The Project Gutenberg. Hutcheson’s An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue [sic] had two 'Treatises' (Parts) the second being on Moral Good and Evil, within this the fifth section (page 219) begins with the quotation given above. This work is available as a Project Gutenberg Canada Ebook. The Johansson quote is from his book The Dawn of Language, published by MacLehose Press, London page 392. The book takes a nonspecialist look at how language could have got going, and what was unique about humans such that it has caught on so well with only us.

A dance demonstration requiring much cooperation seen at Mai Chau tourist village, northern Vietnam.

Above, hovering on blue introduces a link: click to go, move away to stay.


Saturday 24th December 2022

Murphy on duty to this site