Here is a proposal for a large scale investigation which I don’t have the time to do.
Would it be possible to work out the moral dimensions of our culture through a study of the words we use to convey a sense of ‘good’?
By ‘moral dimensions’ I mean the shared values, ethical imperatives or prohibitions, aspirations, etc, which are generalisable through our society, i.e., shared by nearly everyone. I’m open to the possibility that no such values exist.
It certainly seems the case that references to ‘Australian Values’ never seem far away from the lips of politicians or the headlines of the Media. For this reason, many people have rightly raised and debated the question, what are ‘Australian Values’?
While, I think it’s a questionable assumption that there would be such a thing as values which are uniquely Australian, what would be the methodology for engaging in a descriptive rather than a prescriptive study of morality.
Put simply, how would you work out what people actually think ‘good’ is, rather than simply saying what people should think ‘good’ is.
Could you study the range of words used in our public discourse as a reflection of public values?
For example, there is a sense of ‘goodness’ within words such as ‘useful’, ‘beautiful’, ‘positive’, ‘nice’, ‘elegant’.
If we were to go through an edition of the Sydney Morning Herald and pull out words that are used to describe something favourably, would this tell us something about our values?
Is there something particularly significant about words that are being employed in unusal ways, such as, ‘cool’, ‘wicked’, ‘sick’, ‘mad’?
Maybe I’ll start reading a section of the SMH, I’ll let you know what I find…