Children’s pretence

A scientific perspective on social reality

– We illustrate how scientists can confuse society with nature
– Institutions resemble pretend play
– The nature of language makes institutional reality appear objective
– We propose a definition of morality as a linguistic cognitive conflation

Authors: Jose Maanmieli and Karoliina Maanmieli

Abstract: The nature of reality is an old philosophical question, yet not nearly as old as the myths of different cultures around marriage and kinship. We can assume that these ancient, foundational institutions have deeply shaped our perception of reality. Here we provide an answer that integrates biology, psychology, anthropology and linguistics. Simply put, institutions are intersubjective games, and our ontological confusion around them evolved due to their reproductive function. This argument involves a precise understanding of morality as a deceptive linguistic socialisation device that is distinct from other forms of normativity. More specifically, we argue that what philosopher John Searle has called institutional ‘facts’, such as a piece of paper being money, should instead be regarded as subjective and nonfactual. Central to these considerations is the very definition of human society, and how its moral, tribalistic nature goes unnoticed because it is registered in language itself, limiting our self-understanding. We demonstrate this limitation by closely examining a recent book chapter on the origins of language which, influenced by Searle, uses the institution of marriage as an example of serious or objective institutional practice and discusses how children learn to participate in it. Searle’s own conceptual framework also proves useful in illustrating how kinship and moral socialisation form the basis of social realities.

Keywords: social reality, prescription, kinship system, definition of morality, child psychology, cognitive conflation

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