The Project

Throughout the history of philosophy, many thinkers have urged that some fundamental philosophical concepts are universal – used by all rational people. Historians and anthropologists have often been skeptical of these claims. Recently, cultural psychologists and experimental philosophers have begun to explore empirically whether fundamental philosophical concepts are shared across cultures. The results of these studies have been fascinating and provocative, though they are far from definitive. This project will prepare a Planning Grant proposal for a project that has 4 interrelated goals.

1.To move this inquiry forward and to launch a new way of engaging in the analysis of philosophical concepts by dramatically expanding the methodologies used, the range of cultures considered, and the cultural and disciplinary diversity of the investigators engaged in the inquiry.

2.To assemble culturally and intellectually diverse teams of researchers who will use the methods of a number of disciplines to design and execute research aimed at determining the extent to which conceptions of knowledge, wisdom, understanding, person and human agent are universal or culturally variable. The disciplines we will involve in this project are analytic & continental philosophy, comparative philosophy, cultural studies, world history, linguistics, anthropology, cultural psychology, social psychology, and social cognitive neuroscience. The interdisciplinary teams we will assemble will form the nucleus of the new, cross-cultural, interdisciplinary approach to the study of philosophical concepts.

3.To present the findings both in scholarly publications and in publications and videos accessible to the non-specialist.

4.To initiate discussion about the implications of the findings about the universality and cultural variability of philosophical concepts for venerable philosophical debates and for practical contemporary issues that turn on cross-cultural understanding.

We will be focusing on the following research questions: 

I. Knowledge

Question 1: Is there a single term for translating “knows” in all cultures? If there is more than one term, how do they differ? Are there some languages in which the standard translation for “knows” is ambiguous or more general in its extension, including belief or other psychological or epistemic states?
Methods: a. Linguistic analysis; b. Survey studies; c. Historical linguistic studies

Question 2: Do adult ascriptions of knowledge require or entail belief in all cultures?
Methods: a. Semantic integration studies (e.g., using recall task); b. Historical linguistic analysis; c. Reaction time studies; d.Survey studies

Question 3: Do children develop an understanding of belief before they develop an understanding of knowledge?
Methods: a. Cross-sectional studies of performance in knowledge-ignorance, false-belief and diverse belief tasks; b. Analysis of frequency of children’s use of “know” and “believe” or “think”; c. Analysis of frequency of parent use of “know” and “believe” or “think” when speaking to children; d. Looking-time studies

Question 4: Do practical factors, such as stakes, affect knowledge ascriptions in all cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Behavioral studies; d. Reaction time studies

Question 5: Assuming that stakes affect knowledge ascriptions, are there different conceptions of the factors involved in creating a high and low stakes situation?Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Behavioral studies; c. Linguistic Analysis

Question 6: Is knowledge closed under known entailments across all cultures?Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies

Question 7: Is there a cross culturally robust effect of “inside/outside” probability information on knowledge ascriptions in lottery cases?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Behavioral studies (including economic games)

Question 8: Does knowledge require reliability in all cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Historical Linguistic analysis; c. Behavioral studies; d. Reaction time studies; e. Semantic integration studies

Question 9: What factors determine whether knowledge is reliably produced in different cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Behavioral studies; c. Anthropological studies

Question 10: Is factivity required for knowledge in all cultures?
Methods: a. Linguistic analyses; b. Historical linguistic analyses; c. Survey studies; d. Reaction time studies; e. Semantic integration studies; f. Anthropological studies

Question 11: Is factivity required for knowledge throughout development in all cultures?
Methods: a. Cross Sectional developmental studies; b. Linguistic analysis; c. Analysis of frequency of children’s non-factive use of “know”; d. Analysis of frequency of parent’s non-factive use of “know” when speaking to                     children

Question 12: Is knowledge the norm of assertion in all cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Behavioral studies; c. Historical linguistic analysis; d. Anthropological studies

Question 13: Is knowledge the norm of action in all cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Behavioral studies; c. Anthropological studies

Question 14: What are the implications of cross-cultural universals or differences in concepts of knowledge?
Methods: a. Philosophical analysis; b. Linguistic analysis; c. Sociological analysis

Question 15: Is there cross-cultural variation in people’s attitude toward fallibilism?
Methods: a. Survey studies

Question 16: Does knowledge require more than justification, truth and belief in all cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses

Question 17: Do skeptical pressure cases undermine knowledge across cultures?Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies

Question 18: Do salient error possibilities undermine knowledge across cultures?Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies

Question 19: Across cultures, what factors affect whether a possibility is considered salient when considering knowledge?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses

Question 20: Is religious knowledge regarded as a separate category of knowledge? If so what are its features?
Methods: a. Linguistic analysis; b. Anthropological studies; c. Survey studies

II. Understanding

Question 1: Is there a single term for translating “understand” in all cultures? If there is more than one term, how do they differ?
Methods: a. Linguistic analysis; b. Survey studies; c. Historical linguistic studies

Question 2: Do adult ascriptions of understanding require or entail knowledge in all cultures?
Methods: a. Semantic integration studies; b. Historical linguistic analysis; c. Reaction time studies; d. Survey studies

Question 3: Do children develop an understanding of understanding before they develop an understanding of knowledge?
Methods: a. Cross-sectional studies; b. Analysis of frequency of children’s use of “know” and “understand”; c. Analysis of frequency of parent use of “know” and “understand” when speaking to children; d. Looking-time studies

Question 4: Are there different forms of understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 5: Does age, gender, vocation, education etc., play a role in whether someone is viewed as being capable of understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 6: Does understanding require that one be able to produce an explanation?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies

Question 7: Across cultures, are there differences in views regarding who is capable of possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 8: Do differences in religious views give rise to different conceptions of understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 9: Do different cultural groups place different practical significance on the importance of understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 10: Do differences in religious views lead to differences in the kinds of practical significance associated with possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 11: What sort of value is placed on understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 12: Are there cross cultural differences in whether understanding is valued more than knowledge or belief?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 13: Are there religious differences in whether understanding is valued more than knowledge or belief?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 14: What factors are involved in understanding and do they vary across cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 15: Do religious differences lead to differences in views regarding who is capable of possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 16: Are humans the only individuals capable of possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 17: Are there cross-cultural differences in whether non-humans are capable of possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 18: Are there religious differences in whether non-humans are capable of possessing understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

III. Wisdom

Question 1: Is there a single term for translating “wisdom” in all cultures? If there is more than one term, how do they differ?
Methods: a. Linguistic analysis; b. Survey studies; c. Historical linguistic studies

Question 2: Do adult ascriptions of wisdom require or entail knowledge in all cultures?
Methods: a. Semantic integration studies; b. Historical linguistic analysis; c. Reaction time studies; d. Survey studies

Question 3: Do children develop an understanding of wisdom before or after they develop an understanding of knowledge or understanding?
Methods: a. Cross-sectional studies; b. Analysis of frequency of children’s use of “know”, “understand” and “wisdom”; c. Analysis of frequency of parent use of “know”, “understand” and “wisdom” when speaking to children; d. Looking-time studies

Question 4: Are there different forms of wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 5: Does age, gender, vocation, education etc., play a role in whether someone is capable of having wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 6: Does wisdom require that one possess understanding?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies

Question 7: Across cultures, are there differences in views regarding who is capable of possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 8: Do differences in religious views give rise to different conceptions of wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 9: Do different cultural groups place different practical significance on the importance of wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 10: Do differences in religious views lead to differences in the kinds of practical significance associated with possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 11: What sort of value is placed on wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 12: Is wisdom more valuable than understanding, knowledge or belief?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 13: Are there cross cultural differences in whether wisdom is valued more than understanding, knowledge or belief?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 14: Are there religious differences in whether wisdom is valued more than understanding, knowledge or belief?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 15: What factors are involved in wisdom and do they vary across cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 16: Do religious differences lead to differences in views regarding who is capable of possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 17: Are humans the only individuals capable of possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 18: Are there cross-cultural differences in whether non-humans are capable of possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 19: Are there religious differences in whether non-humans are capable of possessing wisdom?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 20: What are sources of wisdom? Do they vary across cultures or religions?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

IV. Agency

Question 1: How do people in different cultures understand determinism?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses

Question 2: Do people in all cultures think determinism undermines free will?Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e.Reaction time studies

Question 3: Do people in all cultures think determinism undermines moral responsibility?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Sociological studies; g. Anthropological studies

Question 4: What kinds of things are construed as agents across cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Behavioral studies; g. Historical studies of cultures

Question 5: What factors determine whether something is considered an agent across cultures?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies

Question 6: Are there developmental differences across cultures in understanding agency?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Behavioral studies; e. Structured Interview studies

Question 7: Do religious views play a role in understanding agency?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f.Cultural analysis

Question 8: Across cultures, do Gaia beliefs play a role in whether people will construe something as an agent?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies

Question 9: Do afterlife beliefs affect conceptions of agency?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies

V. Person

Question 1: Across cultures, do concepts of personhood differ?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Anthropological studies

Question 2: Do differences in religious beliefs lead to differences in concepts of personhood? Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Anthropological studies; g. Sociological studies

Question 3: Are there developmental similarities in the unfolding of the concept of personhood across cultures?
Methods: a. Cross-sectional developmental studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Anthropological studies

Question 4: Across cultures, do people draw a distinction between being human and being a person?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Anthropological studies

Question 5: Are there cross cultural differences in what sorts of things fall under the concept of person?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Anthropological studies

Question 6: Do religious beliefs or lack thereof affect what can fall under the concept of a person (e.g., perhaps non-religious people think that certain kinds of non-human animals are persons)?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Anthropological studies

Question 7: Are there cross cultural differences in what is required to remain the same person over time?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Anthropological studies

Question 8: Do differences in religious views play a role in what is required to remain the same person over time?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Anthropological studies

Question 9: Are there cross cultural differences in whether personhood extends beyond death?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Semantic integration studies; c. Linguistic analyses; d. Historical linguistic analyses; e. Reaction time studies; f. Anthropological studies

Question 10: Do differences in religious views affect whether an individual can remain a person after death?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies

Question 11: Do different cultural groups place different practical significance on the importance of personhood?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 12: Do differences in religious views lead to differences in the kinds of practical significance associated with being the same person over time?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 13: Do all cultures have a view of personhood that comes in degrees or do all cultures have a view of personhood that is absolute?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies

Question 14: Do differences in religious views play a role in whether certain groups think personhood is a matter of degree or absolute?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies

Question 15: Are there developmental similarities in what is required to be the same person over time across cultures?
Methods: a. Cross-sectional developmental studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Anthropological studies

Question 16: Across cultures, are there differences in views regarding when personhood begins?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies

Question 17: Do differences in religious view affect when people think personhood begins?
Methods: a. Survey studies; b. Linguistic analyses; c. Historical linguistic analyses; d. Anthropological studies; e. Sociological studies