Saturday, November 20, 2010

A Cultural Theory of Information Exchange

The theory, as formulated by Eve E. Sweetser in "The Definition of Lie: An Examination of the Folk Models Underlying a Semantic Prototype," in Cultural Models in Language and Thought consists of three relatively straightforward propositions:

  1. Try to help (do no harm). This rule is combined with the belief that knowledge is helpful and that misinformation is harmful (which leads to the next rule).

  2. Give knowledge (do not misinform). Sweetser argues that what counts as knowledge, in everyday terms, is what we believe. All things being equal, we assume that what we believe matches some state of affairs or possible state of affairs: we take what we believe to be true, to count as knowledge. Using this understanding of knowledge together with (1) and (2), we arrive at the final rule.

  3. Say what you believe (do not say what you do not believe). If what we believe counts as knowledge, and if we wish to be helpful, we must give knowledge.


Zbikowski, Lawrence M.. Conceptualizing Music: Cognitive Structure, Theory, and Analysis. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002: p. 226.

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