Emmaline Jeansonne

The Historical Relationship between Morality and Literacy

Faculty Mentor: Jacob Mackey, Comparative Studies in Literature & Culture Department

Major: Cognitive Science, Comparative Studies in Literature and Culture

Funding: Ford Research Mentor's Endowment


The study of normativity in humans is fundamental to understanding historical trends in morality and social norms. When studying morality and social norms, there emerges a distinct relevant phenomenon that influences the course of human normativity. This phenomenon is the rise of written language. I conducted a research project that investigated the links between normativity and literacy in written law and religion, more specifically in proto-legal and legal classical Greece from approximately 750 BCE and onward. I first concluded that the Greek alphabet effectively eliminated the social boundaries of the literate class. The invention of the Greek alphabet provided the possibility of a literate majority, transitioning society from an oral culture to a written one. The tool that is writing transforms cognitive abilities as it enhances one’s ability to document and recall cultural and personal information. As citizens were further able to read and write, they were able to contribute to important societal conversations regarding complicated legal, religious and economic theory and policies. The shift toward a democratized community grants the possibility of quick-paced societal change. In this change, morality and social norms under religion and law are democratized as well. The normativity of a political community becomes increasingly complex in the hands of an educated population. The timeline of the Greek intellectual revolution syncs with the literate revolution. Thus, the development of morality in law and religion distinctly follows the timeline of advancements in writing. As literacy became widespread, an increasingly democratized, normative society developed.


Watch my research presentation below.

Questions or comments? Contact me at: ejeansonne@oxy.edu

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