Making Moral Meanings

Thomas Dixon

in The Invention of Altruism

Published by British Academy

Published in print May 2008 | ISBN: 9780197264263
Published online February 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191734816 | DOI:

Series: British Academy Postdoctoral Fellowship Monographs

Making Moral Meanings

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This chapter explains how ‘altruism’ made its way into the first published part of the greatest record of the English language, the Oxford English Dictionary. It uses this story of lexicographers, readers, definitions, and illustrative quotations as an initial vignette of the world of Victorian moral thought. It also discusses the relationship between words and concepts and the different assumptions and methods appropriate to writing the histories of each. In his History in English Words, Owen Barfield noted that the nineteenth century saw a proliferation of English words formed in combination with ‘self-’. Mentioning especially ‘self-help’ and a newly positive sense of ‘self-respect’, he saw this development as an aspect of the rise of Victorian ‘individualism’ and ‘humanism’.

Keywords: Victorian moral thought; individualism; Oxford English Dictionary; altruism; History in English Words; Owen Barfield; humanism

Chapter.  9724 words.  Illustrated.

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