Life On Ought
posted by December 13 at 12:08 PMon
We already know that economic power or intercourse structures and restructures the entire body of the English language. For example, when French was the prestige language in England (1066-1200), English was reshaped by the force of French economic power, by the way it operated, which was through juridical or law institutions: courts, policing, documents, and so on. To this day, we speak in French when we speak in our legal language. But here is a curious and not irrelevant development. Around the 17th century, the meaning of the word “ought” changed in the English language. “Ought” used to designate ownership. To ought a debt, or a house, or a horse, meant to “own” it. That was the case until the 17th century, the beginning of the modern period, the moment when Europe departs from feudal society and travels to a capitalist one. At this point, the word “ought” makes a telling transition; and I believe there is a connection between the shift in the word and the shift in the economy. That shift injects “ought” with a new moral connotation, a new moral substance. After the 17th century, in the area of history between the fully medieval/Aristotelian order and the fully capitalist/Galilean one, “ought” begins to mean: “This is something you must do”; or: “This is the right thing to do.” You ought not do this or that because it is wrong and you owe to yourself to do the right thing. The shift in the word calls into being a subject that sees ownership in moral/legal terms. The word change establishes and reinforces the subject of capitalist economics and interpellation.