Work Papers of the Summer Institute of Linguistics, University of North Dakota Session


Optimality Theory (OT) is a formal linguistic model in which grammars consist of a universal set of violable constraints that are ranked in a language-particular hierarchy. Lower-ranked constraints are often forcibly violated in order to improve satisfaction of higher-ranked constraints. The optimal or most harmonic pronunciation of a given word is that output candidate which best fulfills the language-specific ranking for a selected input form.

In this paper we show how OT can be invoked and efficaciously applied to the task of moral decision making in those situations when two or more principles conflict. For example, Christians are expected to have fellowship with other believers. At the same time, Christian wives are supposed to submit to their husbands. Now what if a Christian woman is married to an unbelieving husband who tells her not to go to church? In cases such as these, it is impossible to fulfill both requirements simultaneously. Consequently, we claim that moral failure or sin cannot be directly correlated with disobedience in and of itself. Disobedience is a necessary, but not a sufficient, condition for sin. Rather, we propose a novel and precise definition of "sin" as choosing a biblically non-optimal course of behavior.

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