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The Invention of AltruismMaking Moral Meanings in Victorian Britain$
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Thomas Dixon

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264263

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264263.001.0001

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Making Moral Meanings

Making Moral Meanings

(p.13) Chapter One: Making Moral Meanings
The Invention of Altruism

Thomas Dixon

British Academy

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

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