Category Archives: Rationality

Weber—The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism

by Max Weber Translated by Talcott Parsons With an introduction by Anthony Giddens

[Weber, Max. [1930] 2001. The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism: And Other Writings. Translated by Talcott Parsons. 2nd ed. London and New York: Routledge.]

Points

Broken down by Giddens [then broken down further by me]—

  1. “In seeking to specify the distinctive characteristics of modern capitalism in The Protestant Ethic, Weber first of all separates off capitalistic enterprise from the pursuit of gain as such […]
  2. “only in the West, and in relatively recent times, has capitalistic activity become associated with the rational organisation of formally free labour. By ‘rational organisation’ of labour here Weber means its routinised, calculated administration within continuously functioning enterprises. [para]
  3.  “A rationalised capitalistic enterprise implies two things: a disciplined labour force, and the regularised investment of capital […]
  4. “The regular reproduction of capital, involving its continual investment and reinvestment for the end of economic efficiency, is foreign to traditional types of enterprise. It is associated with an outlook of a very specific kind: the continual accumulation of wealth for its own sake, rather than for the material rewards that it can serve to bring. ‘Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer subordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs’ (p. 18). This, according to Weber, is the essence of the spirit of modern capitalism. [para]
  5. “What explains this historically peculiar circumstance of a drive to the accumulation of wealth conjoined to an absence of interest in the worldly pleasures which it can purchase? […]
  6. “Weber finds the answer in the ‘this-worldly asceticism’ of Puritanism, as focused through the concept of the ‘calling’. The notion of the calling, according to Weber, did not exist either in Antiquity or in Catholic theology; it was introduced by the Reformation. It refers basically to the idea that the highest form of moral obligation of the individual is to fulfil his duty in worldly affairs […]
  7. “Although the idea of the calling was already present in Luther’s doctrines, Weber argues, it became more rigorously developed in the various Puritan sects: Calvinism, Methodism, Pietism and Baptism […]
  8. “Of the elements in Calvinism that Weber singles out for special attention, perhaps the most important, for his thesis, is the doctrine of predestination: that only some human beings are chosen to be saved from damnation, the choice being predetermined by God […]
  9. “From this torment, Weber holds, the capitalist spirit was born. On the pastoral level, two developments occurred: it became obligatory to regard one- self as chosen, lack of certainty being indicative of insufficient faith; and the performance of ‘good works’ in worldly activity became accepted as the medium whereby such surety could be demonstrated. Hence success in a calling eventually came to be regarded as a ‘sign’ – never a means – of being one of the elect. The accumulation of wealth was morally sanctioned in so far as it was combined with a sober, industrious career; wealth was condemned only if employed to support a life of idle luxury or self-indulgence. [para]
  10. “Calvinism, according to Weber’s argument, moral energy and drive of the capitalist entrepreneur; Weber speaks of its doctrines as having an ‘iron consistency’ in the bleak discipline which it demands of its adherents” (x – xiii).

Weber’s Intro

  • The occident has the most rational systematic, and specialized way of doing pretty much everything.
    • This includes capitalism—”the Occident has developed capitalism both to a quantitative extent, and (carrying this quantitative development) in types, forms, and directions which have never existed elsewhere” (xxxiii – iv).
    • “But in modern times the Occident has developed, in addition to this, a very different form of capitalism which has appeared nowhere else: the rational capitalistic organization of (formally)free labour” (xxxiv).
    • “The modern rational organization of the capitalistic enterprise would not have been possible without two other important factors in its development:
      1. the separation of business from the household, which completely dominates modern economic life, and closely connected with it,
      2. rational book-keeping” (xxxxv, numbers added)

Part 1

Religious Affiliation and Social Stratification

  • Historical question—”why were the districts of highest economic development at the same time particularly favourable to a revolution in the Church?” (4).
    • “the Reformation meant not the elimination of the Church’s control over everyday life, but rather the substitution of a new form of control for the previous one” (4).
    • But, “The rule of Calvinism, would be for us the most absolutely unbearable form of ecclesiastical control of the individual which could possibly exist” (5).
    • “not all the Protestant denominations seem to have had an equally strong influence in this direction. That of Calvinism, even in Germany, was among the strongest, it seems, and the reformed faith more than the others seems to have promoted the development of the spirit of capitalism” (10).
  • Main task—”If any inner relationship between certain expressions of the old Protestant spirit and modern capitalistic culture is to be found, we must attempt to find it, for better or worse not in its alleged more or less materialistic or at least anti-ascetic joy of living, but in its purely religious characteristics” (11).

The Spirit of Capitalism

  • Ben Franklin is a good example of the spirit of capitalism personified: “Time is money … credit is money … the good paymaster is lord of another man’s purse … He that idly loses five shillings worth of time; loses five shillings, and might as well prudently throw five shillings in the sea” (14-16).
  • the summum bonum of this ethic, the earning of more and more money, combined with the strict avoidance of all spontaneous enjoyment of life, is above all completely devoid of any eudaemonistic, not to say hedonistic, admixture. It is thought of so purely as an end in itself, that from the point of view of the happiness of, or utility to, the single individual, it appears entirely transcendental and absolutely irrational. Man is dominated by the making of money, by acquisition as the ultimate purpose of his life. Economic acquisition is no longer sub-ordinated to man as the means for the satisfaction of his material needs” (18).
    • This goes against traditionalism, because, “A man does not “by nature” wish to earn more and more money, but simply to live as he is accustomed to live and to earn as much as is necessary for that purpose” (24).
    • So for capitalism of this form to be achieved, “not only is a developed sense of responsibility absolutely indispensable, but in general also an attitude which, at least during working hours, is freed from continual calculations of how the customary wage may be earned with a maximum of comfort and a minimum of exertion. Labour must, on the contrary, be performed as if it were an absolute end in itself, a calling. But such an attitude is by no means a product of nature. It cannot be evoked by low wages or high ones alone, but can only be the product of a long and arduous process of education” (25).
  • How can this be rational?
    • “one may—this simple proposition, which is often forgotten should be placed at the beginning of every study which essays to deal with rationalism—rationalize life from fundamentally different basic points of view and in very different directions …
    • “We are here particularly interested in the origin of precisely the irrational element which lies in this, as in every conception of a calling” (38).

Luther’s Concept of the Calling

  • Luther’s “calling” can be understood as “a religious conception, that a task is set by God” (39).
  • The idea was “unquestionably new: the valuation of the fulfilment of duty in worldly affairs as the highest form which the moral activity of the individual could assume. This it was which inevitably gave every-day worldly activity a religious significance, and which first created the conception of a calling in this sense” (40).
  • “The effect of the Reformation as such was only that, as compared with the Catholic attitude, the moral emphasis on and the religious sanction of, organized worldly labour in a calling was mightily increased” (42).
  • “for Luther the concept of the calling remained traditionalistic. His calling is something which man has to accept as a divine ordinance, to which he must adapt himself. This aspect outweighed the other idea which was also present, that work in the calling was a, or rather the, task set by God […]
    • “Thus, for the time being, the only ethical result was negative; worldly duties were no longer subordinated to ascetic ones; obedience to authority and the acceptance of things as they were, were preached” (44-45).
  • “Although the Reformation is unthinkable withoutLuther’s own personal religious development, and was spiritually long influenced by his personality, without Calvinism his work could not have had permanent concrete success” (46).
    • “We thus take as our starting-point in the investigation of the relationship between the old Protestant ethic and the spirit of capitalism the works of Calvin, of Calvinism, and the other Puritan sects” (47-48).

Part 2

The Religious Foundations of Worldly Asceticism

  • Four principle forms of ascetic Protestantism:
    1. Calvinism
    2. Pietism
    3. Methodism
    4. Baptist sects
  • Calvinism
    • most characteristic dogma is predestination, that “only a small proportion of men are chosen for eternal grace […]
      • “To apply earthly standards of justice to His sovereign decrees is meaningless and an insult to His Majesty […]
      • “Everything else, including the meaning of our individual destiny, is hidden in dark mystery which it would be both impossible to pierce and presumptuous to question. [para]
      • “For the damned to complain of their lot would be much the same as for animals to bemoan the fact they were not born as men” (60).
    • So “We know only that a part of humanity is saved, the rest damned. To assume that human merit or guilt play a part in determining this destiny would be to think of God’s absolutely free decrees, which have been settled from eternity, as subject to change by human influence, an impossible contradiction […]
      • “In its extreme inhumanity this doctrine must above all have had one consequence for the life of a generation which surrendered to its magnificent consistency. That was a feeling of unprecedented inner loneliness of the single individual. In what was for the man of the age of the Reformation the most important thing in life, his eternal salvation, he was forced to follow his path alone to meet a destiny which had been decreed for him from eternity. No one could help him” (60-61).
    • “For us the decisive problem is: How was this doctrine borne in an age to which the after-life was not only more important, but in many ways also more certain, than all the interests of life in this world? The question, Am I one of the elect? must sooner or later have arisen for every believer and have forced all other interests into the background” (65).
    • “two principal, mutually connected, types of pastoral advice appear.
      1. On the one hand it is held to be an absolute duty to consider oneself chosen, and to combat all doubts as temptations of the devil, since lack of self-confidence is the result of insufficient faith, hence of imperfect”
      2. On the other hand, in order to attain that self-confidence intense worldly activity is recommended as the most suitable means. It and it alone disperses religious doubts and gives the certainty of grace” 66-67).
    •  “Only one of the elect really has the fides efficax, only he is able by virtue of his rebirth (regeneratio) and the resulting sanctification (sanctificatio) of his whole life, to augment the glory of God by real, and not merely apparent, good works […]
      • “Thus, however useless good works might be as a means of attaining salvation … they are the technical means, not of purchasing salvation, but of getting rid of the fear of damnation” (69)
    • “the significance of the Reformation in the fact that now every Christian had to be a monk all his life. The drain of asceticism from everyday worldly life had been stopped by a dam, and those passionately spiritual natures which had formerly supplied the highest type of monk were now forced to pursue their ascetic ideals within mundane occupations. [para]
    • “But in the course of its development Calvinism added some-thing positive to this, the idea of the necessity of proving one’s faith in worldly activity. Therein it gave the broader groups of religiously inclined people a positive incentive to asceticism” (74).
  • Pietism
    • “in so far as the rational and ascetic element of Pietism outweighed the emotional, the ideas essential to our thesis maintained their place. These were: (1) that the methodical development of one’s own state of grace to a higher and higher degree of certainty and perfection in terms of the law was a sign of grace; and (2) that “God’s Providence works through those in such a state of perfection”, i.e. in that He gives them His signs if they wait patiently and deliberate methodically” (84).
    • Even so, “when we consider German Pietism from the point of view important for us, we must admit a vacillation and uncertainty in the religious basis of its asceticism which makes it definitely weaker than the iron consistency of Calvinism” (87).
  • Methodism
    • unlike Calvinism, which held everything emotional to be illusory, the only sure basis for the certitudo salutis was in principle held to be a pure feeling of absolute certainty of forgiveness, derived immediately from the testimony of the spirit” (89-90).
    • “the Methodist ethic appears to rest on a foundation of uncertainty similar to Pietism. But the aspiration to the higher life, the second blessedness, served it as a sort of makeshift for the doctrine of predestination (91).
      • “The emotional act of conversion was methodically induced … [and] the emotion, once awakened, was directed into a rational struggle for perfection” (92).
  • The Baptist Sects
    • “since predestination was rejected, the peculiarly rational character of Baptist morality rested psychologically above all on the idea of expectant waiting for the Spirit to descend […]
    • “The purpose of this silent waiting is to overcome everything impulsive and irrational, the passions and subjective interests of the natural man. He must be stilled in order to create that deep repose of the soul in which alone the word of God can be heard.” (96).
  • “It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • the decisive point was, to recapitulate, the conception of the state of religious grace, common to all the denominations, as a status which marks off its possessor from the degradation of the flesh, from the world. It is our next task to follow out the results of the Puritan idea of the calling in the business world, now that the above sketch has attempted to show its religious foundations […]
    • “The religious life of the saints, as distinguished from the natural life, was—the most important point—no longer lived outside the world in monastic communities, but within the world and its institutions. This rationalization of conduct within this world, but for the sake of the world beyond, was the con- sequence of the concept of calling of ascetic Protestantism” (100).
      • “it strode into the market-place of life, slammed the door of the monastery behind it, and undertook to penetrate just that daily routine of life with its methodicalness, to fashion it into a life in the world, but neither of nor for this world” (101).

Asceticism and the Spirit of Capitalism

  • “In order to understand the connection between the fundamental religious ideas of ascetic Protestantism and its maxims for everyday economic conduct, it is necessary to examine with especial care such writings as have evidently been derived from ministerial practice” (102).
    • “Richard Baxter stands out above many other writers on Puritan ethics, both because of his eminently practical and realistic attitude, and, at the same time, because of the universal recognition accorded to his works” (103).
    • “Waste of time is …  the first and in principle the deadliest of sins. The span of human life is infinitely short and precious tomake sure of one’s own election. Loss of time through sociability, idle talk, luxury, even more sleep than is necessary for health, six to at most eight hours, is worthy of absolute moral condemnation” (104).
    • “Accordingly, Baxter’s principal work is dominated by the continually repeated, often almost passionate preaching of hard, continuous bodily or mental labour” (105).
    • “If God show you a way in which you may lawfully get more than in another way (without wrong to your soul or to any other), if you refuse this, and choose the less gainful way, you cross one of the ends of your calling, and you refuse to be God’s steward, and to accept His gifts and use them for Him when He requireth it: you may labour to be rich for God, though not for the flesh and sin. [para]
    • “Wealth is thus bad ethically only in so far as it is a temptation to idleness and sinful enjoyment of life, and its acquisition is bad only when it is with the purpose of later living merrily and without care. But as a performance of duty in a calling it is not only morally permissible, but actually enjoined” (108).
  • “Let us now try to clarify the points in which the Puritan idea of the calling and the premium it placed upon ascetic conduct was bound directly to influence the development of a capitalistic way of life. As we have seen, this asceticism turned with all its force against one thing: the spontaneous enjoyment of life and all it had to offer” (111).
    • “When the limitation of consumption is combined with this release of acquisitive activity, the inevitable practical result is obvious: accumulation of capital through ascetic compulsion to save” (116).
    • “As far as the influence of the Puritan outlook extended, under all circumstances ..   it favoured the development of a rational bourgeois economic life; … It stood at the cradle of the modern economic man” (117).
    • “the intensity of the search for the Kingdom of God commenced gradually to pass over into sober economic virtue; the religious roots died out slowly, giving way to utilitarian worldliness” (119).
  • “The Puritan wanted to work in a calling; we are forced to do so […]
    • This order is now bound to the technical and economic conditions of machine production which to-day determine the lives of all the individuals who are born into this mechanism, not only those directly concerned with economic acquisition, with irresistible force […]
    •  “In Baxter’s view the care for external goods should only lie on the shoulders of the “saint like a light cloak, which can be thrown aside at any moment.” But fate decreed that the cloak should become an iron cage” (123).
  • “To-day the spirit of religious asceticism—whether finally, who knows?—has escaped from the cage. But victorious capitalism, since it rests on mechanical foundations, needs its support no longer […]
    • “No one knows who will live in this cage in the future, or whether at the end of this tremendous development entirely new prophets will arise, or there will be a great rebirth of old ideas and ideals, or, if neither, mechanized petrification, embellished with a sort of convulsive self-importance. For of the last stage of this cultural development, it might well be truly said: “Specialists without spirit, sensualists without heart; this nullity imagines that it has attained a level of civilization never before achieved” (124).

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Luhrmann—Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft

Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1991. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]

Points

  • based on 4 years of participant observation among magicians (Wiccan, Pagan, various occult groups) in London in the 1980s
  • “This study looks at ordinary middle-class English people who become immersed in a netherworld of magic and ritual, and asks a classic anthropological question: why do they practise magic when, according to observers, the magic doesn’t work?” (4).
  • “Magicians are ordinary, well-educated, usually middle-class people. They are not psychotically deluded, and they are not driven to practise by socio­economic desperation. By some process, when they get involved with magic—whatever the reasons that sparked their interest—they learn to find it eminently sensible. They learn to accept its core concept: that mind affects matter, and that in special circumstances, like ritual, the trained imagination can alter thephysical world” (7).
  • “The real issue is not that magicians become comfortable practising an irrational activity, but that when someone becomes a specialist, he finds his practice progressively more persuasive through the very process of interpreting and making sense of his involvement; this changing understanding may become progressively more opaque to outsiders” (7-8).
  • Magical ideas begin to seem normal in the process of becoming a magician: in this way, the involvement is more similar to becoming a certain sort of specialist than to producing a new theory” (312).
  • “How can a magician take his ideas seriously? Part of the answer is that the very process of learning to be a magician elicits systematic changes in the way that the magician interprets events. Interpretation depends upon a complex set of assumptions, biases, conceptual frames, knowledge, heuristics and attributive tendencies—intellectual habits in paying attention, in organizing what one notices, and in remembering it” (115).
  • “There seem to be three outstanding changes in intellectual habits.
    1. The magician learns what events count as evidence that the ritual has worked, and begins to find new patterns in sets of events, to see connections where previously he has only seen coincidence.
    2. Then, he acquires the knowledge shared by fellow practitioners—their common knowledge—which gives a depth and complexity to his practice, and allows him to discriminate between events in new ways, armed with these new categories and distinctions.
    3. Finally, he begins to use a battery of new assumptions—some of them explicitly formulated, others implicit in the conversation—which alter the types of remarks he takes for granted and does not question. The cumulative effect is as if the magician acquires new spectacles.” (115 numeric points added).
  • “I would argue that the rift between magician and non-practitioner is carved out by the very process of becoming a specialist in a particular kind of activity. Becoming a specialist often makes an activity seem sensible. The specialist learns a new way of paying attention to, making sense of and commenting upon her world” (115-16).
  • Becoming this type of specialist is important, “But as, if not more, important are the unsystematic experiences which, although they may have little to do with intellectual analysis, make the magician want to justify the practice, and which motivate him in the end to rationalize his commitment. These are the experiences which create bias” (176).
  • “Certain aspects of magical practice turn it into an engagement which many practitioners find compelling. They find the rituals deeply moving, the pre-ritual ‘homework’ engrossing, they dream with the images of magic’s potent symbols” (177).
  • There are four “distinctive categories of experiential response” to ritual magic practice. (All pg. 179).
    1. meditation and visualization—”the two techniques which magicians always learn upon becoming involved in practice. These are remarkable techniques: they change the practitioner’s phenomenological experience in relatively well-understood ways, and magicians are notably affected by their use.”
    2. magician’s language—”the linguistic style with which magicians describe their rituals and meditations. This style evokes a significant imaginative involvement with the ritual’s narrative and gives the magician concrete experience of the abstract terms of magical theory, like ‘contact’ or ‘power’. At the same time, the magician is told that no understanding of magical theory is complete or accurate: she can have confidence that the term refers to something, but she need not state unequivocally what it is.”
    3. ritual—There are three specific strategies a magician goes through to plan a ritual
      1. He is concerned to create a separate space and time,
      2. to exploit mind-altering techniques like chanting,
      3. and to alter the personality of the ritualist.
        • All these techniques take their central task to be setting ritual apart as something different, to be experienced almost as if it involved a different reality superimposed on the everyday.
    4. symbolism—”The use of symbolism is the most important element of the magician’s magical engagement. Symbolism plays many roles, and evokes many responses, and probably bears most responsibility for magic’s excitement. Magicians invent a mythopoeic history, talk about intimate feelings in symbolic terms, therapeutically reorganize their lives with symbolic ‘archetypes’. They also create a secrecy-shrouded mystery religion and talk of the ‘esoteric knowledge’ which their rites provide.”
  • “Throughout all this, the implication should be clear: magic is far more than a theory, and the pleasures of these other aspects—difficult to verbalize, difficult to forget—wed the magician more strongly than any intellectual analysis to a commitment to the validity of his practice” (179).
  • So… “Systematic changes in the style of intellectual interpretation make the ideas seem more believable; the satisfactions of involvement make the desire to justify the involvement even greater. Nevertheless, despite magic’s growing appeal, at some point in their practice – for some, throughout their practice – magicians confront scepticism, other people’s or their own” (270).
  • “magicians do not produce an elaborate philosophy which would describe all their beliefs, actions and desires as consistent, and substantively rational—oriented towards a genuinely desirable goal in the most effective manner possible. Instead, they justify the inconsistency with a range of arguments and make efforts to separate magic off and make efforts to separate magic off from the mundane by ritual and metaphor. Through practice, theory and styles of arguments, magicians insulate their magic from hostile criticism, real or imagined, and they acquire reasons to explain this separation … People rationalize rather than acting rationally, and strive for local consistency with a patchwork job of post hoc rationalization” (273).
  • “people tend to conceptualize themselves as unitary selves, coherent and all-of-a-piece. In order to understand their actions as part of that self, directed towards an end suitable to that self, they talk about ‘beliefs’ and ‘attitudes’ and ‘desires’, proposition-like assertions which explain why someone performs an action. If you see an aborigine eating grubs, you assume that he believes that the grub is nourishing, delicious, or imbued with sacral power” (307).
  • “In order to function effectively, humans—these interpreters of culture—must act as if humans do not act randomly, but in a way they can learn to anticipate and to which they can learn to respond. This involves attributing to them a set of proposition-like assertions about the state of the world – he is carrying an umbrella, he must believe that it will rain this afternoon – which they maintain over time” (307).

“the ethnography presented on modern magic and the persuasiveness which the practice obtains elicits three observations about belief. Let me summarize” (309).

  1. “First, it is optimistic to think that people have an ordered set of beliefs abouta particular endeavour which forms a consistent set with other beliefs which together describe the totality of thought and action. People are much fuzzier, and more complex, than that. The ethnographer can legitimately identify something like a belief when someone argues for a proposition, at least during the period when they are doing the arguing. But magicians argue in different ways at different times; some of them claim to believe one thing when practising magic, and another thing when not practising magic; others seem to be firmly committed to their practice, and produce arguments about relativism which do not seem entirely plausible in the face of their behaviour. “
  2. “Second, it is hubris—and bad ethnography—to assume that people act first and foremost because they are motivated by belief. The material on modern magic suggests particularly dearly that people often argue for a belief as a means to legitimize, and even to understand—to rationalize—the practice in which they have been involved … If someone goes to church as a regular part of his life, he is likely to argue for a belief in God. If he feels deeply spiritual when praying to God, he is more likely to be persuaded that God exists, for the religious framework provides a way to interpret that unusual feeling.”
  3. Third, magicians have beliefs; it is not true that becoming a magician simply involves learning to speak a new ‘language’ … That is more than a bow towards relativism: the assertion claims that apparently strange beliefs say nothing startling, but simply express conventional beliefs in new and surprisingways. Or, the assertion can be that in becoming a shaman, a Scientologist, a believer in something, someone is simply acquiring new terms to describe new experiences” (309).

interpretive driftslow, often unacknowledged shift in someone’s manner of interpreting events as they become involved with a particular activity. As the newcomer begins to practice, he becomes progressively more skilled at seeing new patterns in events, seeing new sorts of events as significant, paying attention to new patterns … there seems to be a slow, mutual evolution of interpretation and experience, rationalized in a manner which allows the practitioner to practise. The striking feature, I found, was how ad hoc, how seemingly unmotivated, this transformation became. Magicians did not deliberately change the way they thought about the world”

cognitive dissonanceIn the fifties, Leon Festinger (and others) developed a sociological theory of ‘cognitive dissonance’ to understand intellectual discomfort. Its most famous application concerned an American flying saucer cult which predicted that the world would end on 21 December. On 22 December—after the prophetic failure—the adherents began to proselytize, for the first time, claiming that the world had been miraculously redeemed. Festinger interpreted this as an attempt to reconcile their considerable commitment to their belief with the embarrassing evidence of its falsity by creating social support for a somewhat transformed version of it” (271).

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Lukes—Some Problems about Rationality

Some Problems about Rationality

by Steven Lukes

[Lukes, Steven. 1967. “Some Problems about Rationality.” European Journal of Sociology / Archives Européennes de Sociologie / Europäisches Archiv Für Soziologie 8 (2): 247–64.]

Points

Intro

  • A discussion of the question: “when I come across a set of beliefs which appear prima facie irrational, what should be my attitude towards them?
    • Should I adopt a critical attitude, taking it as a fact about the beliefs that they are irrational, and seek to explain how they came to be held, how they manage to survive unprofaned by rational criticism, what their consequences are, etc?
    • Or should I treat such beliefs charitably: should I begin from the assumption that what appears to me to be irrational may be inter­ preted as rational when fully understood in its context?
    • More briefly, the problem comes down to whether or not there are alternative standards of rationality” (247, bullet points added).
  • To answer the question, Lukes;
    1. distinguishes the different reasons something can be called irrational—”There are, for example, important differences and asymmetries between falsehood, inconsistency and nonsense” (247).
    2. separates out different criteria of rationality that have become confused by theorists
    3. attempts to determine which of these criteria are context-dependent and which are universal

Section I

  • compares five different answers to the initial question (of how to deal with the seemingly irrational).
    1. when involved in primitive religion and magic, there is no problem, because these beliefs can be seen as purely symbolic.
      • “Thus the first answer to our problem amounts to the refusal to answer it, on the grounds that it is nonsensical (Leach), or irrelevant (Firth), or misdirected (Beattie)” (250).
    2. the rationality of the belief is completely incomprehensible to modern thought. Understanding it would mean “tracing our steps, for many centuries, back into the dim past, far back to the time when we also possessed the mind of primitive man. And the gates have long closed on that hidden road” (Eldon Best qtd, 250).
    3. Primitive belief systems are an attempt at explaining phenomena, which in itself is a totally rational act that requires rational thought processes.
      • This is how Tylor, Frazer, and Evans-Pritchard see things
        • Evans-Pritchard breaks it down: “They considered that primitive man had reached his conclusions about the efficacy of magic from rational observation and deduction in much the same way as men ofscience reach their conclusions about natural laws. Underlying all magical ritual is a rational process of thought. The ritual of magic follows from its ideology. It is true that the deductions of a magician are false-had they been true they would have been scientific and not magical-but they are nevertheless based on genuine observation. For classification of phenomena by the similarities which exist between them is theprocedure of science as well as of magic and is the first essential process of human knowledge. Where the magician goes wrong is in inferring that because things arealike in one or more respects they have a mystical link between them whereas in fact the link is not a real link but an ideal connexion in the mind of the magician. [ … ] A causal relationship exists in his mind but not in nature. It is a subjective and not anobjective connexion. Hence the savage mistakes an ideal analogy for a real connexion” (251).
        • Durkheim also breaks it down: tis through [primitive religion] that a first explanation of the world has been made possible. [ … ] When I learn that A regularly precedes B, my knowledge is enriched by a new item, but my understanding is not at all satisfied with a statement which does not appear rationally justified. I commence to understand only when it is possible for me to conceive B in a perspective that makes it appear to me as something that is not foreign to A, as united to A by some intelligible relationship. The great service that the religions have rendered to thought is that they have constructed a first representation of what these intelligible relationships between things might be. In the circumstances under which it was attempted, the enterprise could obviously attain only precarious results. But then, does it ever attain any that are definitive, and is it not necessary ceaselessly to reconsider them ? And also, it is less important to succeed than to try. [ … ] The explanations of contemporary science are surer of being objective because they are more methodical and because they rest on more rigorously controlled observations, but they do not differ in nature from those which satisfy primitive thought” (253).
    4. Emphasize how magical and scientific thinking are fundamentally different,
      • magic is prelogical, meaning “not constrained above all else, as ours is, to avoid contradictions. The same logical exigencies are not in its case always present. What to our eyes is impossible or absurd, it sometimes will admit without seeing any difficulty” (254, quoting Lévi-Bruhl).
    5. The seemingly irrational in primitive societies should simply be seen as rational to those societies
      • “According to Winch’s view, when an observer is faced with seemingly irrational beliefs in a primitive society, he should seek contextually given criteria according to which they may appear rational” (255).
      • to Evans-Pritchard, in Witchcraft and Oracle Among the Azande, “It is an inevitable conclusion from Zande descriptions of witchcraft that it is not an objective reality. The physiological condition which is said to be the seat of witch­ craft, and which I believe to be nothing more than food passing through the small intestine, is an objective condition, but the qualities they attribute to it and the rest of their beliefs about it are mystical. Witches, as Azande conceive them, cannot exist” (256).
        • Winch has a problem with this because it relies on “objective reality”

Section II

  • “Beliefs, or sets of beliefs, are said to be irrational if they are inadequate in certain ways:
    1.  if they are illogical, e.g. inconsistent or (self-) contradictory, consisting of or relying on invalid inferences, etc.;
    2. if they are, partially or wholly, false;
    3. if they are nonsensical (though it may be questioned whether they would then qualify as propositions and thus as beliefs);
    4. if they are situationally specific or ad hoc, i.e. : not uni­versalised because bound to particular occasions;
    5. if the ways in which they come to be held or the manner in which they are held are seen as deficient in some respect” (259, bullet points added).

Section III

  • (Lukes asserts) some a criteria of rationality are universal, “i.e. relevantly applicable to all beliefs, in any context, while others are context-dependent, i.e. are to be discovered by inves­ tigating the context and are only relevantly applicable to beliefs in that context” (260).
    • for instance if a society “has a language, it must, minimally, possess criteria of truth (as correspondence to reality) and logic, which we share with it and which simply are criteria of rationality” (262).
  • He explicitly argues (against Winch): “that beliefs are not only to be evaluated by the criteria that are to be discovered in the context in which they are held; they must also be evaluated by criteria of rationality that simply are criteria of rationality, as opposed to criteria of rationality in context [c]” (260).
  • Lukes the goes into a incredibly convoluted process through which he vindicates earlier assertions referring to them as rational (1) [universal] and rational (2) [context-dependent] and confusing everyone.
  • In the end, he finds that:
  • “One may conclude that all beliefs are to be evaluated by both rational (1) and rational (2) criteria. Sometimes, as in the case of religious beliefs, rational (1) truth criteria will not take the analysis very far. Often rational (1) criteria of logic do not reveal anything positive about relations between beliefs that are to be explicated in terms of “provides a reason for”. Sometimes rational (1) criteria appear less important than “what the situation demands”. In all these cases, rational (2) criteria are illuminating. But they do not make rational (1) criteria dispensable” (264).
  • So: “If both sorts of criteria are required for the understanding of beliefs (for they enable us to grasp their truth-conditions and their inter-relations), they are equally necessary to the explanation of why they are held, how they operate and what their social consequences are. Thus only by the application of rational (1) criteria is it possible to see how beliefs which fail to satisfy them can come to be rationally criticised, or fail to be. On the other hand, it is usually only by the application of rational (2) criteria that the point and significance that beliefs have for those that hold them can be grasped. Rational (1) and rational (2) criteria are necessary both to understand and to explain” (264).

Continue reading Lukes—Some Problems about Rationality

Luhrmann—When God Talks Back

When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God

by Tanya Luhrmann

[Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage Books.]

Points

  • Based on over four years of participant observation at Evangelical “Vineyard Christian Fellowship” in Chicago and Northern California.
  • trying to find an answer to the “deep puzzle of faith … how sensible, reasonable people, living in more or less the same evidential world as the skeptic, are able to experience themselves as having good evidence for the presence of a powerful invisible being who has demonstrable effect on their lives and are able to sustain a belief in that presence despite their inevitable doubts” (xvi).
  • Answer – “In effect, people train the mind in such a way that they experience part of their mind as the presence of God. They learn to reinterpret the familiar experiences of their own minds and bodies as not being their own at all—but God’s” (xxi).
  • Vineyard members learn a new theory of mind (participatory) which “asks congregants to experience the mind-world barrier as porous, in a specific, limited way” (40).
    • specifically meaning that you can hear things in your mind that did not originate there, but limited to God speaking to you
    • The 1960s were a ‘great awakening,’ significantly among the hippie movement in California, which espoused a new, friendly, personal type of Christianity that became evangelism throughout the next decades—which leads to churches like Vineyard
  • Vineyards basic view on the God-relationship: “God wants to be your friend; you develop that relationship through prayer; prayer is hard work and requires effort and training; and when you develop that relationship, God will answer back, through thoughts and mental images he places in your mind, and through sensations he causes in your body” (41).

Vineyard members engaged in many practices that trained their minds to work this way

  • Figuring out whether or not it is really God is a practice called discernment, based on four tests:
    1. Is it not something you normally would have said?
    2. Is it the type of thing you think God might say or imply?
    3. Is the message confirmed through others’ experiences or larger circumstances?
    4. Is it followed by a period of peace?
  • Another way Vineyard members practice hearing God—pretend you’re hanging out with him
    • set an extra place at the table, pour him a cup of coffee, or even have a complete ‘date night’
    • with practice, this behavior enacts a type of play that children have with imaginary friends—completely given over to the reality of the pretend, like in Huizinga’s magic circle
  • Another type of training is “opening your heart” through emotional practices
    1. “crying in the presence of God”—be openly emotional when giving or receiving prayer
    2. “Seeing from God’s perspective”—look at situations past your own limited view
    3. “practicing love, peace, and joy”—practice it consciously
    4. “God the therapist”—tell him your problems
    5. “reworking God the father”—sometimes dads are scary and demanding; God is not
    6. “emotional cascades”—sudden moments of epiphany, when you physically feel God’s love
  • “It is a profoundly social process. It is the evangelical church that teaches discernment, encourages the playI and models the six emotional practices. It is no small matter to become confident that the God you imagine in the privacy of your mind exists externally in the world, talking back. In the struggle to give the invisible being its external presence, the congregation surrounds the individual and helps to hold the being out apart from the self, separate and external. It is the church that confirms that the invisible being is really present, and it is that church that reminds people week after week that the external invisible being loves them, despite all the evidence of the dreary human world. And slowly, the church begins to shape the most private reaches of the way congregants feel and know” (131).
  • Vineyard gives classes in prayer and regards some practiced members as “expert prayers”
    • These practices are important even to non-believers because “we cannot understand how God becomes real to someone until we understand that a person’s experience of God emerges out of the vortex not only of what they are taught intellectually about God but also of what they do practically to experience God—above all, the way they pray, and what the bring to their prayer experience as unique individuals” (156).
  • Vineyard members practice St. Ignatius’s “Spiritual Exercises”— training the imagination to picture the imaginer as a part of the life of Jesus

So how does this work?

  • Luhrmann says that the congregants who have the more intense experiences and the most verbal relationship with God have high rates of the absorption personality trait.
    • when you get absorbed in something, it seems more real to you, and you and your world seem different than before. That is why it is related to hypnotizability. Both rely upon your ability to throw yourself into something and then to involve yourself intensely in the experience” (199).
  • This gave her a hypothesis: “that when people believe that God will speak to them through their senses, when they have a propensity for absorption, and when they are trained in absorption by the practice of prayer, these people will report what prayer experts report: internal sensory experiences with sharper mental imagery and more sensory overrides (sensory experience in the absence of sensory stimuli). Note the combination: an interest in interpreting a supernatural presence (the participatory theory of mind, taught by the social world of the church); a willingness to get caught up in one’s imagination (an individual difference); and actual practice ( they do something again and again, which has consequences)” (202).
    • So she tested it in Northern California by having subjects listen to training tapes for 30 minutes every day for a month.
    • She found that the subjects “entered the project with a broad, generic desire to hear God speak or perhaps just to get their prayer life moving again; they spent thirty minutes a day imaginatively immersed in the scriptures; and then they had unplanned idiosyncratic experiences that they saw with their eyes and heard with their ears” (216).

evangelical—based in three beliefs: literal truth of the Bible, one can be saved through a personal relationship with Jesus (being “born again”), and one should spread the gospel

absorption—the mental capacity common to trance, hypnosis, dissociation, and to most imaginative experiences in which the individual becomes caught up in ideas or images or fascinations. That is not to say that absorption is equivalent to hypnosis or dissociation or trance: manifestly it is not. But absorption seems to be the basic, necessary skill, the shared capacity of mind that allows what we choose to attend lo become more salient than the everyday context in which we arc embedded. It is the ability to use a book to take your mind off your troubles. That cuts both ways, of course. Some people use novels to keep the world at bay long enough to recover and regain the strength to return. Others use novels-or soap operas, or reality television-to escape and ignore the troubled marriage or the needy child. In both cases, individuals use their mind to change their relation to the reality they perceive … That is why absorption is central to spirituality. The capacity to treat what the mind imagines as more real than the world one knows is the capacity at the heart of experience of God” (201).

Scott—The Making of Blind Men

The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization

by Robert A. Scott

[Scott, Robert A. 1969. The Making of Blind Men: A Study of Adult Socialization. Russell Sage Foundation.]

Points

  • In one line: “blindness” is a learned social role, inculcated by both blindness agencies and larger society
  • The book comes out of a project Scott began within the blindness car industries that sought to
    1. obtain a systematic view of the blindness problem in America, and to determine—
    2. which aspects were being dealt with and which were not,
    3. how effective the organized system was,
    4. the consequences for blind people who join blindness agencies, and
    5. the potential application of social science theory to this field
  • He interviewed about a hundred blind people, almost a hundred workers in the blindness field, and visited many programs and agencies for the blind.
  • Big take away from the project: “Two facts of paramount sociological importance emerged from these experiences. The first is that many of the attitudes, behavior pat­terns, and qualities of character that have long been assumed to be given to blind people by their condition are, in fact, the result of ordinary processes of socialization. The second is that organized intervention programs for the blind play a major role in determin­ing the nature of this socialization” (3).

Before the book, there were three explanations of behavior patterns and attitudes of the blind:

  1. commonsense explanation
    • mostly folkloric, blind people have a fundamentally different internal experience and world than sighted people, melancholic and spiritual.
    • But this would mean all blind people act the same way, which is not true
  2. psychological explanation
    • blind people are not all the same, but they are all dealing with the same type of initial shock. The way they deal with it is diverse, but predictable.
    • But many people deny their technical blindness, so there is no initial shock. Also, if the person does not act n the predicted way, the fault then lies in the blind person, which ruins any empirical value of the explanation
  3. Stereotype explanation
    • misconceptions by laypeople affect and contribute to blind people’s behaviors:
      • “When, for example, sighted people continually insist that a blind man is helpless because he is blind, their subsequent treatment of him may preclude his ever exercising the kinds of skills that would enable him to be independent. It is in this sense that stereotypic beliefs are self-actualized (9).
    • But this theory puts too much emphasis on belief, rather than lived reality.

The major thesis of the book is that

  • blindness is a learned social role. People whose vision fails will learn in two contexts the attitudes and behavior patterns that the blind are supposed to have, in their personal relationships with those with normal vision and in the organizations that exist to serve and to help blind people” (117).

It is important to note that in the

  • “total network of agencies, organizations and programs for the blind. caters to about one-quarter of all people who are, according to ad­ministrative regulations, blind … These are the blind children who can be educated and the blind adults who can be employed. The system largely screens out the elderly, the unemployable. the uneducable. and the multiply-handicapped—in other words, the vast bulk of the blindness population” (119).

They all come out as “blind” in the way the agency defines it—

  • “They have learned the attitudes and behavior pat­terns that professional blindness workers believe blind people should have … He is told that he is “insightful” when he comes to describe his problems and his personality as his rehabil­itators view them, and he is said to be “blocking” or “resisting” when he does not. Indeed, passage through the blindness system is determined in part by his willingness to adopt the experts’ views about self” (119).

blindness workers’ approaches: (119)

  • restorative approach
    • “assumes that blind people can lead independent and fulfilled lives in the outside world, but only if they first recognize and accept as final the fact that they are blind”
  • accommodative approach
    • regards these ob­jectives as noble but unrealistic for most blind people. It holds that a more realistic objective is to provide environments to which blind people can accommodate with a minimum of effort”

These techniques lead to people who truly internalize their social role as “blind”:

  • “The picture that emerges from my analysis is of a group of people who initially share in common only the fact that they have problems of vision and eventually come to feel and behave in patterned, predictable ways” (120-121).
  • “People who initially think of themselves as sighted people who have trouble seeing come to think of themselves as blind people who have residual vision. Blindness becomes the primary factor around which they organize their lives and in terms of which they relate to other people” (121).

Want more?—Of those 3/4 of the blind who don’t go through the programs, many of them don’t exhibit the “blind” behaviors the agencies expect:

  • “The overpowering importance of the blindness system in the socialization of the blind who are in it is demonstrated by looking at the blind who live outside it. These people, particularly blinded veterans and the independent blind. fail to display the attitudinal and behavioral patterns that so many insist they should have because they are blind. This demonstrates not only the importance of blindness organizations as agents of the socialization of the blind; it also demonstrates that blind men indeed are made” (120).

So, the last word on the blindness-creation complex:

  • “My analysis suggests that such organizations create for blind people the experiences of being blind. Such organizations are not, as some have suggested, merely helpers of the blind that facilitate or change processes already occurring; rather, they are active socializing agents that create and mold the fundamental attitudes and patterns of behavior that are at the core of the experi­ence of being a blind man” (121).

But all is not lost:

  • “Some may regard as deplorable the fact that blindness agencies have so great an impact upon the very nature of the phenomenon of blindness in our society. I do not, for it suggests that this system has the potential of becoming a powerful tool for positive social change” (121).

For a view of the book’s importance, here is an interesting book review from 1981

Continue reading Scott—The Making of Blind Men

Shapin & Schaffer—Leviathan and the Air-Pump

Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life

by Steven Shapin & Simon Schaffer

[Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. 1985. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.]

Points

  • To interrogate questions like “Why is it that we do experiments to determine “matters of fact?” S&S look to the controversy surrounding the first laboratory experiments=Robert Boyle’s air-pump experiment (and Hobbes’s critiques of them)
    • by approaching the topic like a “stranger”—even though we have come to see controlled experiments as creators of scientific fact, S&S ask what someone at the time would think of the controversy, avoiding presentism
  • Very basically:
    • Boyle wants to “see the house of natural philosophy in order by remedying its divisions and by with­drawing it from contentious links with civic philosophy” (21). In other words, our society is jacked-up, but we can make it so that science (natural philosophy) is not so jacked-up. How? Controlled laboratory experiments!
    • Hobbes disagreed, saying that “order was only to be ensured by erecting a demonstrative philosophy that allowed no boundaries between the natural, the human, and the social, and which allowed for no dissent within it” (21). In other words, what is true is true in all aspects and you can’t just carve one facet of that truth out.
    • In other other words: “Robert Boyle maintained that proper natural philosophical knowl­edge should be generated through experiment and that the foun­dations of such knowledge were to be constituted by experimentally produced matters of fact. Thomas Hobbes disagreed. In Hobbes’s view Boyle’s procedures could never yield the degree of certainty requisite in any enterprise worthy of being called philosophical” (22).

Air-Pump

  • Boyle (S&S argue) used three technologies in his experiments
    1. material technology—the air-pump itself and its use in experimentation
    2. literary technology—descriptions of the apparatus, the experiments, and the laboratory space as well as the findings of the experiments published and disseminated to the public at large
    3. social technology—the idea of “witnessing” (see below).

witnessing – three ways to multiply it

  1. make it public—use a laboratory
    • “The space where these machines worked—the nascent laboratory—was to be a public space, but a restricted public space, as critics like Hobbes were soon to point out. The phenomena were not on show anywhere at all. The laboratory was, therefore, a disciplined space, where experimental, discursive, and social practices were collectively controlled by competent members” (39).
  2. make it replicable—so others can witness it by doing the same thing elsewhere
    • This was more of a theoretical aim than a realistic one. The cost pf air-pumps, their rarity, and their different designs made direct replication almost impossible.
    • Not to mention the fact that Boyles’s air-pump leaked—something that Hobbes talked about. A lot.
  3. “virtual witnessing”—write it down in detail, and readers will witness it in their imagination
    • This could possibly reach and infinite number of witnesses, but it depends completely on the reader trusting the account, which feeds back into Hobbes’s critique of the laboratory: the people involved had to be beyond reproach, so only members of exclusive social and professional circles (The Royal Society) could contribute. They got to actually witness, so countless others could virtually witness.
    • “first, the witnessing experience had to be made acces­sible; second, witnesses had to be reliable and their testimony had to be creditable. The first condition worked to open up experi­mental space, while the second acted to restrict entry” (336).

Conclusion—scientific “matters of fact” are actually political creations

  • “There are three senses in which we want to say that the history of science occupies the same terrain as the history of politics. First, scientific practitioners have created, selected, and maintained a polity within which they operate and make their intellectual prod­uct; second, the intellectual product made within that polity has become an element in political activity in the state; third, there is a conditional relationship between the nature of the polity occupied by scientific intellectuals and the nature of the wider polity” (332).
  • By the end S&S have shown “(1) that the solution to the problem of knowledge is political; it is predicated upon laying down rules and conventions of relations between men in the intellectual polity; (2) that the knowledge thus produced and authenticated becomes an element in political action in the wider polity; it is impossible that we should come to under­ stand the nature of political action in the state without referring to the products of the intellectual polity; (3) that the contest among alternative forms of life and their characteristic forms of intellectual product depends upon the political success of the various candi­dates in insinuating themselves into the activities of other institu­tions and other interest groups. He who has the most, and the most powerful, allies wins” (342).

Or more briefly said:

  • “As we come to recognize the conventional and artifactual status of our forms of knowing, we put ourselves in a position to realize that it is ourselves and not reality that is responsible for what we know. Knowledge, as much as the state, is the product of human actions” (344).
    • Even Boyle—who championed scientific experimentation and the ideals of natural fact divorced from all societal influence—could only prove his point through the use of social structures and media dissemination, erasing any pretense of nature’s ability to stand alone.
    • “Hobbes was right” (344).

Abstract

Leviathan and the Air-Pump examines the conflicts over the value and propriety of experimental methods between two major seventeenth-century thinkers: Thomas Hobbes, author of the political treatise Leviathan and vehement critic of systematic experimentation in natural philosophy, and Robert Boyle, mechanical philosopher and owner of the newly invented air-pump. The issues at stake in their disputes ranged from the physical integrity of the air-pump to the intellectual integrity of the knowledge it might yield. Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild. The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens—facts, interpretations, experiment, truth—were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer use the confrontation between Hobbes and Boyle as a way of understanding what was at stake in the early history of scientific experimentation. They describe the protagonists’ divergent views of natural knowledge, and situate the Hobbes-Boyle disputes within contemporary debates over the role of intellectuals in public life and the problems of social order and assent in Restoration England. In a new introduction, the authors describe how science and its social context were understood when this book was first published, and how the study of the history of science has changed since then.

Continue reading Shapin & Schaffer—Leviathan and the Air-Pump

Leach—Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse

Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse

by Edmund Leach

[Leach, Edmund. 2000. “Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse.” In The Essential Edmund Leach Volume 1: Anthropology and Society, 322–43. Yale University Press.]

Points

  1. As humans, we take the natural world (a continuum) and break it into pieces by naming things.
  2. We become trained to only see the named things, thus creating definitive separations between things.
  3. The areas between named things trouble these distinctions, so they become taboo.

Leach 1

Leach 2

  • One way we do this is through distance from oureselves (ego)
    • Self….Sister….Cousin….Neighbor….Stranger
    • Self….House….Farm……..Field………Far (remote)
    • Self….Pet……Livestock…Game……..Wild Animal
  • seen down the list metaphorically cousin=farm=livestock
    • people rated by sexual availability—animals by edibility
    • cousins can have sex, but cannot marry—only Livestock that have been rendered non-sexual can be eaten
    • Sisters=no sex: pets=no eating
    • Neighbors=sexually available: Game Animals=totally edible
    • Leach 5

Leach 3

  • Not just an English phenomenon (see below)

Leach 4

  • “The problem then is this. The English treat certain animals as taboo – sacred. This sacredness is manifested in various ways, partly behavioural, as when we are forbidden to eat flesh of the animal concerned, partly linguistic, as when a phonemic pattern penumbral to that of the animal category itself is found to be a focus of obscenity, profanity, etc. Can we get any insight into why certain creatures should be created this way?” (327).
  • “The thesis is that we make binary distinctions and then mediate the distinction by creating an ambiguous (and taboo-loaded) intermediate cat­egory” (334).
    • Leach 6

Ends with a shout-out/critique of Lévi-Strauss:

  • “Those who wish to take my argument seriously might well consider its rele­vance to C. Lévi-Strauss’s most remarkable book La Penée Sauvage (1962). Though fascinated by that work I have also felt that some dimension to the argu­ment is missing. We need to consider not merely that things in the world can be classified as sacred and not sacred, but also as more sacred and less sacred. So also in social classification it is not sufficient to have a discrimination me/it, we/they; we also need a graduated scale close/far, more-like-me/less-like-me. If this essay is found to have a permanent value it will be because it represents an expansion of Levi-Strauss’s thesis in the direction I have indicated” (342).
    • *drops the mic

Continue reading Leach—Animal Categories and Verbal Abuse