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Hobart, Mark (1992)
Publisher: Instituut voor Culturele en Sociale Antropologie
Languages: English
Types: Book
Subjects: 1550
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    • 3. This paper was delivered as a lecture shortly before Scholte's sudden and untimely death. As we were in substantial agreement over the significance of the issues at stake, I would like to think of this paper as a small tribute to him.
    • 4. Gellner tells a delightful and cautionary tale. Apparently, at a certain Oxford seminar, philosophers were engaged in furious argument about the effects of Azande cattle herding on their perceptions and rationality, while a post-graduate anthropologist was vainly trying to attract the attention of the chair. Eventually he was permitted to speak and pointed out that the Azande do not herd cattle at all. This seems to have taken the wind out of the discussion.
    • 5. The permutations are endless. As reason works through language and signs, Todorov for example has argued for continuity between adherents of a 'classical' theory of semiotics, charted from Aristotle to the Stoics, Thomas Aquinas and Augustine. He distinguishes a contrary view expounded most notably by the German Romantics and represented contemporarily by hermeneutics, which stresses the degree to which reason is culturally and historically situated and so inextricable from language (1977).
    • 6. However 'to define nature as the essence of natural things leaves the term 'natural things' undefined' (Collingwood 1945: 81.
    • 7. How pervasive this may be is shown by Inden in his analysis of Western constructions of India (1986).
    • 8. A quite different, and far more interesting, defence of logic has been made by Quine, who is also a stern critic of hidden assumptions about essences in Western philosophical thinking. Far from skirting questions of translation or attempting to justify reason a priori, as a pragmatist Quine argues that, for scientific purposes, the cost of relinquishing logic is very high. So, where there is uncertainty, it is preferable to cast doubt on the transparency of language and the ability of facts to determine theory than to let go of logic.
    • 9. The argument is fully developed in Inden's forthcoming monograph Imagining ancient India, where he also notes the tenacity of these ill-founded ideas down to the present generation of writers. Cannibalism, of ideas at least, is more in evidence in universities than it is in the jungles of foetid Western imaginations.
    • 10. The way that the charge of relativism is formulated by relativists against their detractors is so simplistic as to miss the mark entirely. Extreme relativism as they discuss it is a stance no anthropologist would seriously hold. We wish to encourage, in Hirst's words, "points of contact" between cultures, not discourage them, or the idea of them. Our business is, after all, "translation" (Overing 1985a: 3, citing Hirst 1985b).
    • 11. To say knowledge works dialectically does not mean that any evolutionary or teleological principle is implied. Such principles are, however, presupposed in much rationalist argument, see Scholte 1984: 964.
    • 12. Gellner's arguments about the dangers of assuming that 'meaningfulness is an essential attribute of social conduct' (1973a: 56) works equally well against naive forms of hermeneutics like Geertz's (1973).
    • 13. Winch makes the mistake of treating Collingwood, not as an empiricist, but as an idealist, a popular misapprehension to which Hirst gives the background in academic politics, 1985a: 43-56. Collingwood went to pains to stress that history is what people did, including how they used their ideas, not essences abstracted from action.
    • 14. The whole argument is still couched in a language that is far away of from action. People in a society may, on occasion, speak as idealists in some form, as pragmatists and so on. A fully empirical approach cannot ignore such kinds of social action.
    • 15. The exchange was originally published in Archives Européennes de Sociologie in the late 1960s and was reprinted in Rationality.
    • 16. An anecdote may help to give some characterization to this litany of arguments. When I once invited Martin Hollis to give a seminar paper (which was defended with typical acuity), he advised me, as an anthropologist, to use Quine's 'Two dogmas of empiricism' - which it happened is exactly what I was doing - to ward off rationalists like himself. For such reasons, I find Hollis a particular pleasure to argue with.
    • 17. cf. 'Apparent success in translation guarantees identity of the conceptual structure given to experience but not of the experience itself. Identity of content remains, however, a necessary condition of correct translation' (1970b: 230). (There are unacknowledged shades of Wittgenstein here: 'If a lion could talk, we could not understand him.'(1958: 223; misquoted by Bloch 1977: 283).
    • 18. But consider their residual disagreement over the relativity of reason: Hollis takes the straight rationalist path, adding that the relativist needs an external standpoint in order to declare objectively that one culture has one standard and another culture another. Lukes is partially seduced by the thought that the goodness - the strength and relevance - of reasons for belief can depend on culture and context (1982: 11).
    • 19. The problems of this view are neatly summarized by Goodman. Knowing is tacitly conceived as a processing of raw material into a finished product; and an understanding of knowledge is thus supposed to require that we discover just what the raw material is... (But) there is no such thing as the structure of the world for anything to conform or fail to conform to (Goodman 1972: 26, 31). Philosophers sometimes mistake features of discourse for features of the subject of discourse... Coherence is a characteristic of descriptions, not of the world: the significant question is not whether the world is coherent, but whether our account of it is (1972: 24). Even in science, it is not so easy to ignore the role of discourse. In short we are back with a vengeance to the view of the neutral observer - what Foucault castigated as 'the knowing subject' - accurately recording the world in a neutral medium of ideas. Experience of the world (or the world in itself) is conceived as the raw material, Mind the processing machine and concepts the finished product.
    • 20. 'Other cultures are, epistemologically, merely a case of other minds' (Hollis 1982: 83). While I agree with Hollis that a radical separation of other minds and other cultures is inappropriate (on the grounds that it presumes an exclusive classification and ignores intra-cultural diversity), I am worried by quite what is smuggled in under that least innocuous of labels 'epistemologically', see Salmond 1982, 1985.
    • 21. If there were propositions, they would induce a certain relation of synonymy or equivalence between sentences themselves: those sentences would be equivalent that expressed the same proposition. Now my objection is going to be that the appropriate equivalence relation makes no objective sense at the level of sentences (Quine 1970: 3).
    • 22. His position shares much with the views of other anthropologists of similar intellectual ilk, like Sperber 1975; Bloch 1977.
    • 23. But consider the degree to which he falls foul of the charge which his fellow empirical rationalist, Gellner, levelled earlier against Winch: Winch's attitude is aptly summarized by his slogan: "Logical relations between propositions depend on social relations between men". And I think we might summarize Strawson's attitude, without too much injustice, by putting into his mouth the opposing slogan; 'Social relations between men depend on logical relations between propositions"(1979: 198). Perhaps the reader will begin to concede that my comparison with farce is not entirely far-fetched.
    • 24. The kind of argument put forward by Gellner or Newton-Smith is, on my reading, quite different. To the extent that they are pointing out the successes of the vast Western academic and industrial machine, there are few non-rationalists who would disagree. Being predominantly geared to a naturalist or materialist view of the world however (Baudrillard 1973), such successes are often achieved by ignoring their human and social consequences. As Foucault's later work makes clear, the result has been a technology of powers leading inexorably towards a totalitarianism where the more subjects of the State are battered with the verbiage of 'freedom', 'choice' and so forth, the more it becomes a simulacrum (Baudrillard 1972, 1983).
    • 25. Again ironically, the absolutism is proposed by the clerks of an Imperial Formation that has long been moribund. The expression 'Imperial Formation' is taken from Inden's forthcoming work Imagining ancient India. His argument is that the great Imperial Formations of colonialism have been replaced by the axis between the United States and the Soviet Union. Concern with epistemologizing power seems often to come after it has waned.
    • 26. See for instance the discussion in Comparative anthropology edited by L. Holy, and in Semantic anthropology edited by D. Parkin. In many ways the discussion in Reason and morality is a continuation of the debate started in the latter.
    • 27. A subtler version of rationalism which does not dismiss figurative language out of hand is to be found in French structuralism. On close inspection however, Lévi-Strauss's method consists in reducing the play of tropes to 'structure', which is synonymous with the wiring of the human brain, and so is a naturalism by deferment. In the last resort, as he admits, Lévi-Strauss manages to combine this with being a Kantian without the transcendental. Dichotomy inevitably rears its head again. The richness of the myriad figures of speech has to be reduced to only two tropes, metaphor and metonymy, without which human ways of understanding the world would be too complicated for the binary operation of mind which the model requires.
    • 28. By an unwarranted synecdoche, all figurative language tends to be subsumed under 'metaphor' by philosophers, so conveniently homogenizing language and its uses once again.
    • 29. The inclusion by rationalists of the work of people like Sperber and Bloch is in fact part of a broader exclusion. The ploy of the 'token foreigner' gives the impression of a breadth and openness of discussion which obviously depends on the intellectual range and ability of the domesticated Others who are invited to participate. As, in this case, the guests show little sign of originality, the gesture is pretty empty.
    • 30. 'Before me nothing was created but eternal things and I endure eternally.' These are the seventh and eighth lines inscribed over the portals of hell in Canto III of Dante's Inferno. Not only are the lines peculiarly apt, but they are, of course, part of a famous inscription of equal relevance. Now if one cuts through the cloud of verbiage 'semi-propositional representations', 'material-object language', 'bridgeheads' etc., one discovers that
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