North American Philosophical Publications

North American Philosophical Publications
Understanding a Primitive Society
Author(s): Peter Winch
Source: American Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 1, No. 4 (Oct., 1964), pp. 307-324
Published by: University of Illinois Press on behalf of the North American Philosophical Publications
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Philosophical
American
Volume
Quarterly
4, October
1964
i, Number
III. UNDERSTANDING A PRIMITIVE SOCIETY
PETER WINCH
essay will pursue further some questions
adopt the following posture :We know that Zande
a
Science.1
beliefs
the efficacy of
The
Idea
Social
in the influence of witchcraft,
raised
in
my book,
of
THIS
is magic medicines,
the role of oracles in revealing
of what
book was a general discussion
That
of human social life. I what is going on and what is going to happen, are
involved in the understanding
of investiga?
shall here be concerned more
mistaken,
illusory. Scientific methods
specifically with
tion have shown conclusively
that there are no
certain issues connected with social anthropology.
In the first part I raise certain difficulties
relations of cause and effect such as are implied by
about
in his
these beliefs and practices. All we can do then is to
Professor E. E. Evans-Pritchard's
approach
beliefs and
Oracles and Magic
among the show how such a system of mistaken
classic, Witchcraft,
to refute
inefficacious practices can maintain
itself in the face
Azande.2 In the second part, I attempt
some criticisms
of objections that seem to us so obvious.3
recently made
by Mr. Alasdair
to
and
of
Now although Evans-Pritchard
Evans-Pritchard
goes a very great
Maclntyre
myself,
deal further than most of his predecessors
in trying
criticize in their turn Maclntyre's
positive remarks,
to present the sense of the institutions he is discussing
and to offer some further reflections of my own on
as it presents itself to the Azande
the concept of learning from the study of a primi?
themselves,
still,
the last paragraph
tive
does, I believe, pretty fairly
society.
describe the attitude he himself took at the time of
this book. There
ismore than one remark
writing
of Magic
I. The Reality
to the effect that "obviously
there are no witches";
Like many other primitive people,
the African
and he writes of the difficulty he found, during his
Azande
hold beliefs that we cannot possibly share
field work with
the Azande,
in shaking off the
on which
and engage
in practices which
it is peculiarly
life is based and
"unreason"
Zande
to a clear
difficult for us to comprehend.
are.
view
of how
returning
They believe that
really
things
are witches,
a
of their members
one but is
certain
is not an unsophisticated
This attitude
exercising
occult
influence on the lives of their
based on a philosophical
in
malignant
position ably developed
a series of papers published
fellows. They engage in rites to counteract witch?
in the 1930's in the
consult
oracles
and use magic
medicines
rather inaccessible Bulletin of theFaculty
craft;
they
unhappily
to protect
from
themselves
harm.
of Egypt. Arguing
of Arts of the University
against
a
An anthropologist
such
wishes
here rejects the idea
Evans-Pritchard
studying
people
L?vy-Bruhl,
to make
those beliefs and practices
to
that the scientific understanding
of causes and
intelligible
an
himself and his readers. This means presenting
effects which
leads us to reject magical
ideas is
account
of them that will
somehow
on our
of any
evidence
satisfy the
superior
intelligence
part.
criteria of rationality demanded
by the culture to Our scientific approach, he points out, is as much a
which he and his readers belong: a culture whose
function of our culture as is the magical
approach
of rationality
is deeply affected by the
of the "savage" a function of his.
conception
achievements
which
practice
and
methods
of
the
treats such things as a belief
of
consulting
oracles
and
sciences,
inmagic
as almost
a
one
The
or the
alone
fact
that we
while
can
magic
our brains
paradigm
of the irrational. The strains inherent in this situa?
tion are very likely to lead the anthropologist
to
does
not
attribute
savages
influence
function
show
that
rain
believe
the
to meteorological
or
that Gods
rainfall
differently
we
"think
or
ghosts
that
evidence
is no
from
more
their
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brains.
logically"
1London
and New York
& Kegan
Paul; Humanities
(Routledge
Press),
1958.
2
Oxford
1937.
(Oxford University
Press),
3At this
is very likely to start speaking of the "social function"
of the institution
under
point the anthropologist
are many
There
that should be raised about
functional
and their relations
questions
important
explanations
in this essay; but these questions
discussed
cannot be pursued
further here.
307
causes
It
than
examination.
to the issues
AMERICAN
308
PHILOSOPHICAL
some
if this expression
suggests
It is no sign of
superiority.
psychic
on my
rain
that I attribute
part
to this conclusion
I did not come
at least
savages,
kind of hereditary
not
intelligence
superior
causes.
to physical
in fact,
and inference
and have,
by observation
that
of the meteorological
processes
knowledge
I merely
else in
lead to rain.
what
accept
everybody
that rain is due to natural
my
accepts,
society
namely
causes. This
idea formed
culture
part of my
particular
myself
little
I was
before
born
long
than
of me
required
a savage
it. Likewise
and
natural
ritual
account
suitable
can
be
is not
on
rainfall
the
conditions
to learn
ability
under
linguistic
that
believes
who
was
more
little
sufficient
of
by use
of this belief
influenced
it and
into
appropriate
magic
to be
considered
inferior
of
intelligence. He did not build up this belief from his
own
and
observations
same
as
way
he
inferences
but
rest
the
adopted
involved
accord
of our
of
is
thought
the
social
is in
is scientific,
social content
the
since
is unscientific
and may
also be mystical
reality
existence
of
the
supra-sensible
assumes
it
that
facts, whereas
rainfall
about
savage
thought
it is not in accord with
where
of
say
rainfall
can
about
thought
objective
content
the
we
forces.4
In
a
between
distinguishes
Scientific
notions
both
reality
on
article
subsequent
to
. . .
and
premisses
propositions.
to the
according
true were
are
with
"logical"
A pot has broken during
due
the
to grit.
cause.
Sickness
consult
responsible.
Let
us
That
is logical
to witchcraft.
is due
the
examine
to
oracles
That
are
notions
thought
true, the
the premisses
. . .
irrelevant.
being
and "scientific."
those which
accord with
objective
to the validity
of
their
regard
the
inferences
drawn
from
their
Logical
rules of
those
inferences
truth
in which
would
be
of the premisses
firing. This
is probably
see if this is
the pot and
and
scientific
thought.
A man
is sick. Let us
who
discover
is logical
and
is
unscientific
the
witch
thought.5
I think that Evans-Pritchard
is right in a great
deal of what he says here, but wrong, and crucially
in his attempt to characterize
the scientific
wrong,
in terms ofthat which
is "in accord with objective
4 E. E.
Evans-Pritchard,
1934
6 "Science
and
Sentiment,"
"L?vy-BruhPs
Bulletin
do
not,
Theory
of theFaculty
of Primitive
of Arts,
ibid.,
have
a
of emphasis
and
is in fact hereby put
for
camp as Pareto:
of "reality" must be
outside the
applicable
itself, since it is that
do, and unscientific
relation.
Evans-Pritchard,
that a member
of scientific
although he emphasizes
culture has a different conception
of reality from
to go
in magic, wants
that of a Zande believer
this
fact
and
the
beyond merely registering
making
to
and
that
the
differences
say, finally,
explicit,
with
what
scientific
agrees
conception
reality
is like, whereas
the magical
actually
conception
not.
It would be easy, at this point, to say simply that
the difficulty arises from the use of the unwieldy
comprehensive
expression
"agree?
ment with reality"; and in a sense this is true. But
we should not lose sight of the fact that the idea
that men's ideas and beliefs must be checkable by
reference to something
reality
independent?some
an important one. To abandon
it is to plunge
?is
straight
into
an
extreme
Protagorean
relativism,
that involves. On the other
with all the paradoxes
in fixing the
hand great care is certainly necessary
the
that
this
of
role
independ?
conception
precise
thought. There are
ently real does play in men's
two related points
that I should like to make
about
Evans-Pritchard
Pareto,
notions
and misleadingly
absurd
and, moreover,
But
derived.
with
for us
to say that
is think?
the savage
are thinking
and
that we
scientifically
are
case like mental
In either
processes
be
ing mystically
about
rainfall.
similarly
content
I are
and
provided
differences
reality."
Despite
Evans-Pritchard
phraseology,
into the same metaphysical
both of them the conception
regarded as intelligible and
context of scientific reasoning
to which
scientific notions
does
cultural
it. He
born
into
heritage,
namely,
by being
in patterns
of thought
both
thinking
we
in which
live.
by the societies
It would
it in the
adopted
of his
QUARTERLY
it at
this
stage.
In the first place we should notice that the check
real is not peculiar to science.
of the independently
science has for
The trouble is that the fascination
us makes it easy for us to adopt its scientific form as
a paradigm
to measure
the intel?
against which
of discourse.
of other modes
lectual respectability
Consider what God says to Job out of the whirl?
counsel by
is this that darkeneth
wind:
"Who
.
wast thou
? . . Where
words without
knowledge
of the earth ? declare,
when I laid the foundations
hath laid the
Who
if thou hast understanding.
or who hath
measures
if
thou
knowest?
thereof,
stretched the line upon it. . . . Shall he that con
instruct him? he that
tendeth with the Almighty
answer
it." Job is taken to
let
him
reproveth God,
lost sight of
task for having gone astray by having
the reality of God ; this does not, of course, mean
that Job has made any sort of theoretical mistake,
which could be put right, perhaps, by means of an
Mentality,"
Bulletin
of the Faculty
of Arts, University
1935.
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of Egypt,
A
UNDERSTANDING
PRIMITIVE
SOCIETY
309
in terms relevant to the hypothesis
being tested;
experiment.6 God's reality is certainly independent
and it is really only in such terms that we can
of what any man may care to think, but what that
at
to can only be seen from the
sensibly speak of the "results of the experiment"
reality amounts
to
wants
to
is
Evans-Pritchard
be
able
in
the
of
God
all.
What
tradition
which
say
concept
religious
is that the criteria applied in scientific experimenta?
used, and this use is very unlike the use of scientific
an
a true
our
link between
tion constitute
ideas and
entities. The point is
say of theoretical
concepts,
characteristic
whereas
those
that it is within the religious use of language that the
independent
reality,
of other systems of thought?in
particular, magical
conception of God's reality has its place, though, I
not. It is evident that the
of thought?do
repeat, this does not mean that it is at the mercy of methods
what anyone cares to say; if this were
so, God
reality"
expressions "true link" and "independent
would
have
no
in
reality.
is
My second point follows from the first. Reality
not what gives language sense. What
is real and
what is unreal shows itself in the sense that langu?
between the
age has. Further, both the distinction
real and the unreal and the concept of agreement
with reality themselves belong to our language. I
will not say that they are concepts of the language
like any other, since it is clear that they occupy a
and in a sense a limiting, position
commanding,
there. We can imagine a language with no concept
of, say, wetness, but hardly one in which there is no
the real from the unreal.
way of distinguishing
we could not in fact distinguish
the
Nevertheless
the way
real from the unreal without understanding
If then
this distinction
operates in the language.
we wish
to understand
of these
the significance
the
cannot
sentence
previous
themselves
be
explained by reference to the scientific universe of
discourse, as this would beg the question. We have
then to ask how, by reference to what established
universe of discourse, the use of those expressions is
to be explained ;and it is clear that Evans-Pritchard
not
has
this
answered
question.
I have been
arise out of what
questions
a primitive
case
that
is
it
in
fact
the
First,
saying.
consti?
like that of the Azande,
system of magic,
Two
tutes
a
universe
coherent
of
discourse
like
science,
an intelligible
of
in terms of which
conception
are
and
of
what
clear
beliefs
ways
deciding
reality
and are not in agreement with this reality can be
discerned ? Second, what are we to make of the
social insti?
primitive
possibility of understanding
is as I
if
the
like
Zande
situation
tutions,
magic,
use
to
we
not
to
I
able
must
have
?
do
claim
be
outlined
examine
the
concepts,
give a
they
actually
do have?in
the language.
satisfactory answer to the second question. It raises
some very important and fundamental
on the contrary,
is trying to
issues about
Evans-Pritchard,
of reality which
is not
work with a conception
the nature of human
social life, which
require
determined
by its actual use in language. He wants
conceptions different from, and harder to elucidate,
I shall offer
than those I have hitherto introduced.
that use can itself be
something
against which
some tentative remarks about these issues in the
appraised. But this is not possible; and no more
possible in the case of scientific discourse than it is second part of this essay. At present I shall address
a
in any
other.
We
ask whether
may
myself to the first question.
particular
It ought to be remarked here that an affirmative
scientific hypothesis
agrees with
reality and test
me
answer
to my
not
this by observation
the
Given
commit
and experiment.
first
would
question
use
as
to
of
all
in
the
and
established
rational
beliefs
couched
experimental methods,
accepting
or
in
the
the theoretical terms entering into the hypothesis,
all
concepts
magical
procedures practiced
name
than
then the question whether
of such beliefs.
This
is no more
it holds or not is settled
necessary
is the corresponding
that all procedures
by reference to something independent of what I, or
proposition
in the name of science are immune
"justified"
anybody else, care to think. But the general nature
can only be
of the data revealed by the experiment
from rational criticism. A remark of Collingwood's
is apposite here :
specified in terms of criteria built into the methods
of experiment
employed and these, in turn, make
sense
only
to
someone
who
is conversant
with
the
of scientific activity within which
they are
to
A
describe
scientific
asked
illiterate,
employed.
the results of an experiment which he "observes"
in an advanced physics laboratory, could not do so
kind
6
one way of expressing
Indeed,
to make
the reality and goodness
Savages
civilized
error
are
no more
men,
and
are
than
from human
exempt
folly
no doubt
to the
liable
equally
that they, or the persons
they regard
can do what
in fact cannot
be done.
superiors,
it is a per?
the essence
of magic;
But this error
is not
we
be careful
how we
And
should
version
of magic.
of thinking
as their
the point of the story of Job is to say that
on what happens.
of God contingent
in it Job
is shown
as going
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astray
by being
induced
AMERICAN
310
we call savages,
it to the people
and
us.7
testify against
attribute
day
rise
PHILOSOPHICAL
who
such a way
one
will
QUARTERLY
up
in
shown
we
It is important to distinguish a system of magical
beliefs and practices like that of the Azande, which
is one of the principal
foundations
of their whole
social life and, on the other hand, magical
beliefs
that might be held, and magical
rites that might be
to our own culture.
practiced, by persons belonging
These have to be understood
rather differently.
Evans-Pritchard
is himself alluding to the difference
in the following passage: "When a Zande speaks of
witchcraft
he does not speak of it as we speak of the
is
weird witchcraft
of our own history. Witchcraft
to him a commonplace
and he seldom
happening
a
passes
day
disgusted
Zande
without
is
our
witchcraft
to
come
.
. To
which
haunted
But
forefathers.
something
credulous
expects
.
it.
mentioning
across
at
witchcraft
us
and
the
any
time of the day or night. He would be just as sur?
prised if he were not brought into daily contact with
it as we would be if confronted by its appearance.
To him there is nothing miraculous
about it."8
one of degree of
The difference
is not merely
however,
familiarity,
although, perhaps, even this
at first appear.
has more
than might
importance
our culture, at
in
of
witchcraft
and
magic
Concepts
have been
least since the advent of Christianity,
on,
parasitic
concepts,
tific. To
both
take
and
a
of
perversion
religious
an obvious
and,
example,
you
draws
its
sense.
Neither
would
you
this
such
be
when
Hence,
as
practices
can
character
dependence.
"superstitious,"
as
seem
they
to
from
have,
enables us to show
in terms which
apparent,
only
that
same
that the sense is
are culturally
This
relevant.
It is evident that our relation to Zande magic
is
we
we
If
to
different.
must
wish
understand
it,
quite
seek a foothold elsewhere. And while there may well
as
be room for the use of such critical expressions
and "irrationality,"
the kind of
"superstition"
rationality with which such terms might be used to
to be elucidated.
The
point a contrast remains
remarks I shall make in Part II will have a more
positive bearing on this issue. In the rest of this
Part, I shall develop inmore detail my criticisms of
Evans-Pritchard's
to
approach
the Azande.
Early in this book he defines certain categories in
terms of which his descriptions
of Zande customs
are
couched.
MYSTICAL
that
not
which
a
the
the
the
under?
stand the relation between
these without
taking
are
account
of the fact that the Black practices
as
sense
to
the
irrational
proper
religion)
(in
rejected
in the system of beliefs on which
these practices
are thus parasitic. Perhaps a similar relation holds
the contemporary
of astrology
between
practice
It is impossible to
and astronomy and technology.
keep a discussion of the rationality of Black Magic
or of astrology within
the bounds
of concepts
peculiar to them; they have an essential reference
to something outside themselves. The position is like
that which Socrates,
in Plato's Gorgias, showed to
of rhetoric:
be true of the Sophists'
conception
namely, that it is parasitic on rational discourse in
7R. G.
Principles
of Art (Oxford, Oxford
University
Collingwood,
8
Oracles and Magic
among the Azande, p. 64.
Witchcraft,
10
9The
italics are mine
this quotation.
throughout
are
to phenomena
are
of which,
observe
thought
qualities
from obser?
be
inferred
from
it, and
logically
COMMON-SENSE
NO?
they do not possess.9
. . . attribute
men
to phenomena
only what
can logically
in them or what
from
be inferred
observation.
mystical
incomplete
TIONS.
some?
does not assert
long as a notion
as
not been observed,
it is not classed
on account
even
of
it is mistaken
though
. . . SCIENTIFIC
observation.
NO?
So
which
thing
of
patterns
supra-sensible
not derived
or part
or cannot
TIONS
has
Science
is far more
but
...
NOTIONS
attribute
which,
vation
in conducting
understand
what was
involved
Black Mass,
unless you were familiar with
conduct of a proper Mass and, therefore, with
whole
ideas from which
complex of religious
Mass
sense
such
culture.
scien?
could
of
speak
its irrational
of
"illusory," "irrational," we have the weight of our
culture behind us; and this is not just a matter
of
because
being on the side of the big battalions,
those beliefs and practices belong
to, and derive
orthodox
other
increasingly,
that
terms
has developed
methodical
and
out
of common-sense
has
better
techniques
sense
uses
Common
reasoning.
uses
and
rules of thumb.
Science
experience
experi?
. . . Our
ment
and
rules
of Logic.
body of scientific
and Logic are the sole arbiters of what are mystical,
knowledge
are
common sense, and scientific notions. Their
judgments
never
be?
absolute.
RITUAL
BEHAVIOUR.
Any
of
observation
haviour
and
that
is accounted
is no objective
it is intended
There
event
to us
intelligible
associated
notions
IOUR.
Any
common-sense
Press,
Op.
to cause.
by mystical
the behaviour
notions.
behaviour
is usually
Such
we
know
only when
with
it. EMPIRICAL
behaviour
that
notions.10
Books,
Galaxy
cit., p.
for
nexus between
1958),
p. 67.
12.
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is
the
accounted
and
the
mystical
BEHAV?
for
by
A
UNDERSTANDING
It will be seen from the phrases which
I have
is doing more here
italicized that Evans-Pritchard
than just defining certain terms for his own use.
in the
claims are embodied
Certain metaphysical
identical in substance with the claims
definitions:
between
embodied in Pareto's way of distinguishing
and
"logical"
"non-logical"
is a
There
conduct.11
that those who use mystical
very clear implication
are making
notions and perform ritual behavior
some sort of mistake,
detectable with
the aid of
science and logic. I shall now
examine more
closely some of the institutions described by Evans
to determine
Pritchard
how far his claims are
justified.
is a power
Witchcraft
by certain
possessed
individuals to harm other individuals by "mystical"
means.
Its basis is an inherited organic condition,
and
"witchcraft-substance"
not
it does
involve
so
misfortune,
as
to
exclude
explanation
terms of natural causes, which Azande are perfectly
able to offer themselves within
the limits of their
not inconsiderable
natural knowledge,
but so as to
ex?
such
"Witchcraft
supplement
explanations.
are
man
events
to
not
harmful
and
how12
plains why12
they happen. A Zande perceives how they happen
just as we do. He does not see a witch charge a
but an elephant. He does not see a witch
man,
over
push
the
but
granary,
termites
its supports. He does not see a psychical
flame
an
but
bundle
thatch,
igniting
lighted
ordinary
of
straw.
His
of
perception
own."13
our
as
clear
occur
events
how
is as
The most important way of detecting
the influ?
ence of witchcraft
is by
and of identifying witches
the revelations of oracles, of which in turn the most
is
important
insofar
as,
not
not
have
think
according
our
of,
or
oracle."
"poison
is
convenient,
though
do
the
This
significantly
name,
misleading
to Evans-Pritchard,
a
of
poison
concept
behave
toward,
Azande
and
do
sub?
benge?the
stance administered
in the consultation
of the
we do of and toward poisons. The
oracle?as
and administering
of benge
gathering,
preparation,
is hedged with
ritual and strict taboos. At an
oracular
to a
consultation
benge is administered
fowl, while a question is asked in a form permitting
a yes
or
specified
no
answer.
beforehand
The
fowl's
as giving
11For
further criticism
of Pareto
12
Evans-Pritchard's
italics.
13
Op. cit., p. 72.
death
or
the answer
see Peter Winch,
survival
is
"yes" or
The
other
round.
way
"Is
Prince
res?
Ndoruma
in the roof of
ponsible for placing bad medicines
the answer
hut? The
fowl DIES
my
giving
fiYes.'
. . .Did
oracle
the
truly
speak
it
when
said
was responsible?
The fowl SUR?
that Ndoruma
answer
The
the
VIVES
cYes'."
giving
poison
in Zande life and all steps of
oracle is all-pervasive
in a person's
life are settled by
any importance
to
reference
A Zande
without his
lacking. It
were to be
use
of
a
military
co-ordinated
or
issue.
These
clocks.
reader may
at
it.
would be utterly lost and bewildered
oracle. The mainstay of his life would be
is rather as if an engineer, in our society,
asked to build a bridge without mathe?
calculation,
an
extensive
he may
without
are mine,
that they beg
the
argue,
to
commander
attack
analogies
think
well
For,
a
but
the question
Zande
of
practice
and
the oracle, unlike my technological
consulting
and
is
military
examples,
completely unintelligible
rests on an obvious illusion. I shall now consider
this objection.
First I must emphasize
that I have so far done
little more
than note the fact, conclusively
estab?
do in
that the Azande
lished by Evans-Pritchard,
fact conduct their affairs to their own satisfaction
in this way and are at a loss when
forced to
the
abandon
away
gnawing
the
the
in
311
answer is then checked by administer?
to
another fowl and asking the question
ing benge
mount
any
SOCIETY
"no." The
matical
It is constantly
ritual or medicine.
special magical
to by Azande when they are afflicted by
appealed
not
PRIMITIVE
for
practice?when,
instance,
they
courts. It is worth
fall into the hands of European
too
that
himself ran
Evans-Pritchard
remarking
in the same way during his field
his household
researches and says: "I found this as satisfactory a
of
way
I know
running
of."
home
my
and
affairs
as
any
other
I would ask in my turn: to whom is the
Further,
it is
? Certainly
practice alleged to be unintelligible
difficult for us to understand what the Azande are
about when they consult their oracles ;but itmight
seem just as incredible to them that the engineer's
motions
with his slide rule could have any con?
nection with the stability of his bridge. But this
the intention behind
the
riposte of course misses
objection, which was not directed to the question
whether
understand,
what
in
anyone
what
is going
on
fact
actually
or
understands,
is going
to
claims
on, but rather whether
does
make
sense:
i.e.,
seem obvious
in itself. And
it may
that Zande
beliefs in witchcraft
and oracles cannot make any
Idea of a Social Science, pp.
95-111.
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AMERICAN
312
sense, however
satisfied
the Azande
PHILOSOPHICAL
may
be with
them.
criteria have we for saying
What
or
does,
does
sense
make
not,
that a set of beliefs
and
sense
involve
as
insofar
they
?A
that something
answer
partial
is
cannot make
practices
contradictions.
one
On
the
contradict
a
two
hand
oracular
self-consistent
oracular
may
be contradicted
I shall
by future
experience.
examine
each of these apparent
in
possibilities
turn.
Of
first
it does happen
course,
says
and
"yes"
then
that the oracle
often
same
to the
"no"
question.
consistent
oracular
is
revelation
so
on.
we
sideration
But
there
must
chief function
into
account
important
too.
here
is to reveal
of oracles
forces?I
"mystical"
is another
take
use
con?
The
the presence
Evans-Pritchard's
of
term
without
committing myself to his denial that such
forces really exist. Now
though there are indeed
of
or not mystical
whether
ways
determining
are
forces
to what
operating,
we
understand
these
ways
by
do
"empirical"
not
correspond
confirma?
tion or refutation.
This
indeed
is a tautology,
since such differences
in "confirmatory"
procedures
14
Ibid.,
not
as
treated
hypotheses
from
or
witchcraft
course
that
sorcery,
will not be carried out; and then the
or confirmation
of
refutation
question
just does
not arise. We might
that
the
revelation
has the
say
an
status
were
of
unfulfilled
it
logical
hypothetical,
not that the context in which
this logical term is
generally used may again suggest a misleadingly
close analogy with scientific hypotheses.
I do not think that Evans-Pritchard
would have
so
I
with
what
have
said
far.
Indeed, the
disagreed
is on very similar lines :
following comment
Azande
observe
dinated
observe
the
it, but
to their
their
as we
the poison
oracle
are always
subor?
are incorporated
into their
action
of
observations
beliefs
and
to explain
them
them.
and justify
Let
the reader
consider
that would
any
argument
all Zande
demolish
claims
of the
for the power
utterly
If it were
oracle.
translated
modes
of
into Zande
and
beliefs
thought
of belief.
made
serve
it would
coherent,
ties, and
For
to support
their
sensory
seems
their
entire
structure
are
eminently
of logical
notions
mystical
interrelated
being
are so ordered
contradict
a network
by
that
experience
them. The
to justify
of mystical
and
notions,
oracle
he must
poison
speak
tradicted by subsequent
the situation
experience,
a
in
be
dealt
with
similar
may
way, by references
to the influence of witchcraft,
ritual uncleanliness,
and
are
revelations
of action
con?
apparently
reason.
connected
closely
oracles are consulted
is very
a scientist makes experiments.
and, since their sense derives from the way they are
are not
in their context,
treated
they therefore
of intellectual
hypotheses.
They are not a matter
interest but the main way in which Azande decide
how they should act. If the oracle reveals that a
proposed course of action is fraught with mystical
dangers
This does not convince a Zande of the futility of
the whole
of consulting
oracles:
ob?
operation
it
since
otherwise
the
cannot,
viously,
practice
could hardly have developed and maintained
itself
at all. Various
explanations may be offered, whose
to notice,
it is important
is built into
possibility,
of Zande
the whole
network
beliefs and may,
to the concept
therefore, be regarded as belonging
of an oracle. It may be said, for instance, that bad
benge is being used ; that the operator of the oracle
that the oracle is being itself
is ritually unclean;
or sorcery; or it may be
influenced by witchcraft
that the oracle is showing that the question cannot
in its present form,
be answered
straightforwardly
as with
"Have you stopped beating
your wife
are
There
various
in
which
the
ways
yet?"
behavior
of the fowl under the influence of benge
may be ingeniously
interpreted by those wise in the
ways of the poison oracle. We might compare this
situation perhaps with the interpretation of dreams.
In the other type of case: where an internally
another
The spirit in which
unlike that in which
Oracular
pronouncements
pronouncement
is also
There
and on the other hand
each other;
are the main criteria for classifying
something as a
force in the first place. Here we have one
mystical
reason why
the possibilities
of "refutation
by
are very much
at
fewer than might
experience"
first sight be supposed.
Now
are bound to arise in
it appears that contradictions
at least two ways in the consultation
of the oracle.
may
QUARTERLY
never
they
but,
Zande
sea
too
crudely
instead,
experience
in a
is immersed
if he
speaks
in a mystical
about
his
idiom.14
at which
the point
the important
I
issue
does
shall
offer a parody,
arise,
philosophical
one
or
two expres?
round
composed by changing
sions in the foregoing quotation.
To
locate
observe
Europeans
as Azande
the action
observe
it, but their
their
beliefs
subordinated
to
their
beliefs
and
Let
a Zande
into
justify
would
the
them.
refute
utterly
power
of
the
made
all
oracle.
the poison
observations
of
and
are
to
explain
consider
any
European
If it were
p. 319.
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oracle
just
are always
incorporated
them
and
argument
scepticism
translated
that
about
into
A
UNDERSTANDING
it would
modes
of thought
European
structure
of belief.
For
their
entire
are
notions
a network
never
too
serve
their
to support
scientific
interrelated
coherent,
eminently
being
of logical
that
ties, and are so ordered
contradict
mystical
experience
crudely
seems
instead,
experience
is immersed
pean
he
about
speaks
speak in a scientific
to justify
them. The
if
scientific
and
notions,
he must
Zande
oracle
poison
idiom.
to Evans
this too would
be acceptable
Perhaps
Pritchard. But it is clear from other remarks in the
that at the time of
book to which I have alluded,
to add: and the
it
have
he
would
wished
writing
is right and the Zande wrong. This
European
addition I regard as illegitimate and my reasons for
so thinking take us to the heart of the matter.
at this point to compare
It may be illuminating
and me
the disagreement
between Evans-Pritchard
to that between
the Wittgenstein
of the Philo?
sophical Investigations and his earlier alter ego of the
the Tractatus
Tractatus
In
Logico-Philosophicus.
"the
form
of propo?
general
sought
Wittgenstein
sitions": what made propositions
possible. He said
that this general form is: "This is how things are";
the
was
proposition
an
articulated
con?
model,
sisting of elements standing in a definite relation to
each other. The proposition was true when there
a
existed
arrangement
corresponding
of
elements
in reality. The proposition was capable of saying
something because of the identity of structure, of
and in reality.
logical form, in the proposition
the Investi?
By the time Wittgenstein
composed
idea that
gations he had come to reject the whole
there must be a general form of propositions. He
number
the indefinite
of different
emphasized
uses that language may have and tried to show that
these different uses neither need, nor in fact do,
all have
in common,
in the sense
something
intended in the Tractatus. He also tried to show that
reality"
are
as
counts
what
or
"agreement
takes on as many
uses
different
of
disagreement
different
language
and
with
forms as there
cannot,
there?
investi?
fore, be taken as given prior to the detailed
of the use that is in question.
Tractatus contains a remark strikingly like
that Evans-Pritchard
says.
something
gation
The
The
limits
fills
of my language mean
: the limits
the world
Logic
its limits. We
this
cannot
therefore
is in the world,
and
that would
apparently
there
the
of
say
that
limits of my world.
are also
the world
in logic: This
is not.
there
case
and
For
that we
presuppose
15
Tractatus
Wittgenstein,
paras. 5.6-5.61.
Logico-Philosophicus,
16
Evans-Pritchard,
op. cit., p. 194.
313
and
be the
this cannot
possibilities,
the limits
otherwise
logic must
get outside
certain
since
of the world : that is, if it could consider these limits
by
but,
Euro?
SOCIETY
exclude
the
from
they
in a sea of
the
PRIMITIVE
other
side
also.15
Evans-Pritchard
discusses the phenomena
of belief
as they appear
and scepticism,
in Zande
life.
There
is certainly widespread
about
scepticism
some of the
certain
things, for instance, about
or about
claimed
the
powers
by witchdoctors
But, he points
efficacy of certain magic medicines.
out, such scepticism does not begin to overturn the
since it is necessarily
way of thinking,
mystical
terms
in
to that way
of
expressed
belonging
thinking.
In
this web
of belief
other
strand,
this
because
not
an
is the
his
is the
he
only world
structure
in which
external
texture
on every
itsmeshes
strand
every
depends
a Zande
cannot
get outside
and
of his
and
thought
knows.
he
he
The
is
web
is enclosed.
cannot
It
think
that
is wrong.16
thought
are concerned
and Evans-Pritchard
Wittgenstein
here with much
the same problem,
though the
difference
in the directions
from which
they
it is important too. Wittgenstein,
at the
approach
as if all
time of the Tractatus, spoke of "language,"
same
is
of
the
kind
and
language
fundamentally
must have the same kind of "relation to reality";
but Evans-Pritchard
is confronted by two langua?
different
ges which he recognizes as fundamentally
in kind, such that much of what may be expressed
in the one has no possible counterpart
in the other.
One might,
therefore, have expected this to lead to
a position closer to that of the Philosophical Investi?
to
than
gations
wants
he
reality
to
is
correct
the
and
one,
the difficulty
can mean
"mistaken"
Let me
have
of
further
go
the
taken. But
and
that
Tractatus.
Evans
is not content with
the
elucidating
in the two concepts of reality involved ;
Pritchard
differences
our
say:
the Azande
is to see what
in
this
of
concept
are mis?
"correct"
context.
return to the subject of contradictions.
noted
already
that
many
I
we
contradictions
might expect to appear in fact do not in the context
of Zande
is made
for
thought, where
provision
them. But there are some situations of
avoiding
which
this does not seem to be true, where what
appear
to
us
as
obvious
contradictions
where
they are, apparently
this may be the foothold we
E
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are
left
unresolved.
Perhaps
are lookins: for, from
AMERICAN
314
we
which
Zande
can appraise
PHILOSOPHICAL
the "correctness"
of the
Someone
examination
post-mortem
by
inheritance of
of the role of
someone is a
as we might
or
this, namely
a
of
Evans-Pritchard
suspect's
"to
remarks:
scattered
examinations,
very
a few
and
witch,
the
soon
same
clans,
prove
negative
would
of
the
prove
of
presence
the
everybody
scattered
results,
in particular
witch. Though,
Azande may avoid personal
out
all
among
that
that
situations,
comments:
"Azande
them."19
now appear as though we had clear
It might
for
grounds
speaking of the superior rationality of
over
insofar as the
Zande
thought,
European
it makes no
which
latter involves a contradiction
attempt
to
remove
and
does
not
even
recognize:
as such in the
is recognizable
one, however,
context of European ways of thinking. But does
Zande
really involve a
thought on this matter
It appears from Evans-Pritchard's
contradiction?
do not press their ways of
account
that Azande
to a point at which
about
witches
they
thinking
would be involved in contradictions.
which
the
irration?
who
does
press
What
someone
Now
the
other
"and
now
I want
man
did
our
draws
a game.
I give
this,
I want
to say:
game"?not:
That means,
this:
can always
win
begins
But
this has not been
we
see
that
to it?
attention
to make
"and
by a partic?
realized?so
it clear
it
stops
it wasn't
to say, it can also be
not draw our attention
to my?
being
a
a
game."
taken
like
to any?
us a different
he taught
in place
of our
game
thing;
own.
can the new game
But how
the old
have made
one obsolete?
see
now
We
and
different,
something
can no longer naively
go on playing.
the one hand
the game
On
in our actions
consisted
on
(our play)
as well
perform
it was
essential
and
now
I can
the
now
and
these
actions
I could
board;
as before.
But on the other
hand
to the game
no
longer
I blindly
that.20
that
do
tried
to win;
in
as we perceive it
do not perceive the contradiction
no
interest in the
theoretical
have
because
they
in
situations
which
and
those
they express
subject,
do not force the problem
their belief in witchcraft
upon
that
someone
being
turn can
self??For
arising
witchcraft-substance
Evans-Pritchard
it is a game.
it stops
a
deceased relatives, by imputations of bastardy and
similar devices, this would not be enough to save
I have
situation
the generally
contradictory
sketched.
trick.
simple
and
individual
implications
that whoever
such
ular
clans,
was
a
among
was
nobody
to say
whether
better,
perhaps
our
minds
it appears evident that if a man is proven a
witch the whole of his clan are ipsofacto witches,
since the Zande clan is a group of persons related
to one another through the male
line.
biologically
see the sense of this argument but they do
Azande
not accept its conclusions,
and it would involve the
were
in contradiction
whole notion of witchcraft
would presumably
they to do so."18 Contradiction
arise because a few positive results of post-mortem
would
want
this conclusion
is being more
rational
than the
Azande, who do not. Some light is thrown on this
discussion of a game,
question by Wittgenstein's
This may be
intestines for "witchcraft-substance."
in an
arranged
by his family after his death
name
to
the
the
of
clear
attempt
family
imputation
of witchcraft.
now
may
in relation to witchcraft
shows
ality of the Azande
itself in the fact that they do not press their thought
about it "to its logical conclusion." To appraise this
the conclusion we
point we must consider whether
are trying to force on them is indeed a logical one ;
system.17
Consider Zande notions about the
I have spoken so far only
witchcraft.
oracles in establishing whether or not
witch. But there is a further and,
of doing
think, more "direct" method
QUARTERLY
are obviously
There
considerable
analogies
between Wittgenstein's
example and the situation
we
are
considering.
But
there
is an
equally
impor?
tant difference. Both Wittgenstein's
games : the old
one without
the trick that enables the starter to
the trick, are in an
win and the new one with
on
same
sense
the
level.
They are both
important
the aim of a
games, in the form of a contest where
player is to beat his opponent
by the exercise of
skill. The new trick makes this situation impossible
the old game obsolete.
and this is why it makes
To be sure, the situation could be saved in a way
a new rule, forbidding
the use by
by introducing
ensure his
the starter of the trick which would
victory. But our intellectual habits are such as to
about the artificiality
make us unhappy
of such a
rather as logicians have been unhappy
device,
of a Theory
of Types as a
about the introduction
It is note?
device for avoiding Russell's paradoxes.
in
last
from
my
Evans-Pritchard,
quotation
worthy
that the Azande, when
the possibility of
however,
17 I shall discuss
in Part II.
in a more
this point
general way
19
18
Ibid., p. 25.
Ibid., p. 24.
20L.
Pt.
Remarks on theFoundations
of Mathematics,
Wittgenstein,
to the point I am discussing.
relevant
is directly
in mathematics
II,
? 77. Wittgenstein's
whole
discussion
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of "contradiction"
A
UNDERSTANDING
about the inheritance of witch?
this contradiction
craft is pointed out to them, do not then come to
as obso?
regard their old beliefs about witchcraft
lete. "They have no theoretical
interest in the
suggests strongly that the context
subject." This
from which the suggestion about the contradiction
ismade,
the context of our scientific culture, is not
on the same level as the context
in which
the
beliefs about witchcraft
operate. Zande notions of
witchcraft
do not constitute a theoretical system in
terms of which
Azande
try to gain a quasi
scientific understanding
of the world.21 This in its
turn suggests that it is the European,
obsessed with
pressing Zande thought where it would not natur?
a contradiction?who
is guilty
of
ally go?to
not
the
The
Zande.
misunderstanding,
European
a category-mistake.
is in fact committing
else is also suggested by this dis?
Something
cussion: the forms in which
expresses
rationality
itself in the culture of a human society cannot be
elucidated simply in terms of the logical coherence of
to which activities are carried
the rules according
out
in
comes
as we
For,
we
are not
that
a
society.
where
point
have
there
seen,
in a
position
even
to determine what is and what
is not coherent in
such a context of rules, without
raising questions
about the point which following
those rules has in
the society. No doubt it was a realization
of this
fact which
to appeal
to a
led Evans-Pritchard
in
residual
dis?
with
reality"
"correspondence
between
and "scientific"
tinguishing
"mystical"
The
notions.
is indeed
of reality
conception
to any understanding
of the point of
indispensable
a way of life. But it is not a
conception which can be
explicated
in terms
as Evans-Pritchard
of what
science
for a form of the conception
be
before
presupposed
expression
"what
II. Our
we
science
Standards
to
tries
reveals
to
explicate
be
the
of reality must
can make
reveals
and
any
to be
sense
the
it,
case;
already
of
the
case."
Theirs
In Part I, I attempted, by analyzing a particular
case, to criticize by implication a particular view of
a primitive
how we can understand
institution.
In this Part I shall have two aims. First, I shall
in a more formal way a general philo?
examine
to show that
sophical argument, which attempts
PRIMITIVE
SOCIETY
315
is in principle
the approach I have been criticizing
the right one. This argument has been advanced
in two places:
(a) in
by Mr. Alasdair Maclntyre
a paper entitled Is Understanding Religion Compatible
to
read
the Sesquicentennial
with Believing?
Seminar
Seminar of the Princeton Theological
in
to Philosophy, Politics
1962.a2 (b) In a contribution
and Society (Second Series),2'* entitled A Mistake about
Causality in Social Science. Next, I shall make some
about how to
suggestions
slightly more positive
overcome
the difficulty from which I started :how
to make
in our terms institutions
intelligible
to a primitive
culture, whose standards
belonging
are apparently
of rationality
and intelligibility
our
own.
at
odds
with
quite
The relation between Maclntyre,
Evans-Pritch?
one. Maclntyre
is a complicated
ard, and myself
later book, JVuer Religion,
takes Evans-Pritchard's
as an application
of a point of view like mine
in
The Idea of a Social Science; he regards it as an object
lesson in the absurd
such a
results to which
position leads, when applied in practice. My own
on the other hand,
criticisms of Evans-Pritchard,
I
have come from precisely the opposite direction.
have tried to show that Evans-Pritchard
did not at
the time of writing The Azande agree with me enough;
that he did not take seriously enough the idea that
the concepts used by primitive peoples can only be
interpreted in the context of the way of life of those
peoples. Thus I have in effect argued that Evans
is unsatisfactory
Pritchard's account of the Azande
to the extent that he agrees with Mac?
precisely
lntyre
The
Maclntyre's
and
best
not
me.
point
at which
position
is that
to start
at which
he
considering
agrees
with
the importance of possibilities
me?in
emphasizing
of description for the concept of human action. An
as what
agent's action "is identified fundamentally
it is by the description under which he deems it to
fall." Since, further, descriptions must be intelligi?
ble to other people, an action "must fall under
as
some description which
is socially recognizable
the description
of an action."24 "To identify the
limits of social action in a given period," therefore,
current in
"is to identify the stock of descriptions
that age."25 Maclntyre
correctly points out that
not
do
in
exist
isolation, but occur "as
descriptions
of beliefs, speculations
constituents
and projects."
21
that I have not said that Azande
Notice
to do with
of witchcraft
have nothing
conceptions
is that a different
all. The point
form of the concept
of understanding
is involved here.
22To be
published
along with other papers,
Company.
by the Macmillan
28Edited
and W. G. Runciman
by Peter Laslett
(Oxford, Basil Blackwell,
1962).
24
25
Ibid., p. 58.
Ibid., p. 60.
understanding
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the world
at
AMERICAN
3l6
PHILOSOPHICAL
these in turn "are continually
criticized, modi?
or
the
of descrip?
stock
fied, rejected,
improved,
tions changes. The changes in human action are
linked to the thread of rational
thus intimately
criticism in human history."
of rational
notion
This
criticism, Maclntyre
points out, requires the notion of choice between
to explain which
"is a matter
of
alternatives,
As
making
clear
what
the
agent's
criterion
was
and
use of this criterion
rather than
why he made
another and to explain why the use of this criterion
appears rational to those who invoke it."26 Hence
to which
the rules and conventions
"in explaining
in a given social order conform
action
(sic) we
QUARTERLY
current
in a society is ruled out by my earlier
account
(in The Idea of a Social Science) of the origin
in social institutions
themselves of such standards.
I shall not now repeat my earlier argument,
but
simply point out that I did, in various passages,27
emphasize the open character of the "rules" which I
spoke of in connection with social institutions:
i.e.,
the fact that in changing social situations, reasoned
decisions have to be made about what is to count
as "going on in the same way."
failure
Maclntyre's
to come to terms with this point creates difficulties
for him precisely
to those which
he
analogous
mistakenly
attributes
to my
account.
It is a corollary of his argument up to this point,
as being
or other?
as
cannot
to the
well
omit
reference
that a new
evident,
rationality
intrinsically
wise
rules
and
conventions."
of
must
of those
"the
action
be
to the
Further,
description
intelligible
an
of
of
certain
members
of
the
in
which
it
is
introduced.
why
beginning
explanation
society
criteria are taken to be rational in some societies is On my view the point is that what determines
this
is the further development
that they are rational. And since this has to enter
of rules and principles
our
we
cannot
into
social
in the previous ways of acting
explanation
already
explain
implicit
our own norms of
of
are not the actual
behaviour
and talking. To be emphasized
independently
members
of
"stock"
of
; but the
any
rationality."
descriptions
I turn now to criticism of this argument. Con?
grammar which they express. It is through this that
account of changes
sider first Maclntyre's
in an we understand
their structure and sense, their
sense
mutual
and
the
of new
of
relations,
existing "stock" of available descriptions of actions.
ways
does a candidate
for inclusion qualify for
How
that
and
be
introduced.
These
may
talking
acting
new ways of talking and acting may very well at the
to the stock ?Unless
there are limits, all
admission
same time involve modifications
talk about possibilities
of description
in the grammar,
Maclntyre's
of action
but we can only speak thus if the new grammar
becomes
is
circumscribing
possibilities
for there would be nothing to stop any?
nugatory,
(to its users) intelligibly related to the old.
some
verbal
But what of the intelligibility
of such changes to
arbitrary
body
inventing
expression,
a different
and
observers
from another
applying it to some arbitrary bodily movement,
society with
culture and different
thus adding that expression to the stock of available
standards of intelligibility?
urges that such observers must make
Maclntyre
descriptions. But of course the new description must
its intelligibility
clear
"what
was
the agent's
be an intelligible one. Certainly,
criterion
and why
he
or not it belongs to made
use of this criterion
cannot be decided by whether
rather
than
another
and
an existing stock of descriptions,
since this would
why the use of this criterion appears rational to
those who invoke it." Since what is at issue is the
is being discussed:
the
rule out precisely what
to the stock. "What
of new descriptions
the concepts of rationality
addition
precise relation between
can intelligibly be said" is not equivalent
to "what
current in these different societies it is obviously of
first importance to be clear about whose concept of
has been intelligibly
said," or it would never be
new.
to
to in this quotation.
Mutatis
is being alluded
mutandis
it
say anything
rationality
possible
never be possible
to do anything
new.
It seems that it must be that which
is current in
would
new
the intelligibility
of anything
the society in which the criterion is invoked. Some?
Nevertheless
said or done does depend in a certain way on what
thing can appear rational to someone only in terms
or
done
and
has
been
said
understood. The
o?his understanding
of what is and is not rational.
already
crux of this problem
If our concept of rationality
lies in how we are to under?
is a different one from
a certain
no
sense
to say that anything
then
makes
"in
it
that
stand
his,
way."
either does or does not appear rational to him in
In Is Understanding Religion Compatible with
our sense.
asserts that the development
Believing? Maclntyre
of
of
the
standards
criticism
When Maclntyre
goes on to say that the observer
intelligibility
through
"Ibid.,
27
Pp.
p. 61.
57-65;
9r-94;
121-123.
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UNDERSTANDING
omit
"cannot
to
reference
the
rationality
A
or
other?
wise of those rules and conventions"
followed by
the alien agent, whose concept of rationality is now
in question :ours or the agent's ? Since the observer
now as addressing himself to
must be understood
members
of his own society,
it seems that the
reference must here be to the concept of rationality
current in the observer's
society. Thus there is a
non sequitur in the movement
from the first to the
second of the passages just quoted.
thought here and in what immedi?
Maclntyre's
of
ately follows, seems to be this. The explanation
why, in Society S, certain actions are taken to be
for us; so it
rational, has got to be an explanation
must be in terms of concepts intelligible
to us. If
then, in the explanation, we say that in fact those
are
criteria
in
"rational"
we must
rational,
our sense.
For
this
be
using
the
word
would
explanation
carried out an
require that we had previously
into
the
actual ration?
investigation
independent
or
we could do
otherwise
of
those
and
criteria,
ality
this only in terms of an understood
concept of
understood
concept of rationality.
rationality?our
The explanation would run :members
of Society S
have seen to be the case something that we know to
be the case. If "what is seen to be the case" is
common
to us and them, it must be referred to
under
the
same
for
concept
each
of us.
But obviously this explanation
is not open to us.
For we start from the position
that standards of
in different
societies do not always
rationality
from the possibility,
coincide;
therefore, that the
standards of rationality
current in S are different
from our own. So we cannot assume that it will
make sense to speak of members
of S as discovering
such
something which we have also discovered;
discovery presupposes initial conceptual agreement.
use of the
Part of the trouble lies inMaclntyre's
"the rationality of criteria," which he
expression,
does
not
explain.
In
the
present
context
to
speak
PRIMITIVE
SOCIETY
317
as we "detect" and "show" something, obviously we
do so in a sense intelligible to us; so we are limited
by what counts (for us) as "detecting,"
"showing"
something. Further, itmay well be that the interest
in showing and detecting
such things is peculiar to
our society?that
we are doing something in which
members
of the studied society exhibit no interest,
because the institutions
in which
such an interest
could develop are lacking. Perhaps too the pursuit
ofthat interest in our society has led to the develop?
ment
of techniques
of inquiry and modes
of
argument which again are not to be found in the
life of the studied society. But it cannot be guaran?
teed in advance that the methods
and techniques
we have used in the past?e.g.,
in elucidating
the
our
own
structure
of
in
arguments
logical
language
and culture?are
going to be equally fruitful in
this new context. They will perhaps need to be
extended and modified.
No doubt, if they are to
have a logical relation to our previous forms of
the new techniques will have to be
investigation,
with previously used ones.
continuous
recognizably
But they must also so extend our conception
of
as to make
it possible for us to see
intelligibility
amounts
to in the life of the
what
intelligibility
are
we
society
investigating.
The taskMaclntyre
is to
says we must undertake
make intelligible
(a) (to us) why it is that members
are
of their practices
of S think that certain
are
not.
in
fact
when
intelligible
(b) (to them),
they
I have introduced differentiating
letters into my
to mark the complexity
two uses of "intelligible,"
that Maclntyre's
way of stating the position does
not bring out: the fact that we are dealing with
senses of the word
two different
"intelligible."
The relation between these is precisely the question
at issue. Maclntyre's
task is not like that of making
a
intelligible
limited
us.
We
natural
phenomenon,
only
by what
counts
must
somehow
bring
where
we
are
as intelligibility
for
?S"s conception
of
thus is to cloak the real problem, since what we are
relation with
intelligibility
(b) into (intelligible!)
concerned with are differences
in criteria of ration? our own conception
of intelligibility
is,
(a). That
seems to be saying that certain
we have to create a new unity for the concept of
ality. Maclntyre
are taken as criteria
standards
of rationality
intelligibility,
having a certain relation to our old
because they are criteria of rationality. But whose ? one and perhaps requiring a considerable
realign?
are similar confusions
There
in Maclntyre's
ment of our categories. We are not seeking a state
other paper :Is Understanding Religion Compatible with
in which things will appear to us just as they do to
of S, and perhaps
such a state is un?
Believing? There he argues that when we detect an members
internal incoherence
in the standards of intelligi?
are
a way
we
But
attainable
of
anyway.
seeking
an
current
in
alien
to
and
at
our
show
which
bility
try
goes beyond
society
things
looking
previous
tolerable to way in that it has in some way taken account of and
why this does not appear, or ismade
that society's members,
"we have already invoked
the other way that members of S have
incorporated
our
sense
In what
standards."
is this true?
Insofar
of looking at things. Seriously to study another way
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AMERICAN
3l8
PHILOSOPHICAL
to seek to extend our own?not
of life is necessarily
to
the already
the
other way within
bring
simply
our
of
the point
boundaries
because
own,
existing
about the latter in their present form, is that they
ex hypothesi exclude that other.
to the notions of rationality
There is a dimension
and intelligibility which may make it easier to grasp
I do not think
the possibility of such an extension.
that Maclntyre
takes sufficient account
of this
the way he talks about
dimension
and, indeed,
it. Rationality
is
"norms of rationality"
obscures
not fust a concept in a language like any other; it is
it must be
this too, for, like any other concept
a
an
use
:
that is,
established
circumscribed
use,
by
in the language. But I think it is not a
established
concept which a language may, as a matter of fact,
have and equally well may not have, as is, for
It is a concept
instance, the concept of politeness.
to the existence of any language : to say
necessary
of a society that it has a language28 is also to say
that it has a concept of rationality. There need not
in its language as
perhaps be any word functioning
"rational" does in ours, but at least there must be
use of language analogous
features of its members'
to those features of our use of language which are
with
connected
our
use
of
the
word
"rational."
there is language itmust make a difference
is said and this is only possible where
the
saying of one thing rules out, on pain of failure to
the saying of something else. So in
communicate,
one sense Maclntyre
is right in saying that we have
our
invoked
concept of rationality in saying
already
a
that they constitute
of a collection
of people
Where
what
society
with
a
: in the
language
sense,
that
namely,
we imply formal analogies between their behavior
in our society which we refer to
and that behavior
in distinguishing
between rationality and irration?
is so far to say nothing about
ality. This, however,
in particular
rational behavior
constitutes
what
in that society; that would require more particular
to in
about
the norms
knowledge
they appeal
lives.
other words, it is not somuch a
their
In
living
matter of invoking "our own norms of rationality"
as of invoking our notion of rationality
in speaking
to
in terms of "conformity
of their behavior
is to be
this notion
norms." But how precisely
applied to them will depend on our reading of their
conformity
conformity
to
and
counts
norms?what
what
does
for
them
as
not.
Earlier I criticized Maclntyre's
"stock of available descriptions."
of a
conception
Similar criticisms
281 shall not discuss here what
justifies us in saying
29 Is
Religion Compatible with Believing?
Understanding
QUARTERLY
apply
if these
to his talk about
norms
we
are
"our norms
as
taken
some
finite
set.
to
think,
Certainly
speak, and act
to
trained
adhere to par?
through being
rationally
ticular norms. But having
learned to speak, etc.,
rationally does not consist in having been trained to
follow those norms; to suppose that would be to
overlook the importance of the phrase "and so on"
someone who follows
in any description
of what
norms does. We must,
if you like, be open to new
possibilities of what could be invoked and accepted
under
the rubric of "rationality"?possibilities
which are perhaps suggested and limited by what
we have hitherto
so accepted,
but not uniquely
determined
thereby.
This point can be applied to the possibilities
of
our grasping
forms of rationality
different
from
ours in an alien culture. First, as I have indicated,
are limited by certain formal
these possibilities
round
the demand
for
centering
requirements
But these formal requirements
tell us
consistency.
in particular
about what
is to count as
nothing
as
the
rules
of
the
just
consistency,
propositional
calculus
limit, but do not themselves
determine,
can
what are to be proper values of p, q, etc. We
this
determine
the
wider
by investigating
only
context of the life in which the activities
in question
are carried on. This
will
take us
investigation
the
beyond merely
specifying the rules governing
carrying out of those activities. For, as Maclntyre
quite rightly says, to note that certain rules are
followed is so far to say nothing about the point of
or not
the rules; it is not even to decide whether
they have a point at all.
this is that "in
Maclntyre's
recipe for deciding
bringing out this feature of the case one shows also
whether
the use of this concept
is or is not a
one
for
have
the
who
standards of
people
possible
we
in
and
action
which
intelligibility
speech
have."29 It is important to notice that his argument,
contrary to what he supposes, does not in fact show
a
that our own standards of rationality
occupy
to
central
The
the
appearance
position.
peculiarly
is an optical
illusion engendered
contrary
by the
case has been advanced
in the
fact that Maclntyre's
and
in the context
of 20th
language
English
culture. But a formally similar
Century European
could
be
advanced
in any language
argument
a
similar
role in that
concepts
containing
playing
and "ration?
language to those of "intelligibility"
this in the
ality"
in ours.
learn
of rationality,"
forming
This
shows
that,
first place.
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so
far
from
over
A
UNDERSTANDING
as he
claims, Maclntyre
relativism,
coming
himself falls into an extreme form of it. He disguises
the very error of
this from himself by committing
as
to
I
have
tried
which, wrongly
show, he accuses
me: the error of overlooking
the fact that "criteria
and concepts have a history." While he emphasizes
this point when he is dealing with the concepts and
social
criteria
action
in particular
governing
contexts, he forgets it when he comes to talk of the
not
the criteria
criticism of such criteria. Do
to
in
the
criticism
of
existing institutions
appealed
in whose
society do
equally have a history? And
they have that history ?Maclntyre's
implicit answer
is that it is in ours; but if we are to speak of
difficulties and incoherencies
appearing and being
detected
in the way certain practices have hitherto
been carried on in a society, surely this can only be
understood
in connection with problems arising in
on of the activity.
that
the carrying
Outside
context we could not begin to grasp what was
problematical.
me
Let
return
to
the Azande
The
Azande
rites
form
cannot
belief
at
present
in fact
are
them
had
be
to admit
refuted.
ineffective
evil
is never
there
possible,
for them
the
their
affects
rites
if the
that
that
believe
in due
and
that
some?
consider
says about them,
I am criticizing.
thing which Maclntyre
to support the position
intended
of
performance
common
certain
this
welfare;
they also believe
For
someone
it is because
Since
this is always
thoughts.
a year when
it is unavoidable
rites were
the
duly
performed,
but they did not thrive. Now
the belief of the
Azande is not unfalsifiable in principle (we know
well
perfectly
of the
fact
of rational
seems
what
no
rite,
it cannot
it?the
falsify
conjunction
and
in
But
disasters).
in need
this belief
stand
thoughts
be falsified.
Does
that
rational
and
technology
ineffectiveness
if so by what
standards
? It
the belief
of the
only hold
? And
criticism
to me
Azande
would
evil
one
could
in the absence
of any
criteria
in which
of science
practice
of effectiveness,
and kindred
notions
had been built up.
to say this is to recognize
the appropriateness
of
our
scientific
criteria
of judgment
from
standpoint.
The Azande
do not intend
their belief
either as a piece
But
of
or as a piece
science
these
possess
light
that
of
their
evaluated
categories.
later and more
belief
and
of non-science.
It
is only
sophisticated
can
concepts
They
post
be
eventum,
do
not
in the
understanding
classified
and
at all.30
Now in one sense classification and evaluation of
Zande beliefs and concepts does require "a more
than is found
in
sophisticated
understanding"
Zande
and
culture; for the sort of classification
30 Ibid.
PRIMITIVE
SOCIETY
evaluation
319
are
that
here
are
in question
sophisti?
cated philosophical
But this is not to
activities.
say that Zande forms of life are to be classified and
asserts : in terms of
evaluated in the way Maclntyre
certain specific forms of life to be found in our
culture,
as
according
or do
do
they
not
measure
up
con?
to what is required within
these. Maclntyre
fuses the sophistication
of the interest in classifica?
tion with
the sophistication
of the concepts em?
our
in
work.
It is of interest to
ployed
classificatory
us to understand
how Zande magic
is related to
is a very
science; the concept of such a comparison
that we
one; but this does not mean
sophisticated
Zande practice
have to see the unsophisticated
in
the light of more sophisticated practices in our own
like
culture,
science?as
perhaps
a more
primitive
form of it. Maclntyre
criticizes, justly, Sir James
Frazer for having
imposed the image of his own
culture on more primitive ones ; but that is exactly
is doing
himself
here.
It is
what Maclntyre
a
difficult
for
member
of a
extremely
sophisticated
society to grasp a very simple and
sophisticated
form of life : in a way he must jettison
primitive
a process which
his sophistication,
is itself perhaps
in sophistication.
the ultimate
the
Or,
rather,
between
distinction
and
sophistication
simplicity
becomes unhelpful at this point.
It may be true, as Maclntyre
says, that the
do not have the categories of science and
Azande
But
non-science.
account
Evans-Pritchard's
shows
that they do have a fairly clear working distinction
between
the technical
It is
and the magical.
neither here nor there that individual Azande may
confuse
sometimes
fusions
take
may
the
place
categories,
in any culture.
for
such
A much
is that we
fact to emphasize
important
a
at all
have
that
looks
category
initially
Zande category of magic. Since it iswe who
the Zande category, it appears
understand
onus
is on
make
room
insist
on
distinction
us
to extend
for
the
our
Zande
it in terms
seeing
between
science
understanding
rather
category,
our
of
and
con?
more
do not
like the
want to
that the
so as
to
than
to
own
ready-made
non-science.
Cer?
we seek requires
tainly the sort of understanding
that we see the Zande category in relation to our
own
understood
But
this
already
categories.
neither means that it is right to "evaluate" magic in
terms of criteria belonging
to those other categories ;
nor does it give any clue as to which of our existing
categories of thought will provide the best point of
reference from which we can understand
the point
of the Zande practices.
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AMERICAN
320
PHILOSOPHICAL
in showing that if
has no difficulty
Maclntyre
the rites which
the Azande perform in connection
with their harvests are "classified and evaluated"
to the criteria
of
and standards
by reference
then they are subject to
science or technology,
serious criticism. He thinks that the Zande "belief"
is a sort of hypothesis like, e.g., an Englishman's
rain we have been
that all the heavy
belief
to
is
due
atomic
having
explosions.31 Maclntyre
as it were a neutral
that he is applying
believes
to
of
"A
concept
affecting B," equally applicable
QUARTERLY
they take all kinds of practical
"technological"
to ensure that they
their capabilities,
steps, within
do thrive. But that is no reason to see their magical
rites as a further, misguided
such step. A man's
sense of the importance of something to him shows
itself in all sorts of ways: not merely
in precautions
to safeguard
to come
that thing. He may want
to terms with
to him in quite a
its importance
different
way
: to
some
it, to gain
contemplate
sense
of his life in relation to it. He may wish thereby, in
a certain sense, tofree himself from dependence
on
mean
sure
I
not
not
western
it.
do
that
it
does
Zande
and
science.
In
how?
fact,
by making
magic
let him down, because
the point is that, whatever
the concept with which he is
ever, he is applying
familiar, one which draws its significance from its he does, he may still be let down. The important
use in scientific and technological
contexts. There is
that and come to
thing is that he should understand
no
terms
reason
con?
to understand
to suppose
with
it.
that
the Zande
Of
course, merely
magical
come
same
not
to
to
terms
7?"
that
is
"A
has
with
of
like
the
it, though perhaps
cept
affecting
anything
it is a necessary condition
for so doing, for a man
the contrary,
since the Azande
significance. On
may equally well be transfixed and terrorized by
do, in the course of their practical affairs, apply
the contemplation
of such a possibility. He must
something very like our technical concept?though
a
can
see
more
in
that
he
still
form?and
since
their
go on even if he is let down by
primitive
perhaps
so
what
is vitally important to him; and he must
attitude to and thought about their magical
rites
are quite different
order his life that he still can go on in such circum?
from those concerning
their
is
there
measures,
technological
reason
every
to
that their concept of magical
is
"influence"
different.
This may be easier to accept if it is
quite
think
remembered
that,
even
in
our
own
the
culture,
concept of causal influence is by no means mono?
lithic: when we speak, for example, of "what made
Jones
get
married,"
kind ofthing
aeroplane
as when
crash";
we
are
we
speak of "what made
I do
not
not
mean
saying
simply
same
the
that
the
our
of life from
ways
of
"causal
influence"
cepts
own,
which
there
behave
may
be
even
con?
more
differently.
to say that we are quite
But I do not want
to find ways of thinking
in our own
powerless
society that will help us to see the Zande institution
in a clearer light. I only think that the direction
in
which we should look is quite different from what
the nature of Zande
suggests. Clearly
Maclntyre
to
life is such that it is of very great importance
too
them that their crops should thrive. Clearly
31
once
fiercer?because
old. This
In
that
again
not
I do
mean
this
harder
to
cultures
Judaeo-Christian
the
understand?than
should be particularly
apparent
the
to us.S2
conception
of
as developed
it be Thy Will,"
in the story of
to
the matter I am discussing.
is
central
Job,
clearly
to Christian
is central
Because
this conception
prayers of supplication,
they may be regarded from
one point of view as freeing
from
the believer
on
he
is
for.33
what
supplicating
dependence
Prayers cannot play this role if they are regarded as
a means of influencing the outcome for in that case
the one who prays is still dependent on the outcome.
his
He frees himself from this by acknowledging
on
and
this
is
God;
totally
complete dependence
on the outcome
unlike any dependence
precisely
because God is eternal and the outcome contingent.
rites are at all
I do not say that Zande magical
in the positive
like Christian prayers of supplication
"If
I have been helped
but greatly,
follows
In what
indirectly,
by
was kind enough
to show me;
and also by
Mr. Rush Rhees
& Kegan
Simone Weil
Paul,
(London, Routledge
1963).
32
in her essay
is beautifully
The point
developed
by Simone Weil
& Kegan
Paul,
1958).
(London, Routledge
33 I have been
to see this point by a hitherto
unpublished
helped
which
I stress
sense of becoming
inde?
"technologically
because
from
the
of
view
present point
pendent,"
is
another
form
of
yet
technological
independence
some
Technology
destroys
depen?
dependence.
dencies but always creates new ones, which may be
in the
the
events of which we speak are different in kind but
the events is different
that the relation between
to accept
also. It should not then be difficult
that in a society with quite different
institutions
and
stances.
some
unpublished
various
scattered
on Frazer,
notes made
by Wittgenstein
in The Notebooks
of
remarks on folklore
on "The Analysis
essay
on
the concept
in Oppression
of Oppression"
of prayer
by Mr.
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D.
and Liberty
Z. Phillips.
A
UNDERSTANDING
attitude to contingencies which they express. What
I do suggest is that they are alike in that they do,
or may,
that
an
express
is, which
to
attitude
involves
that one's
to
is subject
to control
one,
contingencies;
recognition
rather
contingencies,
these. To
characterize
this
life
an
than
attempt
more
attitude
a
have
drama
of
resentments,
evil-doing,
in which
there are ways of
revenge,
expiation,
with
misfortunes
and their
dealing
(symbolically)
effect on a man's
relations with his
disruptive
life can go on despite
fellows, with ways in which
such disruptions.
How
ismy treatment of this example related to
the general criticsms I was making
of Maclntyre's
account of what it is for us to see the point of the
rules and conventions
followed in an alien form of
life? Maclntyre
speaks as though our own rules
and
are
conventions
a
somehow
of what
paradigm
it is for rules and conventions
to have a point, so
that the only problem that arises is in accounting
for the point of the rules and conventions
in some
other society. But in fact, of course, the problem is
the same in relation to our own society as it is in
relation
our
are
danger
account
terms
own
to any
no more
other;
rules
and
conventions
relation
immune
else's
anyone
the
from
of being or becoming
So an
pointless.
of this matter
cannot be given simply in
set of rules
of any
or
than
anyone
of a
else's
set
of
and
our
at all:
conventions
us to consider
; it requires
rules
to
and
conventions
the
some?
rites
thing else. In my discussion of Zande magical
rites to
just now what I tried to relate the magical
was a sense of the significance of human life. This
notion is, I think, indispensable
to any account of
what is involved in understanding
and learning from
an
alien
culture
; Imust
now
to say more
try
about
it.
In a discussion
of Wittgenstein's
philosophical
use of language games34 Mr. Rush Rhees
points
out that to try to account for the
of
meaningfulness
terms
in
of
isolated
language
solely
language
is to omit the important
fact that ways
games
of speaking are not insulated from each other in
exclusive systems of rules. What
can be
mutually
said
in one
sion
depends
34
Rush
context
Rhees,
for
by
the
use
its sense
"Wittgenstein's
of
on
a certain
expres?
the uses
of
Builders,"
Proceedings
SOCIETY
that
321
in other contexts
(different
language
expression
games are played by men who
games). Language
have lives to live?lives
involving a wide variety of
different interests, which have all kinds of different
on
bearings
man
says
one should note how Zande
rites
specifically
the importance of certain fundamental
emphasize
features of their life which Maclntyre
ignores.
concentrates
Maclntyre
implicitly on the relation
of the rites to consumption,
but of course they are
to social relations and this seems
also fundamental
to be emphasized
in Zande notions of witchcraft.
We
PRIMITIVE
each
or does
other.
may
of
Because
make
a
this, what
not
merely
a difference
to the performance
of the activity upon which he
is at present engaged, but to his life and to the lives
a man sees point in what
of other people. Whether
he is doing will then depend on whether he is able
to see any unity
in his multifarious
interests,
activities, and relations with other men; what sort
of sense he sees in his life will depend on the nature
of this unity. The ability to see this sort of sense in
on the individual
con?
life depends not merely
not
not
to
does
this
it
is
cerned, though
say
depend
on him at all ; it depends also on the possibilities for
such sense which
the culture in which he
making
lives does, or does not, provide.
What we may learn by studying other cultures
are not merely
of different ways of
possibilities
other
doing things,
importantly
techniques. More
we may learn different possibilities of making
sense
of human
different
about
the
ideas
life,
possible
importance that the carrying out of certain activi?
ties may take on for a man, trying to contemplate
the sense of his life as a whole. This dimension of the
in his
matter
misses
is precisely what Maclntyre
treatment of Zande magic:
he can see in it only a
consumer
for producing
technique
(misguided)
are
a
not
But
Zande's
crops
just potential
goods.
the life he lives, his
of consumption:
objects
relations with his fellows, his chances for acting
or doing
all spring from
evil, may
decently
his
to his
relation
form of expression
dangers
may
be
crops.
rites
Magical
in which
and
contemplated
a
constitute
these possibilities
and
on?
reflected
and perhaps also thereby transformed and deep?
ened. The difficulty we find in understanding
this
is not
merely
its
remoteness
from
science,
but
an
aspect of the general difficulty we find, illustrated
of thinking about such
by Maclntyre's
procedure,
matters
at all except
in terms of "efficiency
of
that
production"?production,
is, for
consumption.
called the
This again is a symptom of what Marx
in industrial
of man
characteristic
"alienation"
own confusions about the
society, though Marx's
relations
between
and
production
consumption
are
Our
further symptoms of that same alienation.
blindness to the point of primitive modes of life is a
of much of our own
corollary of the pointlessness
life.
of the Aristotelian
Society, vol.
20 (i960),
pp.
171-186.
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AMERICAN
322
I have now explicitly
a
of
"point"
linked my discussion
of
system
PHILOSOPHICAL
conventions
of the
con?
with
ceptions of good and evil. My aim is not to engage
in moralizing,
but to suggest that the concept of
learningfrom which is involved in the study of other
cultures is closely linked with the concept o? wisdom.
are confronted
not just with different
tech?
We
new
with
but
and
of
evil,
niques,
possibilities
good
in relation to which men may come to terms with
life. An
into this dimension
of a
investigation
a
indeed
detailed
inquiry
society may
require
quite
into alternative
(e.g., of production),
techniques
but an inquiry conducted for the light it throws on
those possibilities
of good and evil. A very good
is Simone
example of the kind of thing I mean
of
the
of
modern
Weil's
factory
analysis
techniques
in Oppression and Liberty, which
is not a
production
to business management,
contribution
but part of
an inquiry into the peculiar form which the evil of
in our
takes
oppression
culture.
to
In saying this, however,
I may seem merely
have lifted to a new level the difficulty raised by
to relate
of how
Maclntyre
our
own
of
conceptions
to those of other societies. Here
the
rationality
own
concerns
our
the
relation
between
difficulty
of good and evil and those of other
conceptions
societies. A full investigation would thus require a
discussion of ethical relativism at this point. I have
tried to show some of the limitations of relativism in
an earlier paper.35 I shall close the present essay
some
with
remarks
which
are
to
supplementary
that.
I wish
human
to point
life
out that the very
involves
certain
of
conception
fundamental
vary
very
considerably
from
one
society
a
to another;
but their central position within
a
constant
must
is
and
be
institutions
society's
35Peter
Winch,
"Nature
and Convention,"
Proceedings
In trying to understand
the life of an alien
to
it
will
be
of
the
utmost
society, then,
importance
be clear about the way in which these notions enter
into it. The actual practice of social anthropolo?
I do not know how
gists bears this out, although
of them would
the same kind of
attach
many
as
to
I
them
do.
importance
I speak of a "limit" here because these notions,
along no doubt with others, give shape to what we
a
understand
life"; and because
by "human
concern with questions
in
terms
them
of
posed
seems to me constitutive of what we understand
by
of a society. In saying this, I am
the "morality"
of course disagreeing with those moral philosophers
attitudes of approval and disap?
who have made
or
in
fundamental
similar,
something
proval,
and
that
who
have
held
the
of
such
ethics,
objects
were
to the
attitudes
irrelevant
conceptually
of morality. On that view, there might
conception
be a society where
the sorts of attitude taken up in
our society to questions about relations between
the
factor.
sexes
were
reserved,
for
say,
the
about
questions
length people wear their hair, and vice versa. This
seems to me incoherent.
In the first place, there
in calling a concern of that
would be a confusion
sort
a "moral"
however
concern,
felt.
passionately
con?
The story of Samson
in the Old Testament
firms rather than refutes this point, for the inter?
dict on the cutting of Samson's hair is, of course,
connected there with much else :and pre-eminently,
it should be noted, with questions
about sexual
to be
if that is thought
relations. But secondly,
I will say that it does not
merely verbal quibbling,
to me
seem
notions?
I shall call "limiting notions"?which
have
which
an obvious ethical dimension,
and which indeed in
a sense determine
the "ethical space," within which
of good and evil in human life can
the possibilities
be exercised. The notions which I shall discuss very
briefly here correspond closely to those which Vico
of his idea of natural law, on
the foundation
made
which he thought the possibility of understanding
human history rested :birth, death, sexual relations.
Their significance here is that they are inescapably
involved in the life of all known human societies in
a way which gives us a clue where
to look, if we
are puzzled about the point of an alien system of
institutions. The specific forms which these concepts
in which
institutions
take, the particular
they are
expressed,
QUARTERLY
a
conventional
merely
matter
that
and
T. S. Eliot's
trinity of "birth,
copulation
death" happen to be such deep objects of human
concern.
I do
not mean
just
that
they
are made
such
and
sociological
by
psychological
forces, though that is no doubt true. But I want to
life is
say further that the very notion of human
limited by these conceptions.
live but also
Unlike
beasts, men do not merely
have a conception of life. This is not something that
is simply added to their life; rather, it changes the
sense which
the word
"life" has, when
very
men.
no
to
to
It
is
longer equivalent
applied
fundamental
"animate
existence."
When
we
are
speaking
of
the
life of man, we can ask questions about what is the
right way to live, what things are most important
in life, whether
and if so
life has any significance,
what.
To
of the Aristotelian
have
a conception
Society, vol.
20
(i960),
of life is also
pp.
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231-252.
to have
a
A
UNDERSTANDING
PRIMITIVE
SOCIETY
323
it here. Consider
that a lover in our society
a
about
may carry
picture or lock of hair of the
question
so
for him his
that
this
is
in
that
is
here
the
"death"
may
beloved;
existence,
symbolize
question
relation to the beloved and may,
not the same as the end of animate existence. My
indeed, change
an event
the relation
in all sorts of ways:
for example,
conception of the death of an animal is of
that
it or perverting
I
it. Suppose
shall
that will take place in the world;
strengthening
perhaps
I when the lover loses the locket he feels guilty and
observe it?and my life will go on. But when
am not speaking of a future
asks his beloved for her forgiveness : there might be
speak of "my death," I
a parallel
here to the aboriginal's
event in my life;36 I am not even speaking of an
practice of
am
event in anyone else's life. I
anointing himself when he "loses his soul." And is
speaking of the
irrational about either
there necessarily
cessation of my world. That is also a cessation of my
anything
as
a
or
not
of
these
should the lover not
It
to
that
evil.
is
do
just
practices? Why
good
ability
matter offact I shall no longer be able to do good
regard his carelessness in losing the locket as a sort
how hus?
of betrayal of the beloved ? Remember
or evil after I am dead; the point is that my very
feel about the loss of a
concept of what it is to be able to do good or evil is bands and wives may
as wedding
ring. The aborigine is clearly expressing a
deeply bound up with my concept of my life
concern
a
concern
with
his life as a whole in this practice ; the
with
the
If
is
ethics
in
death.
ending
shows
the close connection between such
nature
this
to
of
the
then
live,
anointing
clearly
right way
a concern and contemplation
of death. Perhaps it
concern must be deeply affected by the concept of
is precisely
such a
this practice which makes
life as ending in death. One's attitude to one's life
the
not
is
in
is at
But just as the "life"
of death.
conception
here
same
an
time
as
same
the
to one's
attitude
that is
concern
death.
point is very well illustrated in an anthro?
confesses him?
datum which Maclntyre
pological
This
to make
self unable
According
carry about
or embodies
sense
any
to
and
Spencer
a stick or
the
soul
stone
of
of.
some
Gillen
the
aborigines
as if it is
is treated
which
individual
carries
who
it.
If the stick or stone is lost, the individual anoints
himself
as
the dead
one's
"carrying
we
can
course
doing
and
soul
erroneous,
anointed.
about
redescribe
transform
Spencer and Gillen
misdescribe
are
with
what
it
into
Does
one"
the
sense,
the
make
concept
sense?
of
Of
are
aborigines
and
perhaps
(and Durkheim who follows them)
occurs.
if their
what
But
a blank
we
wall
confront
is concerned,
although
meaning
rules for the use of the concept.37
reports
here,
it is easy
about
animate
are
so far
to give
not
as
the
does not say why he regards the con?
Maclntyre
cept of carrying one's soul about with one in a
incoherent." He is presumably
stick "thoroughly
influenced by the fact that itwould be hard tomake
sense of an action
like this if performed
by a
or American;
and
Englishman
twentieth-century
object
by the fact that the soul is not a material
be
like a piece of paper and cannot,
therefore,
carried about in a stick as a piece of paper might
be. But it does not seem to me so hard to see sense
in the practice, even from the little we are told
for
possible
as
him,
sacraments
religious
make certain sorts of concern possible. The point is
that a concern with one's life as a whole,
involving
as it does the limiting conception of one's death, if
it is to be expressed within a person's
life, can
of
be
only
necessarily
expressed
form of the concern
The
the
quasi-sacramentally.
shows
itself in the form
sacrament.
I spoke also of sex as a
"limiting
concept" again has to do with the con?
a
of
human
life. The life of a man is a man's
cept
is a woman's
life : the
life and the life of a woman
or the femininity
are not just com?
masculinity
ponents in the life, they are its mode. Adapting
remark about death, I might
say
Wittgenstein's
that my masculinity
is not an experience
in the
the world. Now
world, but my way of experiencing
of masculinity
and femininity
the concepts
ob?
The
viously
relation
relation
sense
in which
A man
each
other.
require
a woman
to women;
and
to men.38
Thus
the
form
is a man
is a woman
taken
in
in
by man's
is of quite fundamental
relation to women
impor?
tance for the significance he can attach to his own
life. The vulgar
identification
of morality
with
sexual morality
is vulgar;
but it is a
certainly
of an important truth.
vulgarization
The limiting character of the concept of birth is
related to the points I have sketched
obviously
regarding death and sex. On the one hand, my
36 Cf.
Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus,
Wittgenstein,
6.431 -6.4311.
37 Is
Understanding Religion Compatible with Believing?
38These
are
converses.
not
See Georg
relations,
however,
Simmel,
simple
in Philosophische Kultur
Problem"
Klinkhardt,
1911).
(Leipzig, Werner
"Das Relative
und
das Absolute
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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
im Geschlechter
AMERICAN
324
PHILOSOPHICAL
birth is no more an event in my life than is my
death; and through my birth ethical limits are set
of my will : I am,
for my life quite independently
to other
in specific relations
from the outset,
can?
which
from
which
obligations
spring
people,
not but be ethically fundamental.39
On the other
linked
hand, the concept of birth is fundamentally
to that of relations between the sexes. This remains
true, however much or little may be known in a
of males
and
the contribution
society about
true that
to procreation;
for it remains
females
man
not of man. This,
is born of woman,
then,
to the ethical institutions
in
adds a new dimension
the sexes are expressed.
which relations between
in these last brief
I have tried to do no more,
remarks,
than
to
focus
attention
in
a
QUARTERLY
provide
built.
Now
since
men,
let us
always
to give
We
to indicate that forms of
I have wanted
direction.
be an
will
these limiting
concepts
necessarily
and
that
human
feature
of
any
society
important
life
will
evil
in
human
and
of
good
conceptions
In
such concepts.
be connected with
necessarily
to
life
of
another
the
understand
any attempt
an investigation
of the forms
therefore,
society,
role in the life of the
taken by such concepts?their
take a central place and
society?must
always
on which
see
in what
has
been
men
institutions
made
agree
will
be
For these
institutions
agreed.
the universal
and eternal
principles
have
us
must
on which
have)
all
be
may
understanding
of nations
the world
science
every
and
founded
by
and
able
(such as
were
nations
themselves.
still preserve
as well
as
that all nations,
barbarous
remote
because
founded
though
separately
observe
civilized,
from
each
other
human
customs:
solemn
marriages,
however
nation,
actions
more
certain
a basis
riage
in time
all
and
space,
keep
some
have
all bury
and
savage
crude,
with more
elaborate
performed
sacred
solemnity
and
burial.
For
than
by
the
three
contract
in no
And
are
any human
and
ceremonies
rites
the
these
all
religion,
dead.
their
axiom
mar?
of religion,
"uniform
that
to each
unknown
born
other,
among
ideas,
peoples
a common
it must
must
have
of
have
truth,"
ground
to all nations
that from these institutions
been dictated
among
humanity
began
must
be most
devoutly
the world
ness.
eternal
this
should
not
this
reason
For
and
universal
them
and
all,
by
guarded
become
again
we
they
so that
all,
a bestial
wilder?
taken
have
customs
as
therefore
them
the first
these
three
principles
Science.40
University College of Swansea,
University of Wales
39 For
this reason,
among
others,
I think A.
I. Melden
to do with physical
Cf. Melden,
genealogy.
directly
40Giambattista
The New Science, ?? 332-333.
Vico,
to say that parent-child
obligations
Basil Blackwell,
and Right Conduct (Oxford,
is wrong
Rights
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All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
and
rights
1959).
have
nothing
of