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Book Reviews

Book Reviews Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/pq/article-abstract/17/69/372/1577900 by DeepDyve user on 24 June 2020 BOOK EEVIEWS The Savage Mind. By CLATTDE LEVI-STRAUSS . (London : Weidenfel d & Nicolson. 1966. Pp . xii + 290. Price 45s). To tr y to say wha t Levi-Strauss means is a dangerous enterprise ; an d this is per­ hap s especially true of th e present book, of which Levi-Strauss himself has said that i t marks a stage in his development from Les structures ilimentaires de la parente of 1949 t o Le cru et le cuit of 1964. I t therefore reflects larger an d continuin g preoccupations of its author . Three of these are important . Against th e Marxists , Levi-Strauss wishes t o assert the relative autonomy of th e cultura l superstructure from the economic base : indeed, although he continues to frame his own position in term s of thi s Marxist meta­ phor, much of his work implies a rejection of tha t metaphor. In th e 1949 boo k it was th e autonomy of marriage rules he was concerned with ; in th e present book it is th e autonom y of system s of thought . He argues for example against Elkins tha t one cannot interpre t totemism by splitting u p th e phenomenon and connecting each aspect with some external part of social life ; totemism must be understood as a total mode of comprehension, a symbolism used t o structur e th e differences, resemblances an d relation­ ships which me n perceiv e an d establish between natur e an d culture . Yet t o pu t matter s like this suggests tha t men hav e some mode of graspin g natur e other tha n tha t afforded t o them by their culture and just this is wha t Levi-Strauss wants to deny. There is a good deal of unfinished epistemological business scattered through his work. Secondly, against Levy-Bruhl, but in a way which differs from that of othe r critics of Levy-Bruhl, Levi-Strauss wants to construe the symbolic systems of the savage min d as symbolic systems governed by rules an d sensitive t o th e requirements of logic jus t as muc h as our own though t is. Myths can b e decoded and the n reveal themselves as expressions of a science of th e concrete, of a whole mode of classifying nature which neolithic ma n invente d an d whic h wa s th e basis for his ne w technologies of agriculture, animal husbandry, pottery, weaving an d cookery. Thirdly , in th e task of decoding there is Levi-Strauss's preoccupation with binary oppositions. His perception of dichotomies embodied in myth s and rituals is accom­ panie d b y a n imaginative sensitivity to th e minds of those whom he studies tha t often renders his interpretations deeply impressive. But one also understands why Peter Worlsey a t the hea d of a recent paper on Levi-Strauss quoted Henry Miller's dictum tha t " th e insane have a terrific obsession for logic and order, as have the French ". Fo r all too often Levi-Strauss's ingenuity results in an untestable hypothesis. Since h e wants to see th e history of mythological thinking as closely parallel to, althoug h in varyin g degrees independent of, the history of social structures, his decoding of a myt h may be defended against objections by the use of numbers of auxiliary hypo­ theses. I t ma y be tha t his hypotheses are no t untestable in principle ; bu t th e words ' in principle ' carry very little consolation here. This difficulty arises no t merel y for some of Levi-Strauss' s particular interpretations, bu t for his whole perspective. The rationa l principles which inform savage minds are, on his view, wha t a t one an d th e same time enable u s t o stud y the m an d t o learn from the m about ourselves. The commo n core of humanit y resides in th e creation and appre­ hension of rule-governed structures which are equally present in taxonomies and hair styles, totemism and cybernetics. Thus everything turns upon the ability to identify such structures and t o be able to determine when they are isomorphic with each other an d when they are not . This book makes it very clear that structural anthropology ha s still not characterized the notion of structure adequately. Of the translation only this needs to be said : th e concept of style could perhaps b e taugh t ostensively b y contrasting Levi-Strauss's original with th e English version. Styl e is wha t has disappeared. AliASDAIR MACINTYRE A Short History of Ethics. By ALASDAIR MACINTYRE. (New York : The Macmillan Company , 1966. London : Routledg e & Kega n Paul, 1967. Pp . viii + 280. Price cloth 30s, paper 15s). No one could get th e histor y of ethics , let alone tha t of it s first-order subject matter a s well, into 280 pages. Professor MacIntyre rightly prefers selection to over-com­ pression—a policy most strikingly exemplified in his 10-page treatment of Christianity an d Mediaeval ethics. Sidgwick, b y whose example h e is understandabl y awed, gave tha t period much fuller treatment and generally devoted more space t o minor figures. The Outlines of the History of Ethics is no t superseded b y th e Short History as a work of scholarship, but the later work is philosophically much the more interesting. A major point of emphasi s is tha t moral concepts hav e a history, an d change an d develop along with the forms of social life in which they are embedded. The subject matter of ethics is no t static ; th e questions change as well as th e answers. Obviously these ar e http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Philosophical Quarterly Oxford University Press

Book Reviews

Philosophical Quarterly , Volume 17 (69) – Oct 1, 1967

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References (19)

Publisher
Oxford University Press
Copyright
© The Editors of The Philosophical Quarterly
ISSN
0031-8094
eISSN
1467-9213
DOI
10.2307/2217471
Publisher site
See Article on Publisher Site

Abstract

Downloaded from https://academic.oup.com/pq/article-abstract/17/69/372/1577900 by DeepDyve user on 24 June 2020 BOOK EEVIEWS The Savage Mind. By CLATTDE LEVI-STRAUSS . (London : Weidenfel d & Nicolson. 1966. Pp . xii + 290. Price 45s). To tr y to say wha t Levi-Strauss means is a dangerous enterprise ; an d this is per­ hap s especially true of th e present book, of which Levi-Strauss himself has said that i t marks a stage in his development from Les structures ilimentaires de la parente of 1949 t o Le cru et le cuit of 1964. I t therefore reflects larger an d continuin g preoccupations of its author . Three of these are important . Against th e Marxists , Levi-Strauss wishes t o assert the relative autonomy of th e cultura l superstructure from the economic base : indeed, although he continues to frame his own position in term s of thi s Marxist meta­ phor, much of his work implies a rejection of tha t metaphor. In th e 1949 boo k it was th e autonomy of marriage rules he was concerned with ; in th e present book it is th e autonom y of system s of thought . He argues for example against Elkins tha t one cannot interpre t totemism by splitting u p th e phenomenon and connecting each aspect with some external part of social life ; totemism must be understood as a total mode of comprehension, a symbolism used t o structur e th e differences, resemblances an d relation­ ships which me n perceiv e an d establish between natur e an d culture . Yet t o pu t matter s like this suggests tha t men hav e some mode of graspin g natur e other tha n tha t afforded t o them by their culture and just this is wha t Levi-Strauss wants to deny. There is a good deal of unfinished epistemological business scattered through his work. Secondly, against Levy-Bruhl, but in a way which differs from that of othe r critics of Levy-Bruhl, Levi-Strauss wants to construe the symbolic systems of the savage min d as symbolic systems governed by rules an d sensitive t o th e requirements of logic jus t as muc h as our own though t is. Myths can b e decoded and the n reveal themselves as expressions of a science of th e concrete, of a whole mode of classifying nature which neolithic ma n invente d an d whic h wa s th e basis for his ne w technologies of agriculture, animal husbandry, pottery, weaving an d cookery. Thirdly , in th e task of decoding there is Levi-Strauss's preoccupation with binary oppositions. His perception of dichotomies embodied in myth s and rituals is accom­ panie d b y a n imaginative sensitivity to th e minds of those whom he studies tha t often renders his interpretations deeply impressive. But one also understands why Peter Worlsey a t the hea d of a recent paper on Levi-Strauss quoted Henry Miller's dictum tha t " th e insane have a terrific obsession for logic and order, as have the French ". Fo r all too often Levi-Strauss's ingenuity results in an untestable hypothesis. Since h e wants to see th e history of mythological thinking as closely parallel to, althoug h in varyin g degrees independent of, the history of social structures, his decoding of a myt h may be defended against objections by the use of numbers of auxiliary hypo­ theses. I t ma y be tha t his hypotheses are no t untestable in principle ; bu t th e words ' in principle ' carry very little consolation here. This difficulty arises no t merel y for some of Levi-Strauss' s particular interpretations, bu t for his whole perspective. The rationa l principles which inform savage minds are, on his view, wha t a t one an d th e same time enable u s t o stud y the m an d t o learn from the m about ourselves. The commo n core of humanit y resides in th e creation and appre­ hension of rule-governed structures which are equally present in taxonomies and hair styles, totemism and cybernetics. Thus everything turns upon the ability to identify such structures and t o be able to determine when they are isomorphic with each other an d when they are not . This book makes it very clear that structural anthropology ha s still not characterized the notion of structure adequately. Of the translation only this needs to be said : th e concept of style could perhaps b e taugh t ostensively b y contrasting Levi-Strauss's original with th e English version. Styl e is wha t has disappeared. AliASDAIR MACINTYRE A Short History of Ethics. By ALASDAIR MACINTYRE. (New York : The Macmillan Company , 1966. London : Routledg e & Kega n Paul, 1967. Pp . viii + 280. Price cloth 30s, paper 15s). No one could get th e histor y of ethics , let alone tha t of it s first-order subject matter a s well, into 280 pages. Professor MacIntyre rightly prefers selection to over-com­ pression—a policy most strikingly exemplified in his 10-page treatment of Christianity an d Mediaeval ethics. Sidgwick, b y whose example h e is understandabl y awed, gave tha t period much fuller treatment and generally devoted more space t o minor figures. The Outlines of the History of Ethics is no t superseded b y th e Short History as a work of scholarship, but the later work is philosophically much the more interesting. A major point of emphasi s is tha t moral concepts hav e a history, an d change an d develop along with the forms of social life in which they are embedded. The subject matter of ethics is no t static ; th e questions change as well as th e answers. Obviously these ar e

Journal

Philosophical QuarterlyOxford University Press

Published: Oct 1, 1967

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