13. CLASSIFICATION AND COSMOLOGY
Starting point today is famous work from 1902 by Emile Durkheim (already mentioned)
and Marcel Mauss: we have excerpts in reading
Q. What is the root problem D&M address?
Origin of ability to categorize, to divide up the world mentally into different kinds of
Basic issue, basic problem in philosophy
Two basic tendencies, to find origin of perception and classification in world itself, i.e.
we soak it up from what is out there, or to see categories in some way as already
implanted within us
Perennial issue in Greek and European philosophy, in modern psychology
Q. What is their answer?
It is neither, rather found in society. This answer fits
Durkheim, who was sociological imperialist, explained everything through society
Q. What is the logic of their argument?
1. They assume that world was originally a blur, indistinct
2. assume that categorizing is not a natural ability
3. first categories that presented to primitive people are groups in society
4. changes in society lead to increasingly complex categories
5. we can trace evolutionary changes in society through study of living primitives, who
represent different stages in evolution.
(Few anthros today believe this.)
They begin with Australian aborigines, who then thought to be simplest society (actually
very complex classifications and kinship system); division of society into just two parts.
Classification of everything else follows, division of everything in world into two groups,
like two human groups
(True that there are societies divided into two sides, typically one must marry person
from other side, but not true that they are necessarily simple societies.)
-Then more complex tribal societies (Zuni, Sioux), where more than two groups, and
categories also anchored to landscape
-then complex premodern civilization, China, same kind of classification, but no longer
tied to particular groups
-and then to modern classifying, where detached from both concrete groups and from
Whole argument bogus.
Original indistinction in premodern thought or at stage of life is
Some perceptual abilities we are born with.
Also, before one can perceive and categorize groups as distinct, one must be able to
perceive and categorize in general.
How could one discern that there are two separate
groups unless one could already perceive difference and number?
concede this, say ‘Well, maybe there was a little practical categorizing,’ but once you
make that concession, whole argument implodes.