Philosophy, Theory and the Study of Culture


Anthropologists need philosophers, and I think philosophers need anthropologists.  Anyway, I have found that the little philosophy I know is very helpful in doing anthropology.  I wish I knew more.

Everyone needs to know logic, understand what fallacies are, and know how to construct an argument.  While intuitions about things are wonderful, rational understanding is at the heart of science.  The kind of anthropology I do is science.  Much of it is (at this stage) descriptive, as in biology.  But without an understanding of logic and reason, the data we do have doesn't speak.

Philosophy is about making fine distinctions.  In order to make fine distinctions, we need to use language very carefully.  Both philosophers and anthropologists try to use language carefully.  Both philosophers and anthropologists study the nature of language itself, albeit from different points of view.

If you're lucky, while reading philosophy or about philosophers, you might gain some important new insights or intuitions.  I'm not saying that philosophy is purely about logic or reason.  There's more to life (and philosophy) than that.  But philosophy guards reason like a rottweiler guards its master's house.  It gets a bit pugilistic at times, as well.  For me, that's part of the fun of it.  When reason and intuition hook up together, the result is powerful on human beings.  Someone has to do the reasoning part.  Pure intuition is, in my opinion, awfully close to craziness.

If you haven't read Wittgenstein or internalized what he had to say about language in some other way (his ideas are in the background of much contemporary thought), you haven't entered the 20th century in your thinking (and we're in the 21st now, so it's time to catch up!) 

If you haven't read Noam Chomsky or internalized what he has to say about language in some other way, you're not going to understand a major paradigm within anthropology.

Using purely internet resources to accomplish your philosophical or anthropological education is not what I'd recommend.  Books are good.  College courses are good.   But, if you must do your learning on the internet, here are some starting points:

On Wittgenstein.

Ludwig Wittgenstein:   Biography and Internet Resources.

Ludwig Wittgenstein: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Reference.

Wittgenstein Archives.

Wittgenstein Shrine and Quote Generator.

For stuff on Chomsky, I'll eventually  be posting it here.  Chomskey is a linguist, this page is about philosophy.

Here's a site about philosopher Donald Davidsonthat you might find interesting.  I sure do.

And here's something I wrote on how to write a philosophy paper.  It's for absolute beginners.  It's really about how to write an analytic paper, and everything in it applies as much to analytic papers in anthropology as to philosophy.  You can also read my related piece on how to use language analytically.

Of all the anthropologists I know, the one who is the closest to philosophy by nature and by interest is Claude Levi-Strauss.  He may be my favorite anthropologist.  Considered the originator of structural anthropology, Claude Levi-Strauss was an early student of the human mind.  He is interested in brain/mind issues and has much to say that is relevant.  As of this writing, Levi-Strauss is still living.  He is 92 years old.  Again, there's no substitute for the library, but here are some links that help introduce a person to Levi-Strauss:

Levi-Strauss Quote Generator

Levi-Strauss and Friends (with a brief explanation of bricoleur/bricolage

          A brief introduction to Levi-Strauss's structural method of analyzing myths

What I have to say on the bricoleur/bricolage distinction