Durkheim and Levi-Strauss and Thought Essay

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The ritual examination of the other functions as a harvesting of intellectual resources to formulate a theory of the western self. In the case of the sensitive but scientific anthropologist, the mind of the other is a key to understanding the universal nature of the human mind. Durkheim and Lévi-Strauss consider ‘primitive thought’ to be rooted in certain modes of classification which they consider to be precursors and parallels, respectively, to ‘modern’ Euro-American scientific rationality.

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For both authors, the mind is structured by its rules, and its rules are the result of the collective and its order. The question of where order comes from is then displaced. Instead of being some secret within the mind, it moves back outside to an enigma of the collective and how that was formed. In this space, one can posit scores of determinist theories of the way some combination of settings, histories, or other variables structure the mind. However, both theorists seem tempted to allow, instead or at least, a trace of human nature to determine how the collective is structured. Durkheim states that, for him, “it is inconceivable that the same effect [classificatory religious thought] could be sometimes due now to one cause, now to another, depending on circumstances, unless fundamentally the two causes were but one.” (Durkheim 418) He expresses his strong faith that there are universal rules favoring order in the world and that human societies move in successive approximations towards these external and extant rules. Kant’s a priori categories have ceased to be universal and have become better approximations of the universal. For Lévi-Strauss, the trace of human nature subtly enters in as his explanations for the ordering principles of society, usefulness and intellectual desire for order (Lévi-Strauss 9, 11). It is as if these authors had moved the question upriver from the mind to the history of the society, and were now willing to let the
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