[lit-ideas] Re: Tittles--a change of title

  • From: John Wager <john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Wed, 11 Jun 2008 23:21:46 -0500

Phil Enns wrote:
John continues:

"How do you see the purposes differing in accounts of the incest taboo?"

It depends on the particular purpose.  There is of course Freud on
taboo.  Then there is Levi Strauss on the incest taboo.  And then
there is Derrida writing about Levi Strauss on the incest taboo.  One
is making a psychological point, another an anthropological point, and
the other a philosophical point.
"Philosophy" covers metaphysics, epistemology AND ethics.

Looking at your discussion from the outside, the issue you're both discussing seems to be whether there is anything "metaphysical" about something like the "incest taboo." I'm inclined to say that philosophy doesn't have any particularly helpful perspective on the topic, as philosophy, as a "metaphysical" approach. There are also epistemological questions about the "incest taboo" that arise because there are epistemological questions about how one should best understand other cultures, about what constitutes a "culture," about how one should describe cultures. These issues do seem to be genuinely philosophical issues, or at least seem to require a certain level of familiarity with general epistemological concerns, so philosophy may have something to offer on the subject that a strictly anthropological perspective might not have. To put it slightly differently, the philosopher gets hung up on the epistemological assumptions in the first chapter of the "text" of anthropology: What are the epistemological assumptions being made by the anthropologist in order to begin their investigation? Which assumptions are somewhat questionable? Which assumptions seem legitimate? Most anthropologists (like most social scientists) pay some attention to these initial assumptions, but the philosopher doesn't want to jump into the field until those assumptions are examined in more depth. But to an anthropologist, these questions represent an annoying delay in getting into the "real" work of anthropology.

Let me suggest that the "point" of studying incest taboos would be different for ethics, at any rate, than for anthropology, because ethics is essentially normative. At some point, after sufficiently competent and careful analysis, we have to decide if the taboo against "incest" is good or bad. (Often this takes the form of deciding what is or is not "incest." We decide that second cousins marrying really isn't "incest," meaning it's OK, but that parent/child marriages are incest, meaning not OK.) The job of an anthropologist is done before this point; there is no inherent need to analyze whether the incest taboo is good or bad, just to understand what it is and how it functions inside a particular society. But that's where the philosopher's job begins, after the anthropologist is done: What is good and what is bad about our own and other culture's practices?

"Never attribute to malice that which can be explained by incompetence and ignorance." -------------------------------------------------
John Wager                john.wager1@xxxxxxxxxxx
                                  Lisle, IL, USA

To change your Lit-Ideas settings (subscribe/unsub, vacation on/off,
digest on/off), visit www.andreas.com/faq-lit-ideas.html

Other related posts: