Rationalism Rationalism, empiricism, and Kant Rationalism: the idea that human beings achieve knowledge because of their capacity to reason. From the rationalist perspective, there are a priori truths. Progress of the intellect over the centuries has resulted from reason. Plato (428–327 bce) and Leibnitz (Gottfried Wilhelm Baron von Leibniz, 1646–1716) Empiricism Empiricism: we are born tabula rasa–with a “clean slate.” What we come to know is the result of our experience written on that slate. John Locke (1632-17045): We see and hear and taste things; we accumulate experience; we make generalizations. We understand what is true from what we are exposed to. And so, David Hume held, we can never be absolutely sure that what we know is true. Skepticism is a fundamental principle of modern science. The scientific method, as it’s understood today, involves making incremental improvements in what we know, edging toward truth but never quite getting there – and always being ready to have yesterday’s truth overturned by today’s findings. Kant (1724–1804): a way out A priori truths exist: if we see those truths it’s because of the way our brains are structured. The human mind, he said, has a built-in capacity for organizing sensory experience. Today, many scholars to look to the human mind itself (cognitive neuroscience) for clues about how human behavior is ordered. Noam Chomsky and B.F. Skinner Chomsky: Any human can learn any language because we have a universal grammar already built into our minds. This is why translation is possible across all languages. Skinner: humans learn their language the way all animals learn everything –by operant conditioning, or reinforced learning. Example: Babies learn the sounds of their language because adults reward babies for making the right sounds. The dilemma of rationalism vs. empiricism Empiricism holds that people learn their values and that values are therefore relative. Rationalism holds that there are transcendental truths, which is are not subject to the principle of relativism. Hume and others made the idea of a mechanistic science of humanity as plausible as the idea of a mechanistic science of other natural phenomena. But … I consider myself an empiricist, but I accept the rationalist idea that there are universal truths about right and wrong. The norms of science Science is “an objective, logical, and systematic method of analysis of phenomena, devised to permit the accumulation of reliable knowledge” (Lastrucci 1963:6). Consider the terms objective, method, and reliable. Objectivity is a delusion; striving for it is not. The so-called method of science is three assumptions: (1) reality is out there to be discovered; (2) observation is the way to discover it; and (3) material explanations for observable phenomena are sufficient. Using culture as an explanation is, in its own appealing way, metaphysical. Observation can be enhanced with instruments. Humans can be enhanced by training as instruments of observation. Reliability: Something that is true in Detroit is just as true in Vladivostok and Nairobi. Knowledge can be kept secret by nations, but there can never be such a thing as Venezuelan physics or American biology. From Democritus to Newton The scientific method is barely 400 years old. Its systematic application to human thought and behavior is less than half that. Aristotle insisted that knowledge should be based on experience and that conclusions about general cases should be based on the observation of more limited ones. But Aristotle did not advocate disinterested, objective accumulation of reliable knowledge. Until the 17th century, scholars relied on metaphysical concepts to explain observable phenomena. Even in the 19th century, biologists still talked about vital forces as a way of explaining the existence of life. Democritus (460–370 bce) was a materialist as was Lucretius (99-55 bce). But without the technology we have today – microscopes, compasses and sextants, computers – these works had little impact. Exploration, printing, and modern science 1413: Spanish ships began raiding the coast of West Africa, hijacking cargo and capturing slaves from Islamic traders. The compass and the sextant made it possible to go farther from Europe. These breakthroughs were based on empirical observation, as were those in architecture and astronomy by the Mayans and Egyptians. The development of science required more. Johannes Gutenberg (1397–1468) First edition of the Bible from movable type in 1455. By the end of the 15th, every major city in Europe had a press. Printed books provided a means for the accumulation and distribution of knowledge. Eventually, printing made organized science possible. But writing hadn’t done it, and more was still needed. Martin Luther and literacy Martin Luther (1483–1546) was born just 15 years after Gutenberg died. Protestant Reformation began in 1517: challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic church to be the sole interpreter and disseminator of theological doctrine. This required literacy on the part of everyone, not just the clergy. Literacy didn’t cause organized science, but it helped make it possible. Galileo Galilei (1564–1642) Founder of modern science. Best-known achievement: refutation of the Ptolemaic (geocentric) theory of the heavens. The Catholic Church reaffirmed its support for the Ptolemaic theory. In 1616 Galileo was ordered not to espouse either his refutation of it or his support for the Copernican heliocentric theory. Galileo published in 1632: Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, Ptolemaic and Copernican. Between the direct observational evidence that he had gathered with his telescopes and the mathematical analyses that he developed for making sense of his data, Galileo hardly had to espouse anything. The Ptolemaic theory was simply rendered obsolete. This established science as an effective method for seeking knowledge. Galileo nearly published and perished, but he did more than just insist that scholars observe things rather than rely on metaphysical dogma to explain them. He developed the idea of the experiment. Bacon and Descartes Francis Bacon (1561–1626): focused on induction, the use of direct observation to confirm ideas and the linking together of observed facts to form theories of how natural phenomena work. René Descartes (1596–1650): distinguished between the mind and matter and argued for the independent existence of the physical and the mental world. Descartes envisioned a universal science of nature based on direct experience and the application of reason. Isaac Newton (1643–1727) Pressed the scientific revolution at Cambridge University. Calculus, celestial mechanics and other areas of physics. Just as important: the hypothetico-deductive model of science that combines both induction (empirical observation) and deduction (reason) into a single method. Science, money and war The scientific approach to knowledge making was established just as Europe began to experience the growth of industry and the development of large cities. Those cities were filled with uneducated factory laborers. This created a need for increased productivity in agriculture among those not engaged in industrial work. The new method for gaining knowledge about nature promised bigger crops, more productive industry, and more successful military campaigns. The Royal Society in England began in London in 1644 with a group of philosophers who did experiments. The document that established the French Academy of Science in 1666 included a proposal to study “the explosive force of gunpowder enclosed (in small amounts) in an iron or very thick copper box.” Easlea, B. 1980. Witch hunting, magic, and the new philosophy. Atlantic Highlands, New Jersey: Humanities Press. Pp. 207, 216 Political support for science increased across Europe: more scientists were produced; more university posts were created for them to work in; more laboratories were established at academic centers. Journals and learned societies developed as scientists sought outlets for their work. Publishing and sharing knowledge became a material benefit, and the behaviors were soon supported by a value, a norm. Sience becomes an institution European nations at war allowed enemy scientists to cross their borders freely in pursuit of knowledge. In 1780, Reverend Samuel Williams of Harvard University got permission from the Massachusetts legislature to observe a solar eclipse, predicted for 27 October, on an island off the coast, across Penobscot Bay. Science and safe passage … The speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, John Hancock, wrote to the commander of the British forces, saying: “Though we are politically enemies, yet with regard to science it is presumable we shall not dissent from the practice of civilized people in promoting it.” The appeal worked. Williams got his free passage. From Newton to Rousseau Physics and social science were developed at about the same time, and on the same philosophical basis, by two friends, Isaac Newton and John Locke (1632–1704). A formal program for applying the scientific method to the study of humanity would come 200 years later from Auguste Comte, ClaudeHenri de Saint-Simon, Adolphe Quételet, and John Stuart Mill. Locke: the rules of science apply equally to the study of celestial bodies and to human behavior . Essay Concerning Human Understanding : we cannot see everything, and we cannot record perfectly what we see, so some knowledge will be closer to the truth than will other knowledge. Voltaire, Condorcet, and Rousseau Descartes, Galileo, and Locke set the stage for the eighteenth-century Enlightenment and the development of social science. Voltaire (François Marie Arouet, 1694–1778), following Newton’s principles, proposed a science to uncover the laws of history. This was to be a science that could be applied to human affairs and enlightened those who governed so that they might govern better. Prediction of the behavior of planets might be more accurate than prediction of human behavior, but both predictions should be based on better and better observation, measurement, and reason. Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) Argued that humanity had started out in a state of grace, characterized by equality of relations, but that civilization, with it’s agriculture and commerce, had corrupted humanity and lead to slavery, taxation, and other inequalities. Rousseau was not, however, a raving romantic. He held that the state embodied humanity’s efforts, through a social contract, to control the evils brought on by civilization. The Enlightenment philosophers, from Bacon to Rousseau, produced a philosophy that focused on the use of knowledge in service to the improvement of humanity, or at least to the amelioration of its pain. The idea that science and reason could lead humanity toward perfection seems naïve today but … Enlightenment and revolution These ideas were part of the American and French revolutions and are reflected in the the writings of Thomas Paine (1737–1809) and Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826). “We hold these truths to be self-evident . . .” Auguste Comte (1798–1857) Argued that the production of knowledge had developed in three stages: (1) religion (capricious gods); (2) metaphysics (essences); (3) positive knowledge, based on reason and observation. Comte’s writings The System of Positive Philosophy (1830– 1842) and The System of Positive Polity (1875–1877) There are, he claimed, “laws as well defined for the development of the human species as for the fall of a stone.” Comte argued for the development of a science of society. John Stuart Mill on positivism 1866 “Whoever regards all events as parts of a constant order, each one being the invariable consequent of some antecedent condition, or combination of conditions, accepts fully the Positive mode of thought.” “All theories in which the ultimate standard of institutions and rules of actions was the happiness of mankind, and observation and experience the guides . . . are entitled to the name Positive.” Positivism gets a bad reputation Comte, his mentor Henri de Saint-Simon (1760–1825), and their followers envisioned an elite class of philosophers who, with support from the state, would direct all education and advise the government. The government would be composed of capitalists “whose dignity and authority,” Mill explained, “are to be in the ratio of the degree of generality of their conceptions and operations— bankers at the summit, merchants next, then manufacturers, and agriculturalists at the bottom.” Comte proposed his own religion; condemned the study of planets that were not visible to the naked eye; proposed that only men be educated; advocated burning most books. “As his thoughts grew more extravagant,” Mill tells us, Comte’s “self-confidence grew more outrageous. The height it ultimately attained must be seen, in his writings, to be believed.” Comte’s acolytes are gone, but the word positivism still carries the taint of his ego. The activist legacy of Comte’s positivism Despite Comte’s excesses, his main ideas continue to motivate many social scientists. (1) The scientific method is the surest way to produce knowledge about the natural world. (2) Scientific knowledge is effective – it lets us control nature, from the weather to buying habits. (3) Effective knowledge can be used to improve human lives. The mastery-of-nature metaphor Some people are very uncomfortable with this “mastery over nature” metaphor. But few people would give up the material benefits of science. Over-prescription of antibiotics leads to drugresistant bacteria. Will we stop using antibiotics? Or will we rely on more science to fight the new bacteria? The same principle applies to air conditioning and its consequences. Try getting people in Florida to give up air conditioning one day in the summer, and you’ll find out in a hurry about the weakness of ideology compared to the power of creature comforts. If running air conditioners pollutes the air or uses up fossil fuel, we’ll rely (we hope) on more science to solve those problems, too. Technology and Science Ask people to list “the major contributions that science has made to humanity” and there is strong consensus: cures for diseases, computers, satellite telecommunications … Ask people to list “the major contributions that the social and behavioral sciences have made to humanity” and you get a long silence and a raggedy list, with no consensus. Effective social science But social science is serious in terms of control over nature. Understanding the stimulus-response mechanism in humans makes the treatment and management of phobias possible, but it also brought us attack ads in politics and Joe Camel. Social science gave us state lotteries (taxes on people who are bad at math) and social security. Social Security Otto von Bismarck asked his minister of finance for a pension plan for retired German workers. Based on sound social science data, the minister suggested that 65 would be just the right age for retirement. At that time, the average life expectancy in Germany was under 60 and would not reach 65 until 1955. In1934, life expectancy in the U.S. for men was still under 65. Today, with life expectancy close to 80, social science data are part of the political process to determine how much leisure time people will have, and what kinds of tax structures are needed to support a medical system that caters to the needs of 90-somethings. Social science failures School busing to achieve racial integration was based on exemplary science, but no one anticipated the reaction, called white flight, in which whites abandoned cities for suburbs, driving the inner cities into poverty as the tax base went down. The list of failures in the physical and biological sciences is equally impressive: alchemy, cold fusion … Important lessons in all this (1) Science isn’t perfect but it isn’t going away because it’s so effective. (2) The social and behavioral sciences are much more powerful than most people think they are. (3) The power of social science, like that of all sciences, comes from the same source. (4) Effective knowledge in any science can be used to enhance or degrade our lives. Understanding begins with questions about how things work. Do good fences really make good neighbors? Why do women earn less, on average, for the same work as men in most industrialized countries? Why is Barbados’s birth rate falling faster than Saudi Arabia’s? Why is there such a high rate of alcoholism on Native American reservations? Why do nation states, from Italy to Kenya, almost universally discourage people from maintaining minority languages? Why do public housing programs often wind up as slums? If advertising can get children hooked on cigarettes, why is public service advertising so ineffective in lowering the incidence of high-risk sex among adolescents? The reaction against positivism Ferdinand C. S. Schiller (1864–1937): since the method and contents of science are the products of human thought, reality and truth could not be “out there” to be found, as positivists assume, but must be made up by human beings. Wilhelm Dilthey (1833–1911) Argued that the methods of the physical sciences were inappropriate for the study of human beings. Human beings live in a web of meanings that they spin themselves. To study humans, he argued, we need to understand those meanings. Humanism This humanist argument goes back to Protagoras’ (485–410 bce) dictum: “man is the measure of all things” – truth is decided by human judgment. Humanism has been historically at odds with the philosophy of knowledge represented by science. Humanists do not deny the effectiveness of science for the study of nonhuman objects, but emphasize the uniqueness of humanity and the need for a different (that is, nonscientific) method for studying human beings. Similarly, scientists do not deny the inherent value of humanistic knowledge. To explore whether King Lear is to be pitied as a pathetic leader or admired as a successful one is an exercise in seeking humanistic knowledge. The answer to the question cannot possibly be achieved by the scientific method, but examining the question and producing many possible answers leads to insight about the human condition. Humanism and subjectivity Humanism sometimes means a commitment to subjectivity – to using our own feelings, values, and beliefs to achieve insight into the nature of human experience. Trained subjectivity is the foundation of clinical disciplines, like psychology, as well as the foundation of participant observation ethnography, the basis of all cultural anthropology. It isn’t something apart from social science. Humanism and uniqueness Humanism sometimes means an appreciation of the unique in human experience. Writing a story about the thrill or the pain of giving birth, about surviving hand-tohand combat, about living with AIDS – or writing someone else’s story for them, as ethnographers often do – are the activities of a natural science of experience. My own view is that we need more, not less, science, including anthropology, to weaken false ideologies – racism, sexism, ethnic nationalism. History of anthropology Anthropology developed in France, England, and Germany and from the beginning, there was tension between scientists and humanists. In the 19th century, this split played out between those who wanted to focus on culture and those who wanted to focus on biology – between those who wanted to study the diversity of human behavior and thought across the world and those who were more interested in the diversity of the human form across the world. Racial thinking This reflected racial thinking, an ancient explanation of differences in culture and behavior: people who are shaped and colored so differently from us (whether us was ancient Chinese or ancient Greek or 19th century Europe) must practice their different ways of life because of those physical differences. Racial thinking remains with us today, though the arguments have gotten more sophisticated and, as a consequence, more dangerous. More about this later in the course. For now: there is no evidence that differences in people’s values or behaviors are in any way caused by differences in their genes at the individual or the population level. Slavery and anthropology The Society for the Observers of Man was founded in France in 1799 by “a union of naturalists and medical men” to promote the study of natural history. They mounted a three-year expedition to what would become Australia and the surrounding islands. Among the scientific crew were a couple of anthropologists whose duty it was to carry out measurement of bodies and customs. The Aborigines Protection Society was founded in London in 1838. England abolished the slave trade in 1807 and slavery in 1833; Sweden did so in 1813; Spain in 1821. In France, the Ethnological Society of Paris was founded in 1839 as a scientific, rather than as a philanthropic institution. A similar group was founded in New York. In Paris, Paul Broca (1824–1880) tells us that the naturalists and the humanists divided along predictable lines: for abolition of slavery and neutral – just the facts. When France finally abolished slavery in the mid-19th century, the Ethnological Society of Paris collapsed. In New York, according to Broca, the Ethnological Society of New York went on, consumed with the debate about slavery. The Anthropological Society of Paris was founded in Paris in 1859 where humanists and scientists might voice differences of opinion and to present data on the accumulating evidence about the cultural and biological diversity of humankind. The Ethnological Society of London was founded in London in 1843 – by as a breakaway faction of the Society for the Protection of Aborigines – in order to maintain a political stand and blocked the acceptance of naturalists. The Anthropological Society of London was founded in 1864 for those who rejected the political activism of the Ethnological Society. In 1868, Thomas Huxley became the president of the Ethnological Society – which made having two groups unnecessary. They merged in 1871 as the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, the name it retains today. From 1839 to 1871, while British anthropology was thrashing itself into a series of disciplines, American anthropologists were gathering data about American Indians. Slavery was the political issue on both continents, but the need for data remained a constant as well. In Europe, gathering data about the diversity of human cultures required long expeditions – in the day of sailing ships, with month-long crossings of the Atlantic and no Internet cafes. In the U.S., scholars had to go no further than the remnants of American Indian communities to find what was, to them, exotic kinship systems, foods, marriage customs, child-rearing practices, ways of acting in war, and so on. While the Europeans invented anthropological field research, they did increasingly little of it because of political obstacles. The countries were at war with one another over colonial expansion rights. Unilinear evolutionism After Darwin, the idea of evolution swept the scientific world. Lewis Henry Morgan (1818–1881) and others sought schemes to account for the diversity of human customs across the world. In the spirit of the time, they assumed that there must be some universal evolutionary sequence that mirrored the universal biological sequence that was emerging for humanity. Savagery, barbarism, and civilization They assumed that Europeans were at the top of some cultural evolutionary ladder. All peoples went through the same evolutionary phases to get from simple to complex. The details of the schemes varied, but the idea was the same: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. The level of any society was measured in terms of how closely it matched Western Europe in key areas of custom: religion, kinship, and economic and political behavior. So: at the end of the 19th century… Comte’s followers trying to forge a nonmetaphysical science of society. The Enlightenment idea of progress and the hoped-for role of science in human progress. Darwin’s solution to the question of biological evolution. Studies of jurisprudence, history, economics as the classical basis of modern society. The end of unilinear evolution Assumptions: mass marriage and no idea of what caused paternity. This led to tracing descent and the distribution of property through women. But there was also female infanticide because of the need for physical security that men provide in the context of an assumed war-ofall-against-all social environment. Female infanticide led to bride capture and, in some cases, polyandry. The discovery of fatherhood led to polygyny and the takeover by men of economics and politics, even where matriliny prevailed in name. Cousin marriage and bride capture were explained by the assumed shortage of brides and the need to maximize food production in H/G societies. Other strange customs were explained as vestiges. Edward Westermarck’s challenge 1891: Westermarck publishes the History of Human Marriage. All combinations of marriage customs exist in all levels of society. The idea of universal, historical evolutionary schemes, was crushed. Cultural evolutionary schemes of different stripes went on until the 1920s, but in the U.S., at least, it died. Franz Boas 1858-1942 1889: Boas comes to the U.S. and is appointed to the first chair of anthropology, at Clark University. Moves to Columbia University in 1899. Alfred Kroeber graduates in 1901. Historical particularism – kinship terminologies and marriage customs could diffuse anywhere in the world, as new words do in languages. Historical particularism The real work of anthropology, then, according to Boas, was the historical reconstruction and the recording of the different cultures as faithfully as possible. British functionalism 1910-1930 Bronislaw Malinowski and A. R. Radcliffe-Brown promote functionalist explanations for cultural diversity. The biological model: People have basic needs; the institutions of society meet those needs. The structural model Societies are organisms and institutions adapt to those needs. Both are part of a revolt against both evolutionism and historical particularism. Structural functionalism Auguste Comte and Emile Durkheim: social realities are separate from biological and psychological realities and deserve their own study, on their own terms. A. R. Radcliffe-Brown took this up and focused on the whole social system and its needs rather than on the needs of individuals. Institutions are functional when they serve to perpetuate the whole social system, and dysfunctional when they don’t. People in this scheme were like molecules in a system. The molecules could be replaced by functionally similar ones that played similar roles in service to the longevity of the organism, and the proper object of study, therefore was society itself. Radcliffe-Brown rejected what he called fanciful reconstructions of institutions or customs – like where religious symbols come from. Ethnography Malinowski’s and Boas’s greatest contributions were their ethnographic research. Malinowski in the Trobriands Boas in Alaska and the NW Coast of N.A. Manlinowski’s books (The Sexual Life of Savages, Coral Gardens and Their Magic, and The Argonauts of the Western Pacific) are still in print. Teleological reasoning Functionalism is an excellent model for fieldwork and for understanding how things work. But it is inadequate for explaining the diversity of cultural forms because of its teleological reasoning. Cultural materialism Cultural materialism: This paradigm holds that culture and social institutions are shaped by infrastructural conditions. Cultural materialists argue that the structural components of society – including the economy and governance – ultimately are shaped by the infrastructure. Agriculture was selected for, in the history of human experience, by peoples who found it more advantageous. Cultural materialism is based on the principle of the priority of the infrastructure and differs from Marx’s materialist paradigm by including the needs of reproduction, as well as the needs of production in the mix of things that shape structural and superstructural components of society. Marxism Marxism is a materialist philosophy – the base of society, including the means of production, continually feed back into the infrastructure and then the structure of society. Cultural materialism places the mode of production in the infrastructure itself. It also is not based on the Marxist ideology against capitalism. Cultural materialists see capitalism as an emergent phenomenon, based on changes in the infrastructure around the world. Against materialism: structuralism Structuralists, like Claude Levi-Strauss, argue that culture is part of the human brain and that there are fundamental, binary oppositions: hot-cold, malefemale, culture-nature, raw-cooked. Binary oppositions are reflected in cultural institutions. The job of anthropology is to analyze expressions of culture and to discover the underlying schema. Cultural schemas are contained in kinship, language, art, and other expressive behavior. Structuralists like Radcliffe-Brown begin with the idea that the whole is more than the parts. From a materialist perspective, structuralism is a plan for studying one component of society, the mental superstructure. Materialists and structuralists are both concerned with understanding myth, but they have different perspectives on first principles. Symbolic anthropology Symbolic and interpretive anthropology is most associated with Clifford Geertz. The goal of ethnography, says Geertz, is to understand the cultural context that produces symbolic behaviors, like a purposeful wink. Geertz on winking: What makes symbolic behaviors meaningful to members of a culture? Beliefs must be understood in context – in terms of a cultural system that gives meaning to both everyday events and extraordinary events. It follows that action is driven by meaning. The materialist paradigm is inappropriate for this level of analysis. Symbolic analysis is often applied to religion, myths, and performance, but it can be applied to any outcome, behavioral or artifactual, and to organizational structures. Post-modernism Postmodernism is a critique of science as a so-called project of modernity. Two components to the modernist perspective: one is epistemological and the other is ideological. Like the humanists who rejected 19th century positivism, post-modernists assert that our essential subjectivity makes truth elusive. The critical stance Furthermore, science has worked against the legitimate aspirations of oppressed people. Jean Baudrillard, Jean-François Lyotard and others argue that we are in postmodern times – a time when meaning has been destroyed. Today, anthropology is a very complex discipline. Medical anthropology, ecological anthropology, political anthropology, economic anthropology The various paradigms and epistemological perspectives are represented in these fields. Religion and science have both failed to provide clear answers to questions in which we are all interested – not just questions about life and death itself, but questions of the moment. Post-modernism and relativity: As a consequence, people look for answers anywhere they can. The dilemma of relativism remains. Next time – biological anthropology Morgan studied the Iroquois himself in the 1860s and surveyed the Indian agents across the country for information on the kinship terminologies of native peoples in America.