Anthropology beyond Culture

By Richard G. Fox; Barbara J. King | Go to book overview

five
Anthropology as the Whole Science
of What It Is to Be Human

Christina Toren

To claim that anthropology is “the whole science of what it is to be human” is not to be merely provocative. Rather, it seems important to draw attention to anthropology as science at this juncture in the history of the discipline, when it would appear to some to have been eclipsed by the rise of cultural studies, on the one hand, and of cognitive science, on the other. This disciplinary split rests in a distinction between culture and biology that, although once apparently fruitful, now only militates against a holistic understanding of human being and thus of how we become who we are.

For a human scientist, words are analytical tools, so one wants to be able to use words with precision. But like everything else that is human, language is a historical phenomenon—that is, its continuity resides in continuing transformation. It follows that no explanation can be objective in the sense of being immune from history. So how are we to arrive at genuinely explanatory accounts of what it is to be human? The short answer is that we can do so only to the extent that we are able to make our historical nature central to our explanations.

My argument in this chapter rests on one I have made elsewhere: that because mind is the fundamental historical phenomenon—as Husserl, among others, showed us1—it makes sense to develop a model of human being that is capable of dealing with the way we “live the world” in terms of our own understanding of it, even while we transform the world we live and, in the process, transform ourselves. An understanding of this process requires a model of mind that allows for reflection on the conditions of mind’s own genesis; only thus can it incorporate its

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