Religion and the Hermeneutics of Contemplation

By D. Z. Phillips | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 10
Lévy-Bruhl: primitive logic

1 'PRELOGICAL THOUGHT'

The thinkers we have discussed so far have one thing in common: they claim to understand why religious beliefs, as such, are either mistaken or confused. Lévy-Bruhl questions whether we possess this understanding. We shall have reason to criticise the ways in which he discusses this issue, but it brings to the fore philosophical problems in religious studies which need to be addressed. That this should be so is not surprising, since Lévy-Bruhl, like Durkheim, was a philosopher, but one with a particular interest in questions of logic. He brought this logical emphasis to bear on the question of the meaning of religious beliefs and practices.

Lévy-Bruhl saw good logical grounds for supporting Durkheim's claim that the psychological explanation of a social institution is invariably the wrong one: 'The idea of an individual human mind absolutely free of all experience is, then, as fanciful as that of man prior to social life. '1 It is in terms of that social life, and the dominant concepts to be found in it, that the lives of individuals have their sense. If we pay attention to different cultures, Lévy-Bruhl argues, we have no good reason for taking for granted, as many psychologists and philosophers have done, that 'the human mind [is] always and everywhere homogenous, that is, a single type of thinker, and one whose mental operations obey psychological and intellectual laws which are everywhere identical'.2 It is what Lévy-Bruhl went on to say about the heterogeneity of the human mind that separates him from both the French and English schools of sociology and anthropology.

____________________
1
Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, How Natives Think, New Hampshire: Ayer 1984, p. 24.
2
Ibid., p. 385.

-247-

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