Wittgenstein: Connections and Controversies

By P. M. S. Hacker | Go to book overview

Postscript

In his paper, 'Explanation and Self-Clarification in Frazer', Professor Cioffi replied to the above discussion. Some of his criticisms betray misunderstandings of my argument. To avert such misapprehension, I should like to add a few further elucidatory remarks.

Professor Cioffi contends that I am guilty of equivocation in equating the 'significance' of a ritual with its 'current significance'. 7 For I argued that, if the participants in a ritual are ignorant of the ancestry of their ritual, then the bare fact of its genesis can contribute nothing to explaining its significance (p.83). But, Professor Cioffi remonstrates, does this not overlook Tyler's distinction between 'form and meaning', on the one hand, and 'signification', on the other, and the problem set us by 'time honoured religious customs whose form has been faithfully and even servilely kept up while their nature has often undergone transformation'. Tyler's rationale for enquiry into origins is that the ethnographer, who brings together examples of a ceremony from different stages of a culture, can often give a more rational account of it than the priest, to whom a special signification, sometimes very unlike the original one, has become a matter of orthodoxy. 8 So, Professor Cioffi suggests, the superstitious practice of knocking on wood is genetically explicable in terms of an ancient belief that knocking on wood summoned the protective, benevolent intervention of the dryad who lived in the tree from which the wood knocked on came. This is unknown to most of those who continue the superstitious practice, but, Professor Cioffi avers:

Would this not confer intelligibility on the practice in spite of its remoteness from its current significance in Hacker's sense? Don't we now understand something which previous to the discovery of its origins we did not understand? [It is] arbitrary to exclude the only genetically explicable features of a practice from its meaning, to reduce significance to significance for the current practitioners of the rite . . .

It seems to me that the only equivocation is that which stems from equating Tyler's use of 'signification' with my use of 'significance'. I distinguished between two questions 'first, how did it come about that at this point in this ceremony such-and-such an act had to be

-94-

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