Palaeo-Philosophy: Complex and Concept in Archaic Patterns of Thought

By MacDonald, Paul S. | Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, July 2005 | Go to article overview

Palaeo-Philosophy: Complex and Concept in Archaic Patterns of Thought


MacDonald, Paul S., Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy


ABSTRACT: This paper argues that efforts to understand historically remote patterns of thought are driven away from their original meaning if the investigation focuses on reconstruction of concepts. It is simply not appropriate to be looking for an archaic concept of soul, name or dream, for example, when considering the earliest documents which attest to their writers' (and others') beliefs about certain types of phenomena. Instead, we propose to employ the notion of cognitive complex (as elaborated in the work of Piaget, Vygotsky, and Hallpike) in order to investigate some important philosophical themes in Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Iranian, and Ancient Near eastern documents. Our principal theoretical claim is that archaic thought does not work with concepts but with complexes whose salient features are an over-abundance of properties, an overproduction of connections, and weakness in abstraction. The basic level of complex formation may be the most inclusive level at which it is possible to form a mental image. Specific studies are focused on ancient texts which exhibit archaic patterns of thought. In Egyptian texts, "manifestation" (kheperu) seems to convey something which all categories of beings are capable of becoming, being and having, assuming and leaving; the "name" (ren) was considered to be an essential component of the individual's survival; symbolic representations, such as images and words, are causally connected to the 'objects' the image or word signifies. In ANE records the human etemmu was plainly the corpse or skeleton of the dead person; on the other hand it was also the shadowy, volatile image of what he was during life. In ANE records the baffling idea of the divine me referred to an entire cultural area, an acquisition of civilized life; but at the same time it is also the result of an invention, a divine decision. The complexes involved in these archaic ideas about soul, name and dream are ideas fused with their 'objects'; they have unstable traits and prototypical instances; and are thought at the most abstract level which have concrete images.

KEYWORDS: Concept; Complex; Archaic ideas; Archaic images; Vygotsky; Hallpike

I.

This paper argues that efforts to understand historically remote patterns of thought are driven away from their original meaning if the investigation focuses on reconstruction of concepts. It is simply not appropriate to be looking for an archaic concept of soul, name or dream, for example, when considering the earliest documents which attest to their writers' (and others') belief about certain types of phenomena. Not only does the historian often have great difficulties in identifying and explaining relevant concepts across vast stretches of time, it may be misleading to look for anything like a concept at all. The basic meaning of 'concept' is an idea that can be applied to many 'objects', an idea that is universal across a type, and not particular to an instance or token; it is abstract in its intension, i.e. It signifies an object-class in virtue of common features; and general in its extension, i.e. It can pick out numerous particulars that satisfy conditions for class-inclusion. On the Kantian view, a concept is a product of the understanding operating on empirical content supplied by the sensory faculties. Thus a single empirical concept (as opposed to an apriori, categorical concept) has a stable meaning associated with its object-class's essential properties. The concept is a unity of rule that determines all that is manifold in sensory intuition of objects and limits it to conditions that make possible a conformity to type. (1)

With regard to archaic patterns of thought, my thesis is not that different thinkers (or writers) across vast stretches of time had different ideas about mind, soul and spirit, for example--that is true, but trivial. The concept of mind in the stoics is different than the concept of mind in Aristotle, and different than the concept of mind in Plato; each gives their own account of the nature and functions of nous. …

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