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Natural Sciences in General
The ArgumentThis paper applies the approach developed by the congnitive sciences to a classical field of social anthropology—i.e., the analysis of represetations and behaviors relative to misfortune in “traditional” societies.The initial argument is that the conceptual division and the modes of description and explanation of anthropology suffer from serious weaknesses: these concepts cannot serve to understand empirical phenomena (utterances and/or behavior); they rely on a confused and erroneous conception of the different domains involved and the causalities between them; and they use simplistic hypotheses about the existence and causal status of the entities that usually form the ultima ratio of anthropological reasoning (e.g., lineage organization, ancestors, witchcraft, etc.). These entities would directly “cause” other individual representations or behaviors. This simplification also affects the analysis of states of belief in these entities, to which individuals would supposedly “adhere”.I argue here that the cognitivist approach, within a “methodological individualism” framework, provides a more adequate description of phenomena observed in the field. This enables the various levels and domains to be more finely defined. The analysis of “typical” utterances and inferences in a “tranditional” society, the Senufo of the Ivory Coast, is here used to clarify these anthropological problems. Two levels can be distinguished: (1) a priori representations, which are underdetermined, enabling them to occur within valid inferences; (2) perception and/or action, which obeys different cognitive constraints. The existential status of unobservable entities appearing in causal inferences is not equivalent (“symmetrical”) depending on whether they are determined as antecedent or consequent.This paper suggests a theory of interpretive processes and beliefs having flexible references, because they are incomplete and domain-specific. It allows a comparison with facts observed in Western societies. It is also in contrast to the ordinary conception of religious states of belief — i.e., these states would be purely psychological, states of “adherence,” collective, autonomous, obligatory, part of a systemized set of knowledge; collective notions (of God, church, etc.) would here logically precede individual representations.
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