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Van Reybrouck 2012 - From Primitives to Primates

Van Reybrouck 2012 - From Primitives to Primates

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Published by Sidestone Press
Where do our images about early hominids come from? In this fascinating in-depth study, David Van Reybrouck demonstrates how input from ethnography and primatology has deeply influenced our visions about the past from the 19th century to this day. Overviewing two centuries of intellectual debate in fields as diverse as archaeology, ethnography and primatology, Van Reybrouck’s book is one long plea for trying to understand the past on its own terms, rather than as facile projections from the present.
Where do our images about early hominids come from? In this fascinating in-depth study, David Van Reybrouck demonstrates how input from ethnography and primatology has deeply influenced our visions about the past from the 19th century to this day. Overviewing two centuries of intellectual debate in fields as diverse as archaeology, ethnography and primatology, Van Reybrouck’s book is one long plea for trying to understand the past on its own terms, rather than as facile projections from the present.

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Published by: Sidestone Press on Jan 07, 2013
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09/10/2014

A history of terms is not a history of concepts. The terminological discrepancy be-
tween archaeologists and primatologists can be easily overcome and reconciled. In
fact, this was already done by some of the practising scientists themselves. On one
of the rare occasions in which an archaeologist debated the use of external sources
with primatologists, Richard Potts could be heard to speak of ‘analogies, or spe-
cies-specific models’ (1987: 34). According to him the structural equivalence be-
tween both was evident. Jeanne Sept, an archaeologist who studied chimpanzee
nesting, equally noted that primatologists who worked at ‘modeling’ were com-
parable to archaeologists who ‘have long debated the appropriate use of analogy
in prehistoric reconstruction’ (1992: 204). Indeed, both terms are closely related.
Whereas in primatology the preference for the word ‘model’ refers to the start-
ing point (the model as source) and the end point (the model as explanation) of
the argument, the notion of analogy which prevails in archaeology relates to the
inferential process between these two extremes. ‘The relation between the model
and the observations modelled,’ David Clarke (1972b: 2) wrote, ‘may in general
be said to be one of analogy.’
In this work, I will consider analogy as the process by which the model is put to
work.
In logical terms, the analogy is the ‘argument’ linking the two senses of the
word model, i.e. from ‘premises’ to ‘conclusion’. The model (as source) from the
present world—no matter whether we talk about an Aboriginal stone-knapper or a
troop of savannah baboons—can only yield statements about the past (the model as
explanation) through an argument by analogy. Analogy is the bridge between both.

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As the main question of this work concerns the inferential structure of arguments
rather than their inferential extremes, I prefer to use the term analogy.
Analogy has moreover received widespread attention from scholars in inductive
logic, philosophy of science and cognitive psychology. Aristotle already discussed
analogy as a literary trope, J.S. Mill laid the foundations of inductive logic in the
nineteenth century (after the long-standing dominance of Baconian deductive
logic), but it was only in the second half of the twentieth century that philoso-
phers and logicians seriously addressed the issue of scientific analogy. Mary Hesse’s
Models and Analogies in Science (1966) was a landmark which influenced all other
writings on the topic. It specified the relations within the analogy and stressed the
importance of causality. Leatherdale (1974) introduced the notion of manifest
and imported analogues. The work of Salmon (1963), Copi (1972), Barry and
Soccio (1988) and Freeman (1988) detailed the criteria for appraising analogies.
Whereas all these authors treated analogy as a finished mental product, in recent
years cognitive psychologists have started to investigate the process of analogical
reasoning. By means of large-scale experiments, they study how human reasoning
actually occurs when analogies are drawn. Inspired by Schön’s (1963) stimulating
work on the displacement of concepts and Lakoff and Johnson’s (1980) famous
essay on metaphor, authors like Holland, Nisbett, Gentner, Hofstadter and es-
pecially Holyoak and Thagard have greatly enhanced our understanding of anal-
ogy (Holyoak and Thagard 1995; 1997). Holyoak and Thagard’s Mental Leaps:
Analogy in Creative Thought
(1995) forms the putative apex of this innovative
research field. An excursion into the disciplines of inductive logic, philosophy
of science and cognitive psychology is therefore required if we want to develop a
precise conceptual language for talking about analogies.

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