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A Letter to E. E. Evans-Pritchard Author(s): L. Lévy-Bruhl Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.http://www.jstor.org/stable/587489 Accessed: 18/08/2010 14:11 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and The London School of Economics and Political Science are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The British Journal of Sociology. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-4" src="pdf-obj-0-4.jpg">

A Letter to E. E. Evans-Pritchard Author(s): L. Lévy-Bruhl Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Jun., 1952), pp. 117-123 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of The London School of Economics and Political Science Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/587489

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A Letter to E. E. Evans-Pritchard Author(s): L. Lévy-Bruhl Source: The British Journal of Sociology, Vol.http://www.jstor.org/stable/587489 Accessed: 18/08/2010 14:11 Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates y our acce p tance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp . JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the p ublisher re g ardin g an y further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=black . Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org. Blackwell Publishing and The London School of Economics and Political Science are collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to The British Journal of Sociology. http://www.jstor.org " id="pdf-obj-0-44" src="pdf-obj-0-44.jpg">

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A

Letter

to

E.

E.

Evans-Pritchard

L. LEVY-BRUHL

  • - ' N I934 I publisheda paper," Levy-Bruhl'stheory of PrimitiveMentality ", in the B"lletinof theFaculty of Artsof the Egyptian University. I sent = .a copy of the article to Levy-Bruhl,whom I had met previously,and I receivedfrom him a letter vfhichI novvpublish for severalreasons. Firstly, becauseit is in itself of value for students of Levy-Bruhl'swritings. Some of those who have read my article may have vfondered57vhat Lelry-Bruhl mrouldhave said in reply to my exposition and criticism of his theory. Secondly,because it is interestingto knowthat he was turningover in his mind in I934 some of the reformulationsof his theory which appearin the post- humousCarnets. Thirdly, because it showsLevy-Bruhl to have been as great a man as he was a scholar- tolerant,open-minded, and courteous. His letter is a modelfor any seniorscholar replying to criticismsof his vievfsby an inferior in years, knonrledge,and ability. My explanatorycomments are in square brackets. Wordsin italicsare those underlined, and phrasesin singlequotation marks are those in English in Levy-Bruhl'sletter. The letter was translatedby Mr. Donald G. MacRae.

Paris, I4th November,

I934.

7, Rue Lincoln.

E.

E. E.-P.

Dear Colleague and if you will allomrme to add- friend, allow me to write in French,in orderto save time. ' I know that it is quite safe to do so, and that you are accustomedto my style of writing.' Your offprintsreached me just at the time when I was leaving for a short trip to Holland,and your letter reachedme at the Hague. I do not know how to thank you enough for the trouble which you have taken in orderto arriveat the exact significanceof my work, and to make it under- stood by English-speakinganthropologists and ethnologists,who, for the most part, appearhostile to it. Your article does my theory the most valuable of services,and only a scholarsuch as you, EnglishhimselfJ could explainto Englishscholars that they are wrongin lookingdown on lvorks(whose faults, on the otherhand, you do not disguise),which possess scientific interest, which can be useful to them, and svhichhave truly been ' rnisrepresented'. My lectureat Oxford[Herbert Spencer Lecture, I93I] has appearedto be merely

II7

A

LETTER

TO

E.

E.

EVANS-PRITCHARD

a plea pro domo: one

distruststhe advocatewho pleads his own cause. If

anythmgis capableof effectivelycombating the prejudiceagalnst me which

exists in li:ngland,it is the expositionknd examinationof my theoryto

which

you have devoted this article. I can imaginethe work and the time which it has takenyou, and I am profoundlygrateful to you for it. It will certainly

do much good, and has done it already,and I believe that it was necessary. Withoutit this theoryran the nsk of remainingfor a long time misunderstood, if not lmknowrn,ln the world of English-speakingscholars. You ask if I think that you have understoodme properly-I do not hesitate to answer

" Yes", and I consideryour article at

least equalJfrom this point of new,

to the best that has been written on my conceptionand my explanation

(in so far as

I try to explaln)of primitivementality. I do not find that you

are ' over-critical', save in one or

two places which I will point out to you.

If you will allow it, in orderto be as preciseas possible,I am going to follow

your articlepage by

page, submittlngmy doubts,when I have any, to you,

and my reflections. This is, I believe, the best way of confrontingthe idea which you have of this theory wth that which I have tried to pve.

  • P. 2. [AiVhereI remark that the receptionof Levy-Bruhl'sviews among

Englishanthropologists is perhapsdue partlyto the unfamiliarkey expressions

he used in his writings,such as pre'logique,

representations

collectivest

mystique

and participations.]Like you I think that my termmologyhas greatly con-

tnbuted to making English anthropologistsill-disposed and to giving them

a distaste for cannot be the

readingme. However,this reason, althoughserious enough,

only one.

But this is not the place to examinethis question.

  • P. 3. (At the bottomof the page.) " Neverthelessit may be said

. .

."

[Thepassage is: " Neverthelessit may be said at the outset that Levy-BruS in his worksdoes not attempt to correlatethe beliefswhich he descnbeswith the social structuresof the peoplesamong whom they have been recorded.t']

A just remark. I have made it myself, and I explainedmyself on this point in H.S.L. [HerbertSpencer Lecture]. I had to change my positionwhen I came to know the facts better. Pp. 7. [In which I sta-tethe characteristicdifferences, according to Ldvy-Bruhl,between the thought of primitive,and the thought of civilized, societies.] No objection. You have enteredthoroughly into my thought.

P. 8.

" It seldomtouches

. .

."

[Thepassage, which refers to criticism

of Ldery-Bruhl'swritings by vanous authors,is: " It seldomtouches Levy-

Bruhl's main propositions."] ' Quiteright.'

  • P. 8. <'He makes savage thought far more mystical than it is

. .

."

This is an important point. ' I pleadguilty ', and I recognlzethat your

cnticisms appearjust (you developthem on pp. 274), but I can say some- thing in my defence. My intentionwas to introducethe idea (vrhichseemed

to me to be

new), that there is a real differencebetween pnmitive mentality

and that of more developedcivilizations, particularly those of the West, and

consequently,I wvasnot obliged to give the most completepicture of this primitivementality, including in it svhat is commonto our own which is

L .

L E V Y - B R U H L

II9

considerableand which I in no way try to deny-but to insist continually on that which is charactensticof it and constitutes the specific difference.

All the same, I do not at all deny mystical elementsexist in the mentality of the English and French peoples, etc.: but I thought I ought to insist on the rationalcharacter of this mentalityin orderthat its differencesfrom the primitivemight emerge clearly.

  • I admit that in my work (andit is here that ' I pleadguilty ') the savage is presentedas moremystical and the civilizedman as morerational than they

in fact are.

But I have done this ' on prpose':

I intendedto bring fully

to light the mysticalaspect of primitivementality in contrastwith the rational

aspect of the mentalityof our societies. Once this differenceis recognized-

but 25 years ago nobodyhad pointedit out

I have no objectionto all that

you say;

that the savage is not so exclusivelymystical, that the civilized

man is not so consistentlyrational. PerhapsI have been vvrongin

insisting

so strongly on these differences. I thought that the anthropologicalschool had done enough to make the similaritiesevident. On this point, I think

those who will follow us will know how to keep the right balance.

Pp. W9.

[WhereI criticizedLevy-Bruhl's wtitings on the groundsof

the insufiiciencyof the recordswhich he used and of his use of the comparative

method.] " The poor qualityof the facts of whichI makeuse the weakness

of

the comparativemethod as I use it."

Morethan once I have had occasion

to explainmyself on this matter (forexample in reply to Maussat the Societe

de Philosophie). I knovvwell that one can considertravellers' tales and the

memoirsof missionariesas very little to

be relied on.

And for a

work of

technical anthropology for example on

the institutions of some

tribe or

other I would agreewith you that it is preferablenot to make use of them.

But for the kind of researcheswhich I intended (concerningthe essential and generalcharacter of primitivementality) I thought it legitimatenot to disregardthe evidences, often involuntary,which were furnishedby such

peopleas the Jesuitsof New France,or Dobrizhoffer,etc.

I knonrtheir minds,

  • I can understandthe factorsof their personalities,and behindwhat they say

  • I can find hat they have seen. I have no need that they shouldhave under-

stood what they saw nor even of their having had some sort of scientific

educatiorl. On the other hand more than one mrorkerhas gone off to

'fieldbork',

do

arrnedwith a questionnairefurnished by an eminent anthro-

pologist,and havingfollowed it to the letter, has reportednothing interesting, at least to me.

Pp.

eIO.

" A secondaryselection has taken place

. .

."

[The passage

is: " Out of a vast numberof social facts observershave tended to select

facts of the mystical type rather than of other types and in Levy-Bruhl's

ritings

a secondaryrselection has taken place throughwhich only facts of

a mystical type have been recorded,the final result of this double selection being a picture of savages almost continuallyand exclusively consciousof

mystical forces. He presentsus with a caricatureof prirnitivementality."]
I

admit this, but it was donedeliberately, and I have not hiddenit ....

No,

I20

A

LETTER

TO

E.

E.

EVANS-PRITCHARD

this is not a caricatureof primitivementality. But it is an image

which I have wishedto

bnng out stronglya

in the shadow (and indeed

through

dominanttrait, leaving the rest

work like this).

I told you

I have not claimed

cartoonistsoften

above the motives which led

to give a completeanalysis and

I vvastrying

own.

Pp.

IO-II.

passageis:

of

with

nesians,

me to proceedlike this.

descriptionof

primitive mentality-above all

to bring furtherinto

" To

the light what distinguishesit from our

representationsof Englishmen

describethe collective

and Frenchmenwith

the same impartialityand

minuteness

"

....

[The

collective representations

impartialityand

minuteness

representationsof Poly-

NorthernAustralia,

would be a fine

but ought I, in

Can I not

" Clearlyit is

necessaryto descnbethe

Englishmenand Frenchmenwith the same

which anthropologistsdescnbe the

collective

Melanesians,and the abonginesof Centraland

if mreare to make a

compansonbetween the two."] This

piece of work whose results would be most

all conscience,to undertakeit in

take it as agreedthat our

interesting. . .

order to realize my design?

patternsof

thought(an excellentexpression svhich

call " habitudesmentales "

sufficientlyknown for me

of the savage" ?

the

  • I borrowfrom you, andwhich comes close to what I

dependingon " l'onentation de la

to comparethem with

pensee") are

the " patterns of thought

You find, and not

without good reason, that I ask much of

good will and patienceof the

readerin presentinghim with fourthick volumes

going to be

followedby a fifth).

What

(I scarcelydare admit that they are

wouldit be if I

I

now go

ning on p. I3).

ought to have conducteda parallelinquirv into the mentality

of our compatriots!

on to the five questionswhich you exaJninein sequence(begin-

  • (a) [I cited vanous authonties to show that

thought.] Agreed.

[I discussedwhat

Levy-Bruhlwas inquiring

intoa genuineproblem in

civilizedmodes of

  • (b) Pp. I5-I9.

investigatingthe differencesbetween primitive and

Levy-Bruhlmeans by " prelogical"

savages are incapableof

thinking

parts

civilizedman.] Amongthe

pleasureand svhichwill sufficeto

importantpoint.

showed that

andshowed that he does not mean that

coherentlyor

of your article

are intellectuallyinferior to

which have given me most

showthat you have

thoroughlyunderstood me on this most

Dnberg

Thepassage concerningMr.

Dnbergin

because,in readingThe

you: if I had knownhow to

has amused me [whereI

criticizing Levy-Bruhlsays the same as

Savageas He ReallyIs, I had

he in differentwords]

the same thoughtsas

understoodby Mr.

say, he bringsto

expressmyself so as to be

in agreement. As you

Driberg,he svouldsee that we are

mytheory

the supportof his great

muchprofit his

experiencein Africa. I have read vYith

other vvorks. I admit that the term

You have also seen very clearly

Langoand most of his

"prelogique " svas '

thataccording to me

over-coherent ".

ratherqxnfortxtate '.

"

pnmitive thought is eminently coherent,perhaps

 

L.

LiVY-BRUHL

I2I

(c)

[I discussedwhat Levy-Bruhlmeans by " collectiverepresentations "

and showedthat whereashis cntics say that he contendsthat savagesthink

illogicallywhat he is reallysaying is that

savagethought is mainlyunscientific

and also mystical. He refersto the content, or patterns,of thought social

factsand

not to the processesof thinking psychologicalfacts.] Here the

discussionbecomes more refinedand it becomesnecessary for me to explain

exactly what I mean by pnmitive " thought". I can at any rate say that

at bottom it seems to me that there is no disagreementbetsveen us on this

question. The fact that the ' patternsof thought' are differentdoes not, once

the premiseshave been given, prevent the " primitive" from reasoninglike

us, and, in this sense, his thought is neither more nor less " logical" than

ours. I have never made this appeardoubtful and the way in which you

explainmy ideason this pointis of a sort to dissipatemisunderstandings which

have done me so much wrongamong English and Amencananthropologists.

(d)

[Here I discussedwhat Levy-Bruhlmeans by " mystical":

that

collective representationsof the supra-sensibleform integral parts of per-

ception. The savage cannot perceive objects apart from their collective

representations. He perceives the collective representationin the object.]

Yet here again you do me a great service. When I said that " primitives"

never perceive anything exactly as we do I never meant to assert a truly

psychologicaldifference between them and us; on the contraryI admit that

individualphysio-psychological conditions of sensory perceptioncannot be

other among them than as among us but I did intend to say, as you put

it (p. 25), ' " that a savage'sperception of, in the sense of noticing,or paying

attentionto,

or beinginterested in, a plant is due to its mysticalproperties " '.

As a result I

am inclinedto subscribeto the two propositionswhich you your-

self accept and which are fotmulatedat the foot of p. s5. [The passageto

whichLevy-Bruhl refers is: " A restatementof Levy-Bruhl'smain contentions

about the mystical thought of savages is contained in the two following

propositions,both of which appearto me to be

acceptable: (I) Attention to

phenomenadepends upon affectivechoice and

this selective interestis con-

trolled to a nery large extent by the values given to phenomenaby society

and thesevalues are expressedin patternsof thoughtand behaviour(collective

representations). (2) Since patternsof thought and behaviourdiffer widely

between savages and educatedEuropeans their selective interestsalso differ

widely and, therefore,the degree of attention they pay to phenomenaand

the reasonsfor their attentionare also different."]

 

(e)

Pp. 2S7.

[I discussedhere what Levy-Bruhlmeans by

" participa-

tions" mystical relationsbetween things. I believe that on

this notion

 

of " participation" we are in agreementabout essentials. Besides, as you

remark,what I say about " participation" links up with what I have said

about the " mystical" characterof representations.

  • P. 28. " Mystical thought is a function of particularsituations." I

have committed" a seriouserror in failing to understandthis point ".

[My

criticism of Levy-Bruhlhere was that he does not adequatelyappreciate

I22

A

LETTE R

TO

E .

E .

EVAN S-PRITCHARD

that mysticalthought is often a functionof

particularsituations. Collective

sight of an object but

representationsof a mysticalkind may be evoked by

they may not be invanablyevoked. Savagethought has not the fixed inevit-

able constructionthat Levy-Bruhlgives it.] Here, ' I do not plead guilty'.

But I recognizethat in my firsttwo

booksmy thoughtis perhapsnot expressed

It is better expressedI believe in

also in the H.S.L. [HerbertSpencer

presentin the secondhalf

may be a Sction since it

[Myargument

svith sufficientprecision and accuracy.

the introductionto " Le Surnaturel" and

Lecture]. I do not find the

argurnentwhich you

of p. s8 decisive. '¢The resultingpattern of belief

may neverbe actuallypresent in a man'sconsciousrtess ' ....

herewas that

as put together by a

theremay be a big differencebetween a system of native beliefs

Europeaninquirer and

what any individual native

believes,just as thereis a differencebetween the formalizedbody of Christian

theologyand what an individualmay know of it.

Religiousbeliefs are held

systems.]

by the individualas isolated bits, as it were, and not as entire

Wouldyou say that the OxfordDictionary ' " may be a fiction" ' and cannot

give a true idea of the Englishlanguage ? The content of the OxfordDic-

tionary however has never

been ' " actually present in an

Englishman's

consciousness"'* On the other

hand in every humanmmd there are always

elements, which moreovercan only mani-

practiceswhich are necessarilysocial;

pitive

" societies,they are

ineradicablyfundamental mystical

fest themselvesthrough beliefs and

and if one perhapssees them most easily in "

by no meansabsent in othercivilizations. If we couldtalk aboutthis together

it seems to me that we could amve at agreement.

 

P.

30.

Leary-Bruhlgives

I

that

 

that

what you

say (pp. 30-I),

I

maintatn.

P.

32.

I

have expressedmyself

it."-Agreed.

" Savage thought has not the fixed inevitableconstruction that

But if I give this irnpressionit is because

badly-as ever throughmy attempt to make what

the good sense of this word, if I am under-

mentalitystand out.

I completelyadmit

attract the attention of the primitive,

claimsthat are made upon him by

needs, of nourishment,

the mysticalpowers

thereforeaccept

is mysticaland " prelogical" (in

stood as I wish to be) in pnmitive

numerousinterests of every kind

he is continuallyattentive to all the

the practicallife, and the

necessity of satisfyinghis

etc. etc., and that he is not

uniquelypreoccupied snth

of beings and objects. Far from that: he must live. I

The relationsof my theory with

and I believe that it can be reconciledwith what

those of Tylor and of Frazer.

[I discussedhere some of the main differencesin approachbetween Levy-

Bruhlon the one hand and Tylor and Frazeron the other, saying,

among

other things, that Levy-Bruhlhad no need to make a distinctionbetween

categoriesof magic and religion,and that whereasto Tylor and Frazerthe

savage believes ln magic because he

reasonsincorrectly to Levy-Bruhlhe

magic.] Anotherpassage for which

correctlyunderstood

reasonsincorrectly because he believesin

am very gratefulto you and whichshows that you have

me. I admirethe GoldenBologh and alwaysrecall the extraordinaryimpression

L.

LEVFY-BRUHL

I23

which it made on me;

to me it vvasa revelation. A new vYorldappeared

beforemy

eyes.

But I halrenever been able to interestmyself in discussions

about the

relationsof magic and religionand you vPeryclearly explain why.

He, Tylor, and their schoolbase themselveson postulatesand an over-simple

psychologywhich seem to me little to conformto the facts and to be untenable.

I have thought it a duty to take up a differentposition and I have tried to

follow another path which seemed to me to lead more closely to an exact

descnptionof so-calledprimitive mentality. I am no doubt not altogether

wrong since, from the point of viesv of an anthropologistwith expenence

of field work,you concludethat my theory is not withoutuse.

But I regret

that it has exacted from you

it very fortunatefor me that

prolongedand painfuleffort vvhileconsidering

you have not recoiledfrom this task.

And I

wish to close this over-longletter in again thankingyou with all my heart.

PS.

L. LEVYBRUHL.

What can explainto a certainextent the evident misunderstanding

amongmany anthropologistsof my theoryis the differencebetween the points

of new in which they and I place ourselves. They relate what I say to the

particularpoint of view of their science (whichhas its tradition,its methods,

its achievedresults, etc.). What has led me to write my books is not the

desireto add, if I could,a stone to

the edificeof this specialscience (anthropo-

logy, ethnology). I had the ambition to add something to the scientific

lsnonvledgeof humannature, usmg the findingsof ethnologyfor the purpose.

My trainingwas philosophicalnot anthropological. I proceedfrom Spinoza

and Hume rather than from Bastian and Tylor, if I dare evoke such great

names here.