Date of Award
Senior Scholars Paper (Open Access)
Colby College. Sociology Dept.
Birge, Kingsley H.
The object of this paper was to explore the relationships that exist between ideas and other elements of the social systems of primitive peoples. Taking a clue from sociologists of knowledge, who are especially concerned with the problem of ideology, I began my exploration of primitive thought by searching for primitive ideology. An ideology might be defined as a conscious deliberate attempt by one group of people to take advantage of another group by the manipulation of ideas. It soon became apparent that primitives had nothing comparable to ideology in this sense, save for perhaps the Aztecs. The question then was what did primitives have? What kinds of ideas did they entertain? I then attempted to get at these ideas through an analysis of myth. This attempt was doomed to failure. The interpretation of myth could be a very important and fruitful endeavor for an expert, or one very familiar with the cultures involved. Unfortunately it proved impossible for one in my position. After surveying the work of anthropologists interested in thought, I discovered that the most successful were those that approached the problem linguistically. Basic to this approach is the axiom that all higher thought is ultimately dependent on language. Thus through an analysis of language the basic presuppositions of a culture can be discovered. I applied this method to the Zuni and Sioux with some success, which resulted in a new view of their conception of the world. However, much of my work in anthropological linguistics did not work out. In these activities I was hindered by both unfamiliarity with the field and lack of material as much as anything else.
Civilization, Ancient, Thought and thinking
Recommended CitationAcheson, James, "Sociology of primitive thought" (1962). Senior Scholar Papers. Paper 6.
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