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Sentience and Sensibility
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I want people to enjoy philosophy, to experience it as a natural, conversational process, and begin doing it for themselves. I am not so concerned that people agree with my conclusions I may have changed my own mind about them by the time they're in print as that they themselves participate in rigorous, creative thinking. Cite this article Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography. September 23, Retrieved September 23, from Encyclopedia. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list. Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.
Thus, he argued that the souls of humans, animals, plants, and objects survive death and bodily decay in an animistic cosmos, while inhabiting a world that is populated with spirits and deities Tylor : The influence of social evolutionism waned in anthropology in the early twentieth century, as anthropologists started to undertake their own fieldwork and obtained findings that cast serious doubt on the idea that societies represent levels of linear human progress. Despite extensive criticisms of it, social evolutionism never entirely disappeared from anthropology or from popular understandings in Euro-American societies about human cultures.
Moreover, since Tylor presented his study of animism as evidence for the social evolutionary approach, the two became synonymous for some time. However, it is possible to study animism without the comparative evolutionary angle. Contemporary anthropological approaches show that modern technologies and science are also incorporated into animistic worlds. Technological items can become people in the Chewong world through the assistance of shamans, who use the same word to refer to their spirit-guides and their consciousness. Japanese airplanes, for example, became recognised as new spirit-guides that have consciousness after they flew over Chewong forests during World War II.
Like many other robots, the famous ASIMO Advanced Step in Innovative Mobility was made by Honda in Japan to resemble children so that its human creators and owners would engage with it as a cute, non-threatening, and childlike being. Relating to other beings as though they were kin is, then, a pervasive theme in current studies of animism Bird-David , But to stand the test of time, animistic relationships to other beings or things often need to be maintained.
His study shows that Ojibwe do not attribute animistic qualities to all beings or things at all times, but that they are open to finding that some beings or things may have animistic qualities in certain moments. Thus, Hallowell observes that while some Ojibwe have seen certain stones move in ceremonies, stones usually do not move and many people do not see them move.
Ojibwe consider that people are especially open to perceiving animistic beings in dreams, where they routinely encounter them. This does not mean that ethnography always took the lead in anthropological studies on ontologies, some of which have instead been built upon philosophical or theoretical considerations inspired by ethnography compare to Scott Each animistic being has a shared interior quality, such as a soul or vital life force.
According to Descola, there are important differences between animistic, totemic, analogic, and naturalistic ontologies. Totemic ontologies are common in Oceania, where persons and nonhuman beings share the same interior quality, such as a soul, and the same bodily substance, such as a physicality inherited through kinship to other-than-human totemic ancestors.
By contrast, Descola suggests that analogic ontologies are common south of Siberia, in parts of Asia where persons and nonhuman beings do not share the same interior quality or the same bodily substance. Animal domestication is a hallmark of analogic ontologies because the use and consumption of animals lends itself to the view that the interior and bodily qualities of humans and nonhumans are different. Finally, naturalistic ontologies are common across Euro-America, where persons and nonhuman beings do not share the same interior quality, such as a soul, but do share the same bodily substance, namely a physicality traceable to taxonomies of species and evolutionary lines of descent.
There have been famous debates, for example, between Descola and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro on animism and perspectivism Latour ; Turner Drawing upon ethnographies of Amerindian peoples in Amazonia, Viveiros de Castro suggests that all beings in a perspectival ontology can adopt a human perspective, albeit under certain circumstances that are conducive for them doing so.
Seen in this light, perspectivism is a kind of philosophy that makes possible an entirely different anthropology shaped by indigenous concepts. Notwithstanding this, the oeuvres of Descola and Viveiros de Castro have been field-setting with good reason. Recent work on ontology has stimulated a re-envisioning of the kinds of beings that might populate any animist cosmos. Bruno Latour showed that technological items may at first appear to be machines without the agency or life force of human beings. But on closer inspection, machines may take on the qualities of nonhuman hybrids with agency, vitality, a life force, and personhood.
What makes these concepts of hybridity, chaos, or fuzzy boundaries useful, then, is that they give a vocabulary for the ways in which animistic and other ontologies blend and blur in real life, thus leading to contradictions or giving rise to contexts in which more than one ontology may be operative. It is instructive in this regard to see that Eveny hunters live in a world where both totemism and animism are operative.
Eveny manipulate this totemic sensibility during the hunt by using children as bait, who lure prey into close range for a kill.
But rather than reciprocating this totemic sensibility, hunters relate to prey with an animistic sensibility, that is, as animals with a different bodily substance that is edible. Some key anthropological approaches suggest that animism is not always taken seriously. Moments later, the elderly hunter burst out laughing and completed the work mirthfully with his hunting partner.
Humour, after all, appears vital to Yukaghir hunting luck and success. This playful sense of humour underpins a good deal of New Age animistic practices in Euro-American contexts Lindquist , see also ; Houseman If humour, wonder, and play lie at the heart of animistic practices, then it is well-worth considering the effects that the imagination and creativity have in a variety of animistic worlds.
Ethnographies around the world show that animism is a way of relating and attributing sentience to other beings, forces of nature, things, and even technological items. This entry has explored anthropological approaches to animism, from envisioning it as a philosophy of religion to building upon distinct philosophical, theoretical, and ethnographic sources that suggest animism may be more than a distinct sensibility, tendency, or style of engaging with the world. It may be an ontology in its own right.
Animism is approached from numerous directions in anthropology. It is considered to be an immanent rather than transcendent form of sentience. It is a way of revealing and sometimes manipulating the consciousness, motivation, memories, and powers of animal spirits, animistic places, and items of technology. As an ontology, animism may blend and blur with other ontologies, opening it up to contradictions, humour, creativity, imagination, inspiration, and reflexive awareness.
Due to the diverse forms of animism worldwide, anthropologists have asked whether certain animistic groups may have undergone a history of diminution or disenchantment, which made them only attribute certain beings with an animistic sensibility. They also relate to animism in distinct ways, as scholars who are not animists, as scholars who advocate identifying with animists, or as scholars who are animists themselves. Cutting across these varied approaches are competing visions of how animistic life-worlds unfold through human, other-than-human, and beyond human sensibilities.
What these big questions do is shine a reflexive mirror onto our own humanity, pressing us to articulate what sentience is in the first place and why we relate to others in the ways that we do. Southeast Asian animism: a dialogue with Amerindian perspectivism. Sprenger, London: Routledge. Basso, K. Wisdom sits in places: notes on a Western Apache landscape. Basso, Santa Fe, N. Battaglia, D.
Bender, M. Wuwu The Nuosu Book of origins: a creation epic from Southwest China. Seattle: University of Washington Press. Bird-David, N. Size matters! The scalability of modern hunter-gatherer animism. Brightman, M. Ulturgasheva eds Introduction — animism and invisible worlds: the place of non-humans in indigenous ontologies. New York: Berghahn. Chua, L. To know or not to know? Troubled landscapes, troubling anthropology: co-presence, necessity, and the making of ethnographic knowledge.
Mathur eds Reimagining alterity and affinity in anthropology. Willerslev Descola, P.
Related Sentience and Sensibility: A Conversation about Moral Philosophy
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