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In What Sense Can It Be Said That People In Different Cultures 'think Differently'?

2883 words - 12 pages

When it is suggested that a group of people have their own collective way of thinking, they are said to have a different mentality to other groups. Mentalities characterise what is unique about a particular society's beliefs and thought processes, and how these have been transformed over time (1). There are many accounts of the mystical and supernatural nature of thought processes by various groups from around the world, but the notion of a mentality is something that can be related to all societies, not specifically the primitive groups which have been subjected to much scrutiny by anthropologists. From anthropologist's fieldwork it is often impossible to identify any theory or source behind such beliefs, because often the people being studied are themselves not aware of this. This theory for beliefs is often what relates mentalities of one society to another, even if on the surface there seems to be great diversity. This is summed up by the following quote, 'The quest for explanatory theory is basically the quest for unity underlying apparent diversity; for simplicity underlying apparent complexity; for order underlying apparent disorder; for regularity underlying apparent anomaly.' (Beattie, Ref: 2) Lucien Lévy-Bruhl was a French sociologist who brought forward a theory behind apparent differing mentalities between primitive and modern societies (1). He identified what he saw as a prelogical mentality being the main feature of thought of primitive societies, and it was this that was the main difference between the logical and scientific thought made in advanced societies. He classed this as the 'primitive mentality'1(1910). Lévy-Bruhl believed that the method of European thought was to seek natural causes to phenomena, and anything that could not be related to natural causes was put down to a lack of knowledge. To people in a primitive society, the cause of such phenomena would to them be supernatural (3). Lévy-Bruhl believed that the modes of thought in a primitive society (magic and religion) which seem absurd to European societies are seen to be true by the primitive people, but this does not mean that primitive people are incapable of coherent thought. It simply means that there beliefs are intelligible to people from modern, scientific cultures (3). Lévy Bruhl suggested that the modes of thought making up the mentality of a group of people are known as their collective representations. Every society has these; it is just that modern society's are based on scientific theory, whereas primitive people's are based on mystical thought. On evidence from ethnographical study, it is seen that primitive people often make statements that would be seen as paradoxical to a science based society e.g. the Nuer from central Africa believe twins are birds (1). One must decide whether such statements are literal or metaphorical. In Sperber's study of the Dorze (Sperber, 1975), he illustrates how...

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