to interpret

In saying that what anthropology must do is to interpret, Geertz was asserting that the kind of explanation it should seek to offer is qualitatively different from that pursued in the natural sciences, which had provided models and inspiration for other schools of sociological and philosophical thought, most proximately in anthropology at the time, in the diverging approaches of A.R. Radcliffe-Brown, Leslie White and Claude Lévi-Strauss. The distinction between interpretation and causal explanation has roots in German historical thought, in the idea that the possible forms of explanatory success are fundamentally different in the sciences respectively of nature and spirit (Naturwissenschaften and Geisteswissenschaften). The foundational claim is that human beings are, in Charles Taylor’s resonant phrase, ‘self-interpreting animals’. On this view, the ideas and values people have inform their self-descriptions, and those self-descriptions stand not merely in an external causal relation to what they do, but are internally constitutive of who they are and what they are doing. If this is so, then explanation of human conduct in terms of causal laws, on the model of the natural sciences, must be a flawed ambition. It is not merely that such ambitions are impossible to achieve in practice; it is a mistake in principle even to aim at them. An entirely different set of criteria is required for success in an interpretive enterprise. This much was common currency in the linguistic turn, and Geertz expressed the general position forcefully. In addition, he argued that it is a fact about human evolution that we have developed in such a way that being shaped by culture is now part of human ‘nature’, so that without culture, humans would be radically incomplete and unviable. So, for Geertz, there was a firm scientific account of why human conduct, being inherently meaningful, could not be subject to scientific explanation.

Laidlaw, James. 2018. “Interpretive Cultural Anthropology: Geertz and His ‘Writing-Culture’Critics.” Pp. 148–158 in Schools and Styles of Anthropological Theory. Routledge.




以及 被文化影响是人类本性不可分割的一部分。


虽然思路很赞,以及 Geertz 大人确实是我偶像。但每次看到人文学科用这种「严谨」的逻辑推论,就忍不住狂翻白眼……

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