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Thursday, 2 October 2014

Anthropocentrism as a special case of animism

Descola's book (Par-delà nature et culture) is a quite extraordinary, it often makes you feel Wagner's motto (that anthropology is becoming philosophy with people inside) in the skin. It feels that the various groups mentioned are like schools of thought - for instance under the umbrella of animism (as much as naturalists have developed several schools within their overarching umbrella). It also gives the impression that anthropology is a tool for a proper jump into abstraction - at least to suggest strategies to dissolve problems we often put to ourselves.

Animism admits of varieties and degrees. If we accept the founding (Durkheimian) idea that persons are always composed of physicality and interiority, physicality could be such that there is no interior associated to a portion of it. So, one can think that my finger doesn't have an interior, is only part of my person and therefore what is expressed by my interiority. This is why some animists take only (some) animals to be non-human persons while others would include more animals, plants etc. Individuation can take place in many different ways - but the individuation of persons depends on finding the double structure of physicality and interiority. If it is so, anthropocentrism is a special case of animism: only humans are persons with full interiority and their environment is no more than their physicality, no more than something to express themselves - like their niches. In a scale of few interiorities to many interiorities, anthropocentrism is at a low level: only humans have interiority and all the rest is to be seen as (their) physicality. At the highest level, we find something close to Leibniz's monadology: every portion of matter, no matter how small, is a garden or a lake and has entelechias (monads) in them, as is stated in section 67 of the monadology. Every portion of physicality has interiority in them. Then, of course, there are intermediate positions where some physicalities have interiority. (It is, however, a debate remarkably like the one Bartolomé de las Casas was involved: who (or what) has a soul? This is what places the debate in my concern in the project of Politics of Predication: what distinguishes a who from a what, a no one from a nothing.)

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