The Roots Of Thinking

The Roots Of Thinking

Maxine Sheets-Johnstone
Copyright Date: 1990
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 408
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  • Book Info
    The Roots Of Thinking
    Book Description:

    "A significant contribution to the study of early humans, this book is a philosophical anthropology.... it makes genuinely novel, and highly persuasive, claims within the field itself." --David Depew In this ground-breaking interdisciplinary study about conceptual origins, Maxine Sheets-Johnstone shows that there is an indissoluble bond between hominid thinking and hominid evolution, a bond cemented by the living body. Her thesis is concretely illustrated in eight paleoanthropological case studies ranging from tool-using/tool-making to counting, sexuality, representation, language, death, and cave art. In each case, evidence is brought forward that shows how thinking is modeled on the body-specifically, how concepts are generated by animate form and the tactile-kinesthetic experience. Later chapters critically examine key theoretical and methodological issues posed by the thesis, Sheets-Johnstone demonstrates in detail how and why a corporeal turn in philosophy and the human sciences can yield insights no less extraordinary than those produced by the linguistic turn. In confronting the currently popular doctrine of cultural relativism and the classic Western metaphysical dualism of mind and body, she shows how pan-cultural invariants of human bodily life have been discounted and how the body itself has not been given its due. By a precise exposition of how a full-scale hermeneutics and a genetic phenomenology may be carried out with respect to conceptual origins, she shows how methodological issues are successfully resolved. "Ranging across the humanities and sciences, this thoroughly original book challenges both traditional metaphysics and contemporary cultural relativism. In their place, it persuasively develops a phenomenonological, tactile-kinesthetic account of the origins of thinking. This philosophical anthropology could not be more timely. It replaces the 'linguistic turn' with a promising new 'corporeal turn.'" --John J. Stuhr, University of Oregon "This work takes a much-needed stand in the inter-disciplinary field of philosophical anthropology. Sheets-Johnstone is well-read in the history of philosophy and in contemporary anthropology. The point of view she offers is inventive, insightful, well-established, and fruitful." --Thomas M. Alexander, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0365-0
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. PART I Overview

    • 1 The Thesis, the Method, and Related Matters
      (pp. 3-22)

      This book is about conceptual origins. In particular, it addresses the question of the conceptual origin of fundamental human practices and beliefs that arose far back in evolutionary human history: tool-making, counting, consistent bipedality, language, the concept of death, engraving and painting. Typically, answers to questions about origins—how a verbal language originated, how counting began, for example—take for granted the very concepts basic to the practice, the concept of oneself as a sound-maker in the case of language, for instance, or the concept of numbers in the case of counting. Insofar as fundamental human practices and beliefs entail...

  5. PART II Paleoanthropological Case Studies

    • 2 The Hermeneutics of Tool-Making: Corporeal and Topological Concepts
      (pp. 25-70)

      Early hominid tool-making originated and developed on the basis of concepts that were at once corporeal and topological. The concepts were full-blooded concepts, notpre-concepts (or pre-operational concepts) in the now popular Piagetian sense of that term among evolutionary anthropologists and archaeologists.¹ That this is so will be shown by a sensory–kinetic analysis of the concepts foundational to the act of making a tool, and by a corresponding critique of Piagetian accounts.

      The tools will speak for themselves throughout and in so doing attest to the fact that they are the result of corporeal concepts in the sense in...

    • 3 On the Origin of Counting: A Re-Thinking of Upright Posture
      (pp. 71-89)

      The starkly contrasting views of Russell and Bakst cited above on the origin of counting call for clarification—and not simply from the viewpoint that a philosopher and a mathematician inhabit two different academic worlds. What is at issue is not a question of philosophy or mathematics; it is a question of the scientific validity of a certain rendering of the origin of counting.

      There are undoubtedly many favored versions of the traditional story of how counting originated. Credibility in each case, however, rests upon the acceptance of a rather queer scenario, queer in the sense of being almost biblical,...

    • 4 Hominid Bipedality and Primate Sexuality: A Further Re-Thinking of Upright Posture
      (pp. 90-111)

      The purpose of this case study is to launch an examination of a posturally significant and behaviorally critical aspect of hominid bipedality that is consistently overlooked in assessments of its evolutionary impact. Hominid bipedality eventuated in a radically different primate bodily appearance: male sexual characters relatively hidden in quadrupedal primates are visibly exposed in bipedal ones. Conversely, female sexual characters normally visible in quadrupedal primates are relatively hidden in bipedal ones. Loss of estrus—physiological and behavioral—can be explained in the light of continuous and direct male genital exposure. Typical primate estrus cycling was replaced not by year-round female...

    • 5 Corporeal Representation
      (pp. 112-133)

      To place early hominid sexual signaling behavior in the broader context of communication, and in fact in the broader context of an evolutionary semantics, necessitates first of all an examination of similarities—and thus ultimately continuities—in primate sexual signaling behaviors. It furthermore requires an extensive critical analysis of the privileging of human language since preferential treatment of the latter precludes not only an unbiased investigation of the root of the similarities (and continuities) but acknowledgment and analyses of the body which is the dynamic locus of communicative acts. In the course of meeting both requirements, this chapter will show...

    • 6 On the Origin of Language
      (pp. 134-166)

      To say that the beginnings of language¹ are not equivalent to its origin is not simply an acknowledgment of theOxford English Dictionary. While it is true that origins have to do with derivations not commencements, the conceptual contrast goes deeper than a superficial temporal distinction. To reconstruct the origin of language is to reconstruct a living process that may be analyzed quite apart from circumstances such as hunting or increased brain size that have typically been thought of as marking the beginnings of language. The purpose of this case study is to examine the two major preconceptions that consistently...

    • 7 Hominid Bipedality and Sexual Selection Theory
      (pp. 167-202)

      Eberhard’s evidence for sexual selection through female choice of male genitalia¹ accords closely with Darwin’s original and preeminent concern with morphological aspects of sexual selection. Given the ambient Victorian culture of his time, it is not surprising that Darwin himself did not remark openly and directly upon male primate genitalia.² His cryptic and oblique references to “naked parts … oddly situated,” to “a part confined to the male sex,” or to “large surfaces at the posterior end of the body,”³ all belie his usual descriptive precision and clarity. Eberhard’s thesis that male genitalia function as “ ’internal Courtship’ devices,”⁴ that...

    • 8 On the Conceptual Origin of Death
      (pp. 203-232)

      Maurice Merleau-Ponty described the objective body as the “impoverished image” of the phenomenal body.¹ In an earlier work, Jean-Paul Sartre drew a similar distinction when he described the body being-for-itself and the body-for-others as existing “on different and incommunicable levels” with one another.² Many existential philosophers have gone on to extol these critical determinations and to incorporate the distinction in their work as a fundamental verity of human existence. Thus, Calvin Schrag, for example, has insisted on the necessity of consistently contrasting “the body asconcretely lived” with “the body asobjectively known.”³ On the other hand, Herbert plügge, “also...

    • 9 On the Origin and Significance of Paleolithic Cave Art
      (pp. 233-274)

      Like the practice of stone tool-making that long preceded it, paleolithic cave drawing originated in a particular kind of tactile–kinesthetic activity, and one similarly giving rise to the creation of spatial forms. With cave drawing, however, the spatial forms entailed concepts tied to pictorial rather than sculptural space. In traditional discussions of cave art where functional or semantic interpretations dominate, little if any attention is given to these concepts. Instead, theories are advanced—and disputed—concerning the representation of animals and the practice of hunting-magic; figural representations in general are analyzed in the context of fertility rites, sexual symbolism,...

  6. PART III Theoretical and Methodological Issues

    • 10 The Thesis and Its Opposition: Cultural Relativism
      (pp. 277-299)

      Ludwig Wittgenstein’s question and sardonic remark on thinking quoted at the beginning of the first chapter underscores the fact that by current Western standards, thinking remains a more inaccessible mystery than either consciousness or intelligence, and this in spite of its immediate accessibility and ostensive prevalence throughout all human societies at the very least.¹ It is not surprising, then, that the origin and genealogy of thinking is not a prominent concern in philosophy or the human sciences, or that the relationship between the evolution of hominid thinking and hominid evolution has never been seriously examined. Yet in some respects the...

    • 11 The Thesis and Its Opposition: Institutionalized Metaphysical Dualism
      (pp. 300-313)

      The choice of “the mental” by the philosopher—or its relegation to philosophers—and the choice of “the physical” by the scientist, establishes a division of the animate that is mirrored neither by a Darwinian scheme of the world, a Darwinian methodology, nor by everyday living reality. However restrictively or generously their genetic programming is conceived, all creatures, humans and nonhumans, undeniably move about in purposeful ways. They make life-enhancing choices, at minimum not only about what and what not to eat (including the choice of a new food item) and when to eat (e.g., when it is safe to...

    • 12 The Case for a Philosophical Anthropology
      (pp. 314-333)

      Philosophical anthropology. The label conjures up a hybrid few have heard of, and for many of those, a hybrid of questionable viability. Indeed, the words sound a flat thud in the ears of most philosophers and a rude intrusion in the ears of most anthropologists, who hardly want anything to do with it. Some would in fact question the very existence of such an animal since the cross-disciplinary marriage necessary to its birth is believed never to have been consummated—at least to the satisfaction of both parties.

      The estimation by most present-day anthropologists is that philosophical anthropology is mired...

    • 13 Methodology: The Hermeneutical Strand
      (pp. 334-346)

      The paleoanthropological case studies in Part II demonstrate a fullscale hermeneutical methodology in action. It is apposite in this chapter only to illustrate in greater detail the method’s central role in elucidating the roots of human thinking through corporeal analyses, and to examine in greater detail its central role in the science of paleoanthropology itself. An abbreviated look at interpretations of stone tool-making, and then of upright posture, will first demonstrate how a full-scale hermeneutics of the body is called for.

      The process of tool-making presupposes certain fundamental sensory–kinetic meanings without which stone tools could never have come to...

    • 14 Methodology: The Genetic Phenomenology Strand
      (pp. 347-364)

      Rather than begin with a summary presentation of genetic phenomenology in its role as methodological science, a summary that would require prior detailed considerations of epistemological matters as well as comparisons with static phenomenology, it is more useful to attend directly to the core methodological problem inherent in the attempt to describe experienced meanings in creatures other than one’s own immediate kind, and this for two reasons. First, the concern here is precisely not that of contemporary human thinking, that is, presentday human meanings, but the thinking of ancestral hominids; and second, given this paleoanthropological concern, the core methodological problem...

    • 15 The Case for Tactile–Kinesthetic Invariants
      (pp. 365-386)

      Epistemological justification of sufficient similarity answers the second question posed in the last chapter, namely, How do we know what the point of view of ancestral hominids was in the first place? The justification rests ultimately on the body. If present-day humans can approximate to the point of view of their hominid ancestors, then explicit corporeal grounds exist for affirming that approximation. Tactile–kinesthetic invariants obviously provide the strongest and most direct way of demonstrating those grounds. Rather than taking up these invariants straightaway, however, a more circuitous epistemological route will be followed, and this in order to demonstrate how...

  7. Name Index
    (pp. 387-389)
  8. Back Matter
    (pp. 390-390)