Philosophy of Anthropology
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14-03-2011, 10:31 AM (This post was last modified: 14-03-2011 10:39 AM by Lilith Pride.)
Philosophy of Anthropology
Throughout recorded history many philosophies have been changed greatly by anthropology. Ethics in general gained a huge hit when evidence that other cultures completely disagree yet work was found.

Since I'm one of the few students of anthropology here I was just wondering in philosophy if there was a good way of describing anthropological views. Because moral relativism is a personal belief, but anthropological study is the practice of withholding your personal beliefs and disbeliefs in order to better understand the group you study.

The anthropologist can be of any faith (including none), but while often they will meet with things they can't agree with they must accept them in order to fully understand the culture.

If I were doing a cultural anthropological study on Baptists in the Midwest. I would need to go to Baptist churches, and study the people in congregations, how the congregations work, and spend time afterwords interviewing them. During this time I would have, after studying up on Baptists, introduced myself into the church as either a researcher or a Baptist. In determining why they believe in god and follow a set way I couldn't look at it as if god didn't exist. While studying them I would have to look at the framework of god existing.

My basic question is, are there serious philosophical beliefs that have to do with suspension of your own beliefs in order to understand others. This is a very complicated field for most people in introductory forms, since your belief systems are generally sacrosanct.

I'm just wondering if philosophy which to me sounds like the closest field to anthropology in this way has a good suggestion for this, since most philosophers feel your beliefs and views to be necessary and important at all times.

Outside of anthropology the most suspension of belief I see is examples like doctors treating religious patients, where they have to avoid correct procedures in order to comply with the patients wishes. About 15 years ago medical anthropology opened up as a field in part because of ethics issues like this.

Anthropology also has the issued term of "going native", which means that the culture you study overrides your own culture while you study them (you believe their beliefs over the ones you had before studying them). It's a derogatory form due to many anthropologists viewing tribal cultures, giving up their careers in favor of continuing to live in those cultures. In the same way this can be a Christian anthropologist who studies a group of atheists and finds that he agrees with them. The term is derogatory due to the fact that gaining their beliefs steps away from suspending your own, but if you truly find theirs to be the better I'm not sure what's wrong with "going native".

Suspension of beliefs and disbeliefs to understand others is a really useful skill, and I'm hoping it exists outside of anthropology because most consider anthropology a dead field.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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14-03-2011, 09:44 PM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
Kind of not surprised to see no one with an answer, are there at least any replies? Who here feels that the practice of suspending your own beliefs and disbeliefs in order to understand a culture is a good practice? The biggest issue with theists VS atheists is that neither is really going at the opposites view of the issue. You don't have to be completely against someone to convince them, in fact usually the less aggressive your statement the more likely it will work.

It's not an easy thing to do, but it can have great benefits in many things. Being able to look at the world through other systems of beliefs and views allows you to better understand the opposing argument. Yes many on here are former religious people, but how often does the average member of this forum discuss religion without demanding gods don't exist?

There are always many ways to think and generally your views are going to seem to be the right ways, it's very enlightening to gain the ability to view the world in another way.

That's my opinion, what's yours?

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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16-03-2011, 10:26 AM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
Looking at the world from the perspective of others? Isn't that what everybody does? How else would one understand the actions and motives of someone else?
Quote:(you believe their beliefs over the ones you had before studying them)
Impossible. If you're studying baptists and you're an atheist, how can you honestly believe their beliefs over yours for a certain period of time?

I don't read the philosophy board often, I'm not even sure what philosophy is.

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16-03-2011, 11:43 AM (This post was last modified: 16-03-2011 02:16 PM by TrainWreck.)
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
(14-03-2011 09:44 PM)Lilith Pride Wrote:  That's my opinion, what's yours?
I do not think you have it understood, or expressing it, correctly.

I'll agree, with Kikko, that a person cannot suspend his belief system in order to study a culture by participating in the beliefs of the culture - seems impossible, how does the observer shed the objectiveness of being an observer if he is a participant? I would opine that an observer, at best, can only recognize his belief system and its effect on his perception of the culture studied; because the observer is confined to analyse the experiment in terms of his community's sanctioning of ideas and terms of analysis.

Humanism - ontological doctrine that posits that humans define reality
Theism - ontological doctrine that posits a supernatural entity creates and defines reality
Atheism - political doctrine opposed to theist doctrine in public policy
I am right, and you are wrong - I hope you die peacefullyCool
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16-03-2011, 02:19 PM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
(16-03-2011 10:26 AM)Kikko Wrote:  I don't read the philosophy board often, I'm not even sure what philosophy is.
Philosophy is the Western society's classification system of ideologies - it is the science of describing abstract systems of thought.

Humanism - ontological doctrine that posits that humans define reality
Theism - ontological doctrine that posits a supernatural entity creates and defines reality
Atheism - political doctrine opposed to theist doctrine in public policy
I am right, and you are wrong - I hope you die peacefullyCool
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16-03-2011, 02:40 PM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
(16-03-2011 11:43 AM)TrainWreck Wrote:  
(14-03-2011 09:44 PM)Lilith Pride Wrote:  That's my opinion, what's yours?
I do not think you have it understood, or expressing it, correctly.

I'll agree, with Kikko, that a person cannot suspend his belief system in order to study a culture by participating in the beliefs of the culture - seems impossible, how does the observer shed the objectiveness of being an observer if he is a participant? I would opine that an observer, at best, can only recognize his belief system and its effect on his perception of the culture studied; because the observer is confined to analyse the experiment in terms of his community's sanctioning of ideas and terms of analysis.
In the social sciences, in order to get to the behavior one wants to observe, one must occasionally "go into the field" and participate. This isn't just true of anthropology, it's also true of sociology. I read a study once done by a husband-wife team who specialized in deviance. They wanted to observe the drug culture in their city, but as many know this culture is secretive and paranoid (for good reason). So in order to study the culture, this couple jumped right in. They approached a neighbor who sold weed and asked if they could buy some, smoke with him, meet his clients, etc. A very interesting concept, especially when you take into account the risks involved.
But as far as suspending beliefs, I think that might have to be subjective to the individual. I don't know if I could actually suspend belief, I would probably just have to work on my acting Cool

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16-03-2011, 08:55 PM (This post was last modified: 16-03-2011 09:03 PM by Lilith Pride.)
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
It's a very true exercise for the anthropologist, not that every cultural anthropologist succeeds in doing so. I myself am pretty good at managing to see that far as to someone else (not that I'm a field researcher or anything). You're not required to be completely as the study group, but you can't allow your own beliefs to interfere. It's a rigorous process to get the information, because if you bring a foreign idea into your observation you're not properly observing.

To suspend is not to give up something, it means that for a time whatever you had is never thought. Generally this would mean spending time before this getting yourself out of habits and necessities. You can't observe a culture with a god correctly if you can't see the good (or meaning) in it.

My example was meant to suggest the difficulty by having to look at god as existing for those who don't, because you can't accurately study a group with a bias. You can admit your biases after the deed but during you must accept.

Observing practices like tribal circumcisions require that you be able to look past yourself on these things. Because they are sickening acts by the eyes of "cultured" people. In whatever group you might study you would need to accept them and look as they do.

People don't do this everyday, they look at a part of another person but in general take most of it into themselves. And one reason that it is more doable to suspend your own beliefs is that you are observing in many cases not doing.

But as with anything the more similar you can seem the more information you'll gather. That is suspension because there is no going "hey now wait, I won't do that". When you say that the study is over.

Perhaps there is an issue in separating the idea of going native with the basic action, but this is how it works. While studying you must look at things from your subjects perspective. Your own perspective should only come after the study completes. This can be writing at the end of the day or whatever, but while observing, the closer you are to their ways the more you'll learn about them.

Of course suspension is subjective, but the practice of it is worth the attempt. For those who can see far enough they learn a lot about the ways they live by seeing what the other is.

http://oak.cats.ohiou.edu/~thompsoc/Body.html
This paper was written as an attack on anthropology, but it is looking at things as unknown in study. It ended up as a very popular piece for those new to studying anthropology. It was written because anthropologists often seem to make tribal cultures sound more amazing than they are.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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17-03-2011, 08:35 AM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
(16-03-2011 02:40 PM)cfhmagnet Wrote:  In the social sciences, in order to get to the behavior one wants to observe, one must occasionally "go into the field" and participate. This isn't just true of anthropology, it's also true of sociology.
I understand that, and I didn't mean to discount the technique, I just was not sure how to describe it.

(16-03-2011 02:40 PM)cfhmagnet Wrote:  I read a study once done by a husband-wife team who specialized in deviance. They wanted to observe the drug culture in their city, but as many know this culture is secretive and paranoid (for good reason). So in order to study the culture, this couple jumped right in. They approached a neighbor who sold weed and asked if they could buy some, smoke with him, meet his clients, etc. A very interesting concept, especially when you take into account the risks involved.
I'm not buying it - I think they were drug users, and wanted to put together a sympathetic description under the auspices of science. Why not find a legal drug culture, because the forensic analysis of prosecution is going to serve as the metric.

(16-03-2011 02:40 PM)cfhmagnet Wrote:  But as far as suspending beliefs, I think that might have to be subjective to the individual. I don't know if I could actually suspend belief, I would probably just have to work on my acting.
yeah, I think you understand what I was getting at. Consider the atheists who visit church services, sure it may be like going to theater play, but after a while it becomes a "crash," being uninterested (objectiveness at its highest level) and essentially uninvited???

Humanism - ontological doctrine that posits that humans define reality
Theism - ontological doctrine that posits a supernatural entity creates and defines reality
Atheism - political doctrine opposed to theist doctrine in public policy
I am right, and you are wrong - I hope you die peacefullyCool
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17-03-2011, 12:48 PM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
(17-03-2011 08:35 AM)TrainWreck Wrote:  
(16-03-2011 02:40 PM)cfhmagnet Wrote:  I read a study once done by a husband-wife team who specialized in deviance. They wanted to observe the drug culture in their city, but as many know this culture is secretive and paranoid (for good reason). So in order to study the culture, this couple jumped right in. They approached a neighbor who sold weed and asked if they could buy some, smoke with him, meet his clients, etc. A very interesting concept, especially when you take into account the risks involved.
I'm not buying it - I think they were drug users, and wanted to put together a sympathetic description under the auspices of science. Why not find a legal drug culture, because the forensic analysis of prosecution is going to serve as the metric.
It's possible they were. But the whole thing ended up in a Ph.D. dissertation and the wife, Patricia Adler, wrote a book: Wheeling and Dealing: An Ethnography of an Upper-Level Drug Dealing and Smuggling Community. I'm sure the reason why they didn't find a legal drug culture is because....I can't think of a legal drug that has a culture around it in America. And if there were in their part of the country, it likely just didn't interest them in the way that their illegally employed neighbor did.

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17-03-2011, 09:42 PM
RE: Philosophy of Anthropology
Hehe legal drug culture =p sounds like studying teenagers hiding their smokes.

I'm not a non believer, I believe in the possibility of anything. I just don't let the actuality of something be determined by a 3rd party.
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