Twins Are Birds and a Whale Is a Fish, a Mammal, a Submarine

Revisiting 'Primitive Mentality' as a Question of Ontology

in Social Analysis
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  • 1 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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Refuting the rationalist implication that the Nuer statement “twins are birds“ is dumb, Evans-Pritchard held that the statement should be taken as a figure of speech. Against his interpretation, I argue that the Nuer, at the time of Evans-Pritchard's research, understood their statement to be true in an ordinary sense. In effect, my argument continues to suppose that the perception of the world implicit in the Nuer statement differs in a fundamental way from that of moderns. However, instead of having to conclude that the Nuer statement about twins and birds is indeed dumb (or that we have never been modern in any distinguishing sense), my argument develops an ontological thought-experiment that theorizes the relative validity of the Nuer perception.

Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology


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