Pascal Boyer
Cognitive Limits to Conceptual Relativity: The limiting-case of religious ontologies
IN:  Rethinking linguistic relativity
Studies in the social and cultural foundations of language
, No. 17
Edited by John Joseph Gumperz, and Stephen C. Levinson
Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, England. 1996. p. 203-231


The chapter questions some tenets which the author believes lie behind the following "Whorfian" argument: categorization requires grouping by similarity, this categorization is under-determined by objective reality, but is suggested by linguistic categories, which therefore play a crucial role in the transmission of culture across generations; argues ...that categorization or conceptual grouping is really determined by an implicit theory about a particular domain: for example, animate objects are grouped together by their teleological behavior (for which there is a pan-human naive theory) and distinguished by properties of each natural kind (for which, again, there is a naive theory of essence and reproduction); such domain-specific implicit theories are not, he claims, learned, and therefore are biologically, not culturally, transmitted; anthropologists, he argues, are blinded by a few spectacular oddities to the enormous undercurrent of universal conceptual assumptions... suggests that religious ideas have a reliable crosscultural structure: metaphysical beings are ascribed all the properties specific to the human domain (with its associated naive theory of intentional, purposeful behavior) with just a few outlandish properties--e.g. invisibility, omniscience, etc.; suggests that even the outlandish elements conform to limited types, which guarantee their memorability and hence their cultural transmission.


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