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Saturday, December 30, 2017

My Apprenticeship: An Intellectual Journey - Third Entry

Thoughts of December 30, 2017

Glancing at Frederick Copleston's History of Philosophy, where he discusses Hobbes' philosophy, threw me back to an experience I had during my first field work in Zambia. I tell it as I thought it while sipping my first cup of coffee this morning.

Copleston points out that in the process of distinguishing philosophy from various other disciplines, Hobbes argues that "the study of the consequences from the passions of men yields ethics", which Hobbes classifies under the general heading of natural philosophy (p. 20).

Good, I thought, this sounds reasonable and remember immediately a happening in the field that has bothered me for decades. I fell in love. It was that simple. Furthermore, it was accompanied by a meeting of minds, and all this during the hard beginning when I experienced the field as desolate, strange, but also as peculiarly familiar. This inner unease filled me with fear so that I had to, as it were, force myself each morning to go out to do my work.

It is thus that Hobbes' notion that the passions of men have consequences, which yields ethics are important.

What we refer to as "falling in love" happened frequently to other anthropologists. It is rather natural that an anthropologist, in my case a woman, who fell in love with a man of the culture she studied, found that the happening had the consequence of opening that culture and its people up to her. By which I mean, that she now met people freely without the nagging fear that something untoward might happen or that fear might bias the research negatively. Above all, it became the point where research really took off. In other word, it had epistemological consequences, by which I mean, it informed the process of how I came to know what I know.

My first reaction to this happening for the 2018 edition was to leave it out. After all, it had upset many an anthropologist back in 1983 when I put out the first edition. Here is my chance to remove it from the book. But I could not! To have done so would have been dishonest.

My second reaction was to ask myself: but can I recommend it? The simple answer is, I cannot! I cannot even say let it happen. And I have no satisfactory answer to the contradiction between
bureaucratic ethics committees of universities who want to remove the person of the researcher from his research and the anthropologist in the field who, as it were, needs every facet of his person to survive and succeed. Nor do field workers live in office blocks but in mud huts where their very person becomes a vital tool, as noted, to the success of the whole field work enterprise. My temporary conclusion is that do not fall in love; but when it happens take the opening of mind to the people around you as a gift, knowing however, that you can not take the it back home.

Reason remains a priority. But if we are honest, we know that reason is but one resource. As any artist will tell you, we cannot omit the repertoire of emotions or passions that lift reason to its great height in the first place. One more point, all depends on distinguishing doing from happening.