Philippe Descola’s Four Ontologies
The task of anthropology is to account for how worlds are composed. – Philippe Descola
From time to time over the past few years I have chipped away at a goal of understanding Philippe Descola’s version of ontology. His work initially attracted my attention because of my interest in all things Iroquoian, but that is another post.
Yesterday Johannes Neurath shared a link to a 2012 lecture by Descola (see below). That has inspired me to tap out this short blog post about one of the foundations of Descola’s work, namely his four part ontological grid.
In Descola’s model—and he is clear that it is just that—humans construct their world based upon whether they consider the entities surrounding them to be similar or dissimilar to humans in terms of their interiority and their physicality.
In the case of animism, non-human species share intentionality and agency with humans but are differentiated by their bodies.
Totemism is the ontology I understand least well. Descola gives as exemplars the ontologies of the Aboriginal peoples of Australia.
Naturalism is in essence the contemporary scientific perspective on the world.
In analogism, the world is made up of differentiated but interrelated entities. Astrology (the relation of the movement to the entities in the heavens to individual humans’ fortunes) is an ontology of analogy.