Relations of analogy and identity Toward multiple orientations to the world
Stanley J. Tambiah
In D. Olson & N. Torrance (eds.) Modes of Thought. Explorations in Culture and Cognition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996, pp.
In an influential essay entitled “Analogy versus Identity
,” included in a book he edited with the title Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance
Brian Vickers has argued that what distinguishes the Renaissance occult tradition from the emergent scientific tradition was their respective attitudes toward the relation between words and things, verba
; and more generally signs and their referents.
The mistake of the occult tradition (the Renaissance Neoplatonism of Ficino and Pino) consisted in imputing a direct, even causal, relationship between the word and its referent (what Ogden and Richards called the “denotative fallacy
”; Cassirer, “the hypostatization of the word
”; or in the terminology of Saussure, the confusing of the signifier with the signified).
.2 (Apparently the debate about words and things began with Plato’s Cratylus where both views of language’s relation to reality, natural versus conventional, are argued back and forth, with the final judgment being given in favor of the separation between language and reality.)
Brian Vickers, ed. Occult and Scientific Mentalities in the Renaissance (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1984).
2 By arbitrary Saussure meant that the choice of the signifier by the speaker is “unmotivated” in that “it actually had no natural connection with the signified.” Ferdinand Saussure, Course in General Linguistics (New York: McGraw Hill, 1966), p. 69.
Vickers argues that the new philosophers and scientists, like Galileo, Bacon, and Hobbes, argued for the conventional or arbitrary relation between language and reality.3
The main thrust of Vickers’s exposition is that the Renaissance Neoplatonist mystical and magical tradition believed in “natural language
,” that is, an “innate union of signifier and signified
,” and the new scientists and experimentalists held that “the linguistic sign is conventional, its meaning given by society
.” Magical, astrological, and alchemical thought and practices were predicated on this root fallacy of natural language.
In sum the Vickers narrative is as follow: In the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, there were to incompatible views of the relationship between language and reality.
(Vickers)“In the scientific tradition, a clear distinction is made between words and things and between literal and metaphorical language. The occult does not recognize this distinction: words are treated as if they were equivalent to things and can be substituted for them. Manipulate the one and you manipulate the other”(p. 95).
(Tambiah)Thus (according to Vickers--Corboy note)in the occult tradition “analogical
” relations4 are transformed into “identity
” relations; a conventional relation between word and thing is made into a direct or causal or natural relation.
The corrective to this linguistic confusion was the notion that the linguistic sign is conventional and arbitrary.
In passing, it may be noted that Foucault in his Order of Things5 had preceded Vickers in giving a similar but fuller and richer account of an allegedly
Vickers cites Bacon as holding that “words are but the current tokens or marks of popular notions of things
” (in Advancement of Learning
); Hobbes as asserting that “Names are signs not of things, but of our cogitations
” (in Leviathan
); and Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding
” (1690) as including a refutation of natural language theories and recalling Hobbes, Bacon, and the long tradition back to Aristotle and Plato.
(Tambiah) Vickers does not spell out the notion of “analogy
Standard dictionary glosses include the following features: a similarity of rates or proportions;
resemblance in particulars between things otherwise unlike;
agreement or resemblance in certain aspects as in form or function; similarity without identity.
A more informative discussion of analogy and its use in two senses ⎯ the “scientific predictive” and the “conventional persuasive” ⎯ is to be found in my essay, “Form and Meaning of Magical Acts,”
in Stanley J. Tambiah, Culture, Thought and Social Action (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1985), Ch. 2.
Though Vickers’s understanding of analogy is unsophisticated, I shall follow his usage here since I am testing his ideas in this essay.
(Corboy: words are developed through social process and consensus--words are not divine givens in and of themselves)