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Others, Other Minds, And Others' Theories of Other Minds: An Afterword on the Psychology and Politics of Opacity Claims (Social THOUGHT & COMMENTARY SPECIAL SECTION: Anthropology and the Opacity of Other Minds) (Report)

Anthropological Quarterly 2008, Spring, 81, 2

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The remarkable coherence of this collection of papers may be due to their shared footing in Melanesia. But we should also take seriously Alan Rumsey's suggestion that we not think of these issues as being peculiarly Melanesian, and use them to help us think comparatively across cases. I want to offer some suggestions about how opacity claims, which can seem to be so specific to a certain ethnographic region, can help illuminate problems of mind and speech elsewhere. This means both entering into the specificity of the Melanesian examples to see what people might be up to when they talk this way, and drawing from our ethnographic insights those themes that turn up in all sorts of other places, including the Euro-American West. Certainly Melanesia is a locus classicus for opacity statements, which we might summarize as the claim that it is impossible to know what is in the mind of another person. But how "other" is the opacity claim, as we can call such statements about "other minds"? Perhaps both less and more than might at first seem to be the case. The opacity claim, that it is impossible to know what is in the mind of another person, has commonly been treated as an assertion about psychology. But these papers make it very clear that it is perhaps not about psychology at all, or at least that it is also about a great deal more than that. Whatever else the opacity claim may be, it is surely a metalinguistic claim about the relations between public evidence and private states. More specifically, as both Alan Rumsey and Bambi Schieffelin point out, it is a metapragmatic claim. That is to say, it is a claim about acts of revealing and acts of concealing and how those are or are not to be taken as evidence for private states. And finally, as Rupert Stasch shows us, it can be a political claim. Returning now to the question of psychology, I would also like to argue that the opacity claim is part of a politics that is saturated with a moral psychology. I think Stasch's invocation of Richard Moran's (2001) work is very much to the point here. The opacity claim, at least in much of the Melanesian evidence we have before us in this collection, is among other things, a political claim about the moral and practical conditions of social interaction and about the power relations that those involve. It takes as one of its central concerns the question "what I am able to do with you, to do to you, and to keep from you?"

Others, Other Minds, And Others' Theories of Other Minds: An Afterword on the Psychology and Politics of Opacity Claims (Social THOUGHT & COMMENTARY SPECIAL SECTION: Anthropology and the Opacity of Other Minds) (Report)
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  • Category: Social Science
  • Published: 22 March 2008
  • Publisher: Institute for Ethnographic Research
  • Print Length: 17 Pages
  • Language: English
  • Requirements: To view this book, you must have an iOS device with iBooks 1.3.1 or later and iOS 4.3.3 or later, or a Mac with iBooks 1.0 or later and OS X 10.9 or later.

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