Lévi-Bruhl, Lucien

Collective:Unconscious Theater at 145 Ludlow i...
Collective:Unconscious Theater at 145 Ludlow in 1997 by Justin Davila via Wikipedia

Lucien Lévi-Bruhl (1857-1939) was a pioneering French anthropologist. His studies of so-called primitive cultures had an impact on depth psychology, sociology and philosophy.

Lévi-Bruhl believed that so-called primitive cultures existed in a “pre-logical,” mystical state of mind characterized by non-contradiction and, more importantly, participation in a collective, totemic idea.

He contrasted the pre-logical to the apparently individualized, “rational” peoples possessing contemporary scientific cognition.

Thus Lévi-Bruhl made a fundamental distinction between ‘primitives’ (or ‘natives’) and Western ‘moderns’ or the ‘scientific’ man. He also believed that mankind naturally evolved from the primitive to the scientific and that this was an inevitable process.

In his work How Natives Think (1910), Lévy-Brühl speculated about what he posited as the two basic mindsets of mankind, “primitive” and “Western.” The primitive mind does not differentiate the supernatural from reality, but rather uses “mystical participation” to manipulate the world. According to Lévy-Brühl, moreover, the primitive mind doesn’t address contradictions. The Western mind, by contrast, uses speculation and logic.¹

Late in his career Lévi-Bruhl conceded that modern people also experience mystical dimensions–but not as visibly as so-called primitives. C. G. Jung adopted Lévi-Bruhl’s term participation mystique to assert that the collective unconscious is a buried storehouse of psychological energy inherited from mankind’s ancestral past.

¹ http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lucien_L%C3%A9vy-Bruhl

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