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Magic

The Role Of Analogy And Metaphor

Returning to the question of how thought can be similarly compared from one culture to another, and the notion that forms of thought that appear to display differences might have underlying similarities, the contributions of Claude Lévi-Strauss (b. 1908) and Stanley Tambiah (b. 1929) are particularly useful. Accepting Frazer's observation that in both magic and science relationships of cause and effect are based on analogies, Lévi-Strauss proposed that magic could be understood as a subcategory of analogical thought, and worked on the assumption that a metaphor follows natural laws. Like most early twenty-first-century scholars, he views magic, science, and religion to occupy aspects of thought and practice in all societies.

Tambiah has taken the study of magic and analogy much farther than any other scholar. Tambiah finds that analogical reasoning is a quality of both magic and science, but claims that they involve different kinds of analogies. Science, he argues, makes an analogy between known causal relationships and unknown causal relationships. Following Lévi-Strauss, he finds that magic relies on the use of a particular kind of analogy, but he emphasizes the importance of the transfer of meaning from the physical procedures in magic to a referent in the natural world. Magic offers human beings something that science does not: creative possibilities. He also observes that magic extends meaning into practical activity. The meanings produced through ideas and practices of magic are therefore central to an understanding of the workings of culture and society.

Lévi-Strauss made another important observation about the differences between magic and religion. Taking both to be categories of thought, rather than terms that referred to different contents, he proposed that the terms were used by Western thinkers to make distinctions between their own thought and what he called "outside" thought. This outside thought was designated as inferior to domestic thought. Emphasizing that neither have particular contents or meanings, and that Western thought arbitrarily provides its own subject matter, Lévi-Strauss advocated the dissolution of the category known as magic.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Macrofauna to MathematicsMagic - Magic, Religion, And Science, The Functions And Effects Of Magic In Classic Anthropological Works