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Concepts, Classification, Desire

February 10, 2010

In this post I suggested that incommensurable conceptual schemes might make sense, but only insofar as we don’t have overlapping desires. Concepts and knowledge are always, I allege, related to desire—we create concepts because we want something.

In How Institutions Think, Mary Douglas suggests something similar. In her discussion of how classification gets off the ground, so to speak, she uses Melanie Klein’s claims about the development of infants:

For the infant, such classifying is the only method for gradually differentiating the other and the self. … It needs to know whether the source of milk, if external, is one breast or several, and if several, how to distinguish allies from enemies? Is this the good breast or the bad breast? Is it for me or against me? The earliest social interaction lays the basis for polarizing the world into classes. Survival depends on having enough emotional energy to carry this elementary classificatory enterprise through all the hard work needed to build a coherent, workable world.

Her conclusion? “Social interaction supplies the element missing in the natural history account of the beginnings of classification.” We don’t classify for fun! We classify while interacting with others in order to get fed.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. Beelzebub permalink
    February 11, 2010 12:42 am

    Hey. This is like pragmatism.

  2. missivesfrommarx permalink*
    February 11, 2010 9:15 am

    Pretty close. Reading Dewey’s The Quest for Certainty was a turning point in my graduate education.

  3. larry c wilson permalink
    February 11, 2010 2:40 pm

    I’m always interested to find that some individuals can either remember how they thought as infants or believe they can actually communicate with infants.

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