Publication 7326

Stewart J. (2015) Formes de pensée, formes de vie sociale: Une enquête à propos de l’origine des catégories. [Forms of thought, forms of social life: An enquiry into the origins of conceptual categories] Intellectica 63: 93–124. Fulltext at
Cognitive Science, in all its forms, has up until now largely ignored the social dimension of human cognition. This article seeks to examine the hypothesis, initially formulated by Durkheim a century ago, according to which the main categories which render conceptual thought possible may have a social origin. Durkheim illustrated his thesis, on convincing fashion, by studying aboriginal Australian societies. The aim of the present article is to extend this hypothesis to include the conceptual categories at the basis of Western philosophy and science: first with the ancient Greeks, then at the Renaissance. These non-empirical concepts are those of abstract space (Euclidean space, perfectly homogeneous in all dimensions); time (conceived as spatialized in linear fashion); and the twelve logical categories (equality, abstract quantity, primary and secondary properties, the continuous and the discrete, the transcendental.… ). The German Marxist Alfred Sohn-Rethel has put forward the hypothesis that the root of these conceptual categories is to be found in the abstraction of economic exchange. This hypothesis will be supported by examining the concomitant emergence of new social structures and new forms of conceptual thought over the course of history. Particular attention will be paid to the period of the Renaissance, which saw the emergence both of Capitalism and of modern science; and to the contemporary period, where the form of social life is dominated by financial speculation which goes together with an automation of the processes of production. In conclusion, the article pleads for an enlargement of Cognitive Science, and in particular the nascent paradigm of Enaction, so as to include the dimensions of sociology and anthropology.


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