Re: teaching theory

Richard L. Warms (RW04@SWT.EDU)
Thu, 22 Feb 1996 14:52:11 -0600

I'd like to respond briefly to Robert Lawless' note on the absence of
philosophy in teaching theory.

First, let me note that our book (McGee/Warms, Anthropological Theory)
originally began with an extract from Locke's Essay Concerning Human
Understanding and another from another from Ferguson's essay on the History of
Civil Society. We had to cut these and others as well due to space
restrictions imposed on us by our publisher. Despite this, we've tried to draw
people back to philosophy as frequently as we could.

Philosophy does seem critical to understand anthropological theory. Certainly
19th century anthropological thinkers, and to a lesser extent those of the 20th
as well, had deep knowledge of it, particularly of European philosophy of the
17th and 18th centuries. There are, however, some structural problems in
teaching it in anthropological theory classes. First, most classes are
structured by semesters and most are limited to a single semester. This isn't
much time to teach a great deal of material. I suspect people go about it by
either teaching a broad range of theory at the expense of philosophical
underpinning, or by teaching their favorite theoretical perspective, its
history and philosophical underpinning. Neither is particularly satisfactory.
Second, though some of us are versed in philosophy (and some not)
anthropologists are not philosophers. I suspect, for example, that most of us
are much more comfortable talking about Boas than the Kantian foundations of
some of his thinking. There is, of course, a simple (though perhaps
unlikely) solution to these problems: require students to take philosophy
courses in philosophy departments.

BTW Jon McGee and I are both on this list and we'd be glad for your public or
private comments on our book. You can get us at
and respectively.

Best regards,

Rich Warms