Page:Folk-lore - A Quarterly Review. Volume 26, 1915.djvu/137

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Psychology and Ethnology. 127

be superseded.^ If we remember that our mechanical con- ception of the world (and I use the word mechanical in a wide and loose sense, to include that impersonal and individualistic conception of human affairs such as we find in political economy), if we remember that this conception is a tem- porary phase.a tradition which may pass like other traditions, the difference between the savage and the civilized man vanishes. Grant a soul detachable from the body, there is nothing in a South Sea islander's doctrine of ghosts that is illogical or inconsistent with the premises ; we cannot refute them by logic, more than we can an atomic theory ; we can only say that there are infinitely more precise and pro- ductive hypotheses than a theory of ghosts ; if our science does not profess to explain luck as spiritualistic theories do, on the other hand it can explain an infinitely greater number of things better worth explaining and has given us command of the whole earth. ^'-

We must in ethnology escape the influence of philo- sophical systems. They profess to sweep away tradition and preconceived ideas, and to build upon one or two eternal truths. As a matter of fact, they merely rebuild with the old materials, following the old plan but in a simpler style ; but of this we are quite unconscious, and imagine that we have come into possession of eternal and immutable truths ; we conclude that if a savage does not see them, his mind is defective or, at least, differently made, and we feel it our duty to correct it by telling him that he is wrong and we are right, and he must believe what we tell him or incur our ridicule, the punishment of the Law, or the anathema of the Church.

A savage's mind is anything but defective. He is just a normal social animal whose chief interest in life is his relations to his neighbours. He is quite used to their opinions, he understands them and sees no reason to differ from them. What his neighbour says is plain and fits in with his general ' Poincarc, op. cit., p. 119. ^^ IbiiL, p. 66.