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Representation and Reality in the Study of Culture Author(s): John R. Bowlin and Peter G.

Stromberg Source: American Anthropologist, New Series, Vol. 99, No. 1 (Mar., 1997), pp. 123-134 Published by: Blackwell Publishing on behalf of the American Anthropological Association Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/682138 . Accessed: 03/10/2011 10:17
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Re,|resentation and Reality in



the proper functioning of this or that culture. Thus the authority of science and the legitimacy of functional explanationin the social sciences go hand in hand. Whilescientific realists have perhaps always been the majorityparty among cultural anthropologists, an alternative interpretation of cultural difference has never lacked for articulate spokespersons, especially in NorthAmerica.The particularistictendency of Boasian anthropologyhas at times taken a radical form as in some interpretationsof the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in which culturaldifference is seen, at least potentially,as culturalincommensurability. In recent years, new forms of antirealism have appeared in anthropology. Drawing upon broader trends in postmodern thought, contemporaryantirealists react against scientific realism and cast doubt upon the possibility, the justice, and the wisdom of representing other culturalworlds in the languageof Western science, advocating instead the epistemic authority of "local truths,""multiplesubjectivities," "discursiveregimes,"and the like. Many scientific realists perceive these new positions as an attack upon the entire scientific enterprise. Melford Spiro (1996:771), unrepentant and articulate, speaks for many when he complains that postmodernists have made scientific inquiryequivalentto storytelling, reduced rational choice among competingtheories to arbitrary preference among differentnarratives, and shroudedthe objective world behindthe subjective interests of the storytellers. Unfortunately,the contemporarydebate has been remarkablyunproductive. For the most part, scientific realists and their postmodern critics have talked past one another.At the root of much of this confusion is a collection of questions about representationand truth. Is our epistemic access to the world best described in terms of representation? Are true beliefs those that represent the world as it is? Does modern science pro-

IF THE INHABITANTS of another time and place use concepts that we do not and give their assent to propositions that our languagedoes not permitus to entertain as candidates for belief, how then can we translatetheir sentences and interprettheir utterances?l Will not our attempts inevitably reproduce our own cultural assumptions and attitudes, at least to some extent? If so, must we then insist that different cultures constitute incomparable worlds? Indeed, does every attempt to understandthe utterances of a distant other inevitably fall short, tripped up by the differences in language, belief, and sentiment that divide different cultures? These worries are obviously unsettling, and they have encouraged many to take comfort in various accounts of the origin and significance of cultural difference. In the broadest terms, culturalanthropologists in the 20th century have adopted one of two positions on this matter. The first, which we will call scientific realism, regards culturaldifference as an instance of scientific disagreement. When members of other societies give assent to beliefs that the best science cannot endorse they are, either tacitly or explicitly, considered mistaken.2Scientific realists argue that the methods of science offer the best means of bringing the world to rational minds,just as the languageof science provides the best medium for representing the real world, the world as it is in itself, to knowing subjects. Cultural difference, according to this view, is a consequence of misapprehension, of failure to represent the world truthfully,which in turn creates a special task for anthropologists and other social scientists. They are charged with describingthe social conditions and psychological mechanisms that make this or that misapprehensionpossible, perhaps even necessary, for
JOHN R.BOWLIN is an assistant professor in the Department of Philosophy andReligion, University of Tulsa,Tulsa,OK 74104. PETER G. STROMBERG is an associateprofessor in the Department of Anthropology, University of Tulsa, Tulsa,OK 74104.

American Anthropologist99(1):123-134.Copyright O 1997, American Anthropological Association.



vide the most faithfulmediumof representation?If each of these questions deserves a negative reply, must we then abandon every hope for epistemic access to a world independent of ourselves? Must we, in turn, shelve all talk of truthand falsehood, or at least restrict such talk to discursive systems with consensual epistemic standards?Finally, must we as a result forgo all inquiriesthat trade in truth across cultures? In what follows, we draw upon the recent work of philosopher Donald Davidson in order to argue that doubts about representation do not necessarily entail doubts about epistemic access to the world, that talk of truthremainsunavoidableeven as the traditionalphilosophical way of makingsense of that talk passes away. Whileit is indisputablethat we must always be readyto revise any of the beliefs we consider true, ordinarytalk and interpretation depend upon the conviction that truth is one, not many. These arguments make much currentdebate about representation,truth,and method in contemporarycultural anthropology seem unnecessary, or at least misframed. Important matters are at stake here, but they are not primarilyepistemological. They are, rather,moral andpolitical disagreementsthat are best put in precisely those terms. This is our conclusion. Getting there will require that we work our way through the debate, sorting out positions and clarifying confusions on both sides. We begin by considering some representative attempts to spell out the consequences of refusing to accept what scientific realists assume: that true beliefs are nothing but the accurate representation of the world in the mind.

Truthand Method among Domains

In his lucid contributionto the widely cited collecting Culture (Cliffordand Marcus1986), tion titled Wr7 Paul Rabinow takes his lead from Richard Rorty's (1979) influential criticisms of all attempts to equate knowledge and accurate representation (Rabinow 1986:234-235). But Rabinow adds that accepting Rorty'sconclusion "does not mean rejecting truth,reason, or standardsof judgment"(1986:23S237). Building on both Hacking and Foucault, Rabinow suggests that a proposition can be considered true and that reasons can be offered in its defense, within 6'specializeddomains.' A domain has two principal features, both historically conditioned. First, a domain is a collection of concepts offered in a particularlanguage. Second it is an orderedset of epistemic authorities. Togetherthese features enable certain propositions to be considered candidates for assent, while at the same time fixing roughstandardsfor establishing truth and adjudicating conflicts among beliefs.

It follows from this that truth is many, not one. Since truth talk occurs exclusively within a particular domain and since domains can vary significantly in different times and places, it follows that there are "different historical conceptions of truth and falsity" (Rabinow 1986:237).There is no realm of the true that can guarantee the traditional belief that truth is one. Rather, there are as many truths as there are domains where truth is distinguishedfrom falsehood. Of course, one always finds oneself within a particulardomainand thus one must inevitably consent to "the discipline of one's own standards of truth and reason" (Rabinow Nevertheless, we should steel ourselves to 1986:238).3 the fact that "otherprocedures and other objects could have filled the bill just as well and have been just as true"(Rabinow 1986:237). Here one must agree with the scientific realist who might characterize as disingenuous Rabinow's assurances that his views do not entail abandoninginquiries that trade in truth.Indeed,they do. For to say that some proposition is true or false entails believing that the world has certain features, that its characteris this and not that. To think otherwise, to believe that truth talk can proceed apart from this belief, is to fail to understand what is implied when we say that something is true. It is to misunderstandhow we use the concept. It follows that the ordinary enterprise of asserting the truth of some proposition, a proposition that others either deny or cannot imagine, is quite incompatible with maintaining belief in multiple worlds, multiple truths.4Asserting the truth of some proposition is instead dependent upon believing that the world has features that others might not grasp. To insist that truth talk can only proceed within local epistemic domains, as Rabinow does, is thus equivalent to insisting that truth talk cease altogether. Others cope with representationalism'sdemise by attempting to bracket talk of truth altogether in crossculturalinquiry.In anotheressay from Writing Culture, Talal Asad (1986) argues that since all believing is domain relative and power tainted, all cross-cultural inquiries that trade in truth- including both moral criticism and scientific evaluation are wrongheaded.They are wrongheaded,accordingto Asad, because they presuppose the truth commitmentsand epistemic authorities of a particular domain. This means that, when we criticize and evaluate the beliefs and practices of another domain, with its own commitments and authorities, we arbitrarilyprivilege our own. As a result, little understandingof what they believe and do is achieved. Rather, we simply assert that by our lights "whatthey believe is quite wrong"(Asad 1986:154). Thi$ verdict prompts Asad to conclude that "good critique is always an 'internal'critique"and therefore cross-domain inquiries should forgo criticism alto-


gether, attending instead to understandingalien beliefs and practices (1986:164). Evaluation should be replaced with translation,where the meanings implicit in one cultural domain are fixed in the language and concepts of another, presumablyour own (1986:156).But this course presents Asad with difficulties, largely because of his account of meaning. Asad regards meaning as an intention that a speaker conveys in the concepts of a particulardomain, with its unique epistemic authorities, social practices, and forms of life (1986:156-157).It follows that translation is largely a matter of transplanting an intention from its original language and concepts into the language and concepts of a new domain. Here troubles appear. Since a domain is not simply a conceptual scheme where language and belief reside but also an expression and instrument of power, Asad contends that the language and concepts of the ethnographer's more powerful domainwill, more often than not, determine the meaning of the utterance under translationby distorting its intention. He writes, '4The ethnographer's translation/representationof a particularculture is inevitably a textual construct2' and therefore it is the ethnographerwho has "finalauthority in determining the subject's meanings,"who 6'becomesthe real author of the latter" (1986:162-163). Meanings are not translated, but created and imposed. Call this tragic ethnocentrism, where "the anthropological enterprise of culturaltranslation" is "vitiated" at every turn by the unavoidable dependence of belief and meaning upon power and social context (Asad 1986:164).Can this tragedy be averted? Asad thinks it can, but only if anthropologistsexperiment with inquiries that abandon altogether "the representational discourse of ethnography," replacingit with dramaticperformance a dance or a piece of music. Here the hope is to supplant the translation of meanings with ethnographic expressions that might aintroduce or enlarge culturalcapacities, learntfromother ways of living,into our own" (Asad 1986:160). Such hermeneuticalenrichmentof one languageby another is a perfectly laudable activity, but it will not resolve Asad's worries about meaning and distortion.5 So long as one considers meaningan intention that can be represented in language or expressed in performance, so long as there are competing languages and multiple modes of expression, meanings will be threatened with distortion as they are transposed from their domain of origininto new domains,whether hermeneutically enriched or not. While Rabinow and Asad evidently agree that a "crisisof representation" threatens, neither seems willing to reevaluate the philosophical assumptions that have brought us to this theoretical impasse. They find fault with realist accounts of human knowing, they

promise to retain some form of cross-culturalinquiry, yet in the end they do not provide a workable approach to such inquiry.No wonder scientific realists like Spiro howl in protest.

Belief, Truth,and the World

Although Rabinow and Asad differ in important ways, they share a basic assumption. Theirviews are in one respect only a well-articulatedversion of a widely accepted anthropologicial piety, the belief that different cultures, different times and places, and different peoples diverge significantly in belief and sentiment. WithCliffordGeertz, they endorse the conclusion that "humanityis as various in its essence as it is in its expression" (Geertz 1973:37). So significant are these culturaldifferences, or so it is assumed, that Rabinow, Asad, and others find it natural to speak of fundamentally different epistemic domains, each with its own linguistic conventions, candidates for assent, hierarchy of epistemic authorities, and microdynamicsof power and knowledge. Following their lead, many contemporary anthropologists express uneasiness about crosscultural inquiries that trade in truth, inquiries that evaluate the ontological commitments and moralsentiments of other peoples. Inquiriesof this sort should be avoided precisely because they invariablyprivilege a particulardomain,with its uniquebeliefs and epistemic authorities,at the expense of another. Indeed, we have seen that once domains are considered multiple and distinct, it becomes easy to conclude that beliefs can be considered true or false and moral practices judged good or evil only within the confines of their epistemic domain of origin. We have already noted that confining truth talk in this way is incompatible with our everyday use of the word true. Whynot then follow Asad's suggestion and salvage anthropologicalpractice by excludingtruthtalk and bracketing moral evaluation altogether while pursuing meaning and mapping belief as best we can? Unfortunately,this will not work either, precisely because we cannot hope to understand any utterance apart from assessing truth value. Meaningand belief, always and everywhere, come packaged together with truth.This point comes in large measure from our reading of Donald Davidson's work, and the following account is a simplified summaryof what we take to be his position. Accordingto Davidson (1986:442),we cannot hope to understand a speaker's "unfamiliarnoises" (Rorty 1987) without making guesses- "passing theories" in his terms-about what he or she believes. At the very least, we must make assumptions about what a speaker is able to believe, the propositions that he or she is able



to consider as candidates for assent. For only this knowledge can fix the range of possible interpretations that we might give an utterance. Furthermore,since beliefs depend upon each other for warrantand assent, they cannot be assigned one by one but only holistically. Thatis, one cannot assign a particularbelief without at the same time assigning many others. But this means that one cannot understandany utterance without first knowinga great deal about what a speakerbelieves. The fact that communication can take place implies that in practice we proceed by makingeducated guesses about belief. Thus, Davidson (1984a, 1990) suggests that we begin by limiting the possible range of meanings attached to our interlocutor's utterances, and we limit possible meanings by assuming that his or her beliefs are much the same as our own. By Davidson's lights (1990:129-130),justification for this assumption follows from the fact that the truth conditions of many,if not most, sentences are states of affairs in the world that consistently prompt assent to those sentences. Belief, it turns out, follows what the world does. Whena large tree falls on the leg of one of the speakers we are trying to understand, cracking bones and spilling blood, we assume that at least some of the utterances that follow are about trees and pain and legs. And since beliefs are assigned as utterances are interpreted, to say that some of the sentences are about trees and pain and legs implies that some of the speaker's beliefs are about the same (1990:129-130). Cautionis requiredhere, and on three counts. First, to say that the world prompts assent-that it causes us to have beliefs about what it does is to say nothing epistemological, and thus we are not proposingany sort of empiricismhere. Beliefs cannot be justified by conditions in the world, at least not in the sense that an interlocutor might justify our beliefs. The world does not provide warrants for what we believe about it. It does not offer reasons in defense of this or that belief. Only other beliefs can do that. When asked why we believe that our comrade is in pain, we look not to the world for justifying reasons but to the other things that we believe. The tree was large, the bone has broken throughthe skin, he or she is grimacing,and so on. Second, to say that the world generatesbeliefs that individual speakers consider true does not imply that the world makes true beliefs true, if only because no one yet has been able to say what this mysteriousrelation called "making true" might entail (Davidson 1984b). Instead, the relation between world and belief that Davidson describes is causal. The world's various happenings.causeus to believe this and not that. A tree falls, crushing the person on the trail ahead. This event prompts all sorts of particular beliefs and sentiments that we could not have had without the world lurching

about in this particularway. No fallingtrees, no crushed legs, no particularbeliefs about either. And last, to say that the world causes belief is not equivalentto saying that the world determines the specific content of what we believe. It does not; it cannot. The world lurches about, and we respond with belief, but the world does not simply determine the character of that response, just as it does not simply determine the character of sentiment or indigestion. All three are caused by aspects of the world and yet insofar as they are our responses to its promptings,their character is conditioned by our own peculiarities, including the other beliefs that we happento have. In short, the causal connection between world and belief is indexical. The sky darkens at midday, causing some to respond with beliefs about the alignment of heavenly bodies, others with beliefs about spiritual beings. The world caused both beliefs, but it did not by itself determine the content of either. As a result we cannot look to the world the conflict among the beliefs it causes. to adXjudicate We cannot hope that the ordinarycausal connections between world andbelief will solve our epistemological puzzles. For this hope assumes that the world can tell us what particular response is best to have, and the world is silent about the particulars. We need not be. We can justify our particular responses by referringto the other things that we believe: there are no such spiritualbeings, astronomers tell us that we were due for an eclipse, and so on. Of course, these justifying beliefs will themselves be caused by the world as well, but this is as we would expect. In one way or another, all of our beliefs are, both those we share with others and those we do not. Nevertheless, we should expect to share most of our responses to the world's promptings with most of our fellow human beings most of the time. Response ts agent-relative; differences will arise, but only case by case. For the most part, the world bears down on us pretty much as it does on everyone else, and we respond with belief in concert with the rest because all of us alike are creatures of one sort and not another, with powers, capacities, and frailties characteristicof our kind. It is this expectation that allows us to proceed in the task of interpreting the utterances of another. It directs us to attend to those utterances to which speakers give assent as a result of the world's promptings.6 These utterances are understood, that is, belief is assigned and meaning grasped, because we assume that assent is caused by the things in the world that the utterances are about. And since the world normally prompts us in the same way, we have good reason to treat speakers charitablyand assume that their beliefs about this corner of the world, this bit of human life, track our own, at least for the most part. Davidson puts begins where causes conit this way: "Communication


verge: your utterance means what mine does if belief in its truthis systematicallycaused by the same events and objects" (1990:132). Once we have located this kind of agreement in belief about a sufficient number of coIners and bits, interpreting the complete variety of another's utterances can proceed as it always does, with guesses that take us forward and back but with the confidence that our guesses cannot be too far off so long as they do not stray too far from the beliefs that we both consider true. Note then that by this account any sort of communication can proceed only to the extent that the interpreter has committed him- or herself to the likely truth of his or her interlocutor's utterances. As Davidson writes, anytime communicationis attempted, "thereis a pretty strong sense in which we can be said to know that there is a presumption in favour of the overall truthfulness of anyone's beliefs, including our own" (1990:128).Of course, some might protest that we can only presume shared belief, not truth, that we should remain agnostic about the truth status of the beliefs we share with our interlocutor.No doubtwe should remain agnostic about the truth status of those beliefs we assent to in the absence of good reasons.7 But those beliefs that we hold with good reasonX or have no good reason to doubt, we do in fact call true. Agnosticism here would be inappropriate, forced. Thusif we assume a speaker believes what we do about some matter,then we must complimenthis or her beliefs as we do our own and call them true. It follows from all this that when anthropologists of an antirealist bent encourage exclusive attention to meaning while bracketingquestions of truth and falsehood, they urge an impossibility,because interpretation of any sort gets underway only as we assume broad agreementin beliefs consideredtrue.To repeat,we have good reason to assume such agreement because the world normally affects other human beings as it does us, causing them to believe pretty much what we do.8 Of course, it may turn out that maximizingshared belief in this way yields mistaken interpretations in particularinstances. It is certainly possible that falling trees and cracking bones fail to prompt the assent of our interlocutors to the beliefs we might expect but no matter. Interpretationproceeds holistically, never sentence by sentence, and therefore we only need to assume that the worldpromptstheir assent as it does ours in most cases. In fact, as Davidson points out (1990:132-133) we are able to notice mistakes and revise interpretations precisely because we are right about most of the rest. Andwe can be confident that we are rightabout the remainderbecause we know that the world normallyfixes their beliefs as it does ours. To be sure, not all beliefs are prompted by the world in a straightforwardway. All are caused in part

by what happens in the world, but some have causal histories that are more complicated than others. In fact, most of the beliefs we most hope to comprehendhave causal histories of this complicated sort: Chukeheecosmology, Ifaluk moral psychology, Tamil nationalism, and so forth. Nevertheless, it is our attention to beliefs with more mundane causal relations to the world that provides the basis for considering those sentences and beliefs "less directly geared to easily detected goingson"(Davidson 1990:130).It is throughourtranslationof the mundanethat we build a bridgebetween their utterances and ours. Imagine you know nothing about the religion and cultureof ancient Greece. Imagineyou come across the following remark in the Iliad: "Athena... swooped down from heaven through the upper air, like a shrieking, long-wingedbird of prey"(19.391-392). How would interpretationproceed? How would you come to understand that Athena is a goddess doing the sort of thing that Greek gods and goddesses do? Surely you would begin by finding your feet in Homer's account of the ordinarydetails of human life, where the world bears down upon the body in familiar ways. Paris ran and wearied. Achilles fasted and became thirsty. Hector died and Hecuba suffered. Withthe mundanemastered, you could then ascend Olympus, for the gods are not confined in space or tied to the earth. Without our frailties, they never weary, never thirst, never die. The point that needs emphasis here is that in interpreting the utterances of another, we must not fall into what Davidson calls the "fatalerror"of assuming that "we can in general fix what someone means independently of what he believes and independently of what caused the belief" (1990:131). It indeed may be true that, after we begin to speak a language, we can inquireinto a person's beliefs directly and neglect their causes. Yetto forget the role of causationin fixing belief and intexpretingutterances only distorts what happens when understanding is achieved. For ultimately one thing alone allows us to "identifybeliefs and meanings," and that is our common humanrootedness in the world, a rootedness that compels us to conclude that in all places "belief is intrinsically veridicalb (Davidson 1990: 135).9

Skepticism and Difference

The immediate fallout from all of this is that meaning, belief, and truth are assigned together or not at all (Davidson 1990:132),and therefore the desire to recast the study of culture apart from talk of truth cannot be carried through without abandoning inquiry of every sort. But what of the considerations that led to this desire in the first place? What of the assumptions that



generate skepticism regardingtruth?Davidsongives us good reason to put aside these assumptions, this skepticism. If we cannot hope to find our feet with those we wish to understand without assuming that they share many, perhaps most, of our beliefs, then talk of fundamentallydistinct epistemic domains,incommensurable conceptual schemes, or "different historical conceptions of truth and falsity" (Rabinow 1986:237)makes little sense. Moreprecisely, the facts of epistemic diversity, such as they are, do not compel us to these notions as explanations for the data (Davidson 1984a). Of course we may still find it useful to speak of multiple languages and different cultures, but this talk is loose and harmless. Candidatesfor belief and repertoires of sentiment vary with time and place to some degree and thus understandingis, at times, difficult.l? In these circumstances distinguishingcultures and languages seems sensible, not as a hypothesis to explain disagreement that goes all the way down but rather as a way to markour difficulties. The work of ethnography is simply the attempt to resolve some of these difficulties.ll

cated (e.g., nunuwan in Ifaluk moral psychology). The important ones tend to be both. Understandingthe latter sort of concepts, using them as native speakers do, will often requiremuch attention and reflection, as well as repeated tinkeringwith our dictionaries, occasional revision of entrenched belief, and bursts of linguistic innovation. Good ethnography has no other way of proceeding.

Scientific Realism and Reactionary Antirealism

If the argumentto this point is sound, then we have good reason to set aside antirealist accounts of anthropological practice, good reason to bypass antirealist proposals for its reform. Are we then compelled to accept realism's alternative account of the place of Weare not. In fact, truthtalk in anthropologicalinquiry? we find that realists and antirealists share more than most imagine,and most of what they share stands in the way of understandingethnographicpractice. Realists, according to ArthurFine (1986), believe that the world has a definite structure, with properties and relations that exist quite apartfrom humanthought and action. They believe that we have epistemic access to this structure and that sentences are true when they accurately represent or correspond to particular features of it. By their lights, it is this correspondence that explains what makes a true sentence true (Fine 1986:137). The problem with realism as many have pointed out, is that little sense can be made of the noncausal relation between our beliefs and the world's definite features called accurate representation or correspondence.l2Wesimply cannotjump out of the world, gaze down at its features, and confront them with our beliefs, all in the hope of determining whether correspondence obtains. It follows that we cannot appeal to correspondence in orderto explain the characterof the sentences we consider true. Whenrealists insist that we can, we should, following Fine and Rorty, take their remarks to be merely incantatory and percussive: an endless chant of ubafflingwords" (Rorty 1991:6)punctuated by "a desk-thumping, foot-stomping shout of 'Really'"(Fine 1986:116n.4, 129),all uttered in the hope that we might be confident that the beliefs we consider true are about states of affairs that ;'reallydo exist." Thus we urge the abandonment of "representationalist" views, of the idea that nonlinguistic entities make sentences eithertrue or false by success or failure in correspondence. We do not, however, recommend contemporaryantirealismas an alternative. According to Rorty (1991:2),antirealistsdoubt that there are "matters of fact"about the world or about a speaker's intention that true statements represent. This doubt follows from assumingthat conceptual schemes (what we have

Other worries fall with this one. If little sense can be made of multipleschemes and distinct domains,then we need not share the worry that meaning is either distorted or constructed when we translate an utterance from one languageto another.In fact, if we cannot regard different languages and cultures as fundamentally different conceptual schemes, then we cannot regardmeaningas an intention expressed in the concepts of one language and threatened with distortion when transplantedin the language and concepts of another. We cannot say that a meaning is grasped when a speaker's intention has been removed from his or her language and represented in ours because we cannot think of our language as a medium of representation fundamentallydifferent from his or hers (Rorty 1991). Indeed, Davidson'sdoubts about multipleschemes and distinct domains make it impossible to regard representation as the heart of the ethnographic enterprise precisely because it removes the whole conceptual apparatus that enabled us to think that understanding follows from moving intentions from language to language. By the same token, it prevents us from believing that the enterprise is threatened with what Rabinow calls the "currentcrisis of representation"(1986:251). No doubt we often fail to understandthis or that concept. When we try to mingle with native speakers, they chuckle at our clumsy efforts. Butnotice we do not need a grand theory about multiple languages, representation, and unavoidable distortion in order to explain this difficulty. We need not resort to apocalyptic talk of crisis. Both tempt unnecessary despair. We simply need to point out that some concepts are unfamiliar (e.g., charmed quarks in quantumphysics) or compli-


been calling epistemic domains) flourish among us, each able to influence what they represent to some degree, effectively eliminating our access to undistorted facts and intentions. As Fine (1986:140) points out, this antirealism is largely a reactionary proposal, offered not because of its own virtues but because it avoids the metaphysical vices of realism.l3But while realism is indeed flawed, it is not vitiated for reasons most commonly offered by anitrealists, reasons that would compel us to accept some version of antirealism. That is, realism does not fall because multiple conceptual schemes, cultures, or languages stand between us and the world, inhibiting our undistorted access to it. Rather, realism stumbles for the same reason that antirealism does. Both 4'amplify the concept of truth"beyond its ordinarysimplicity,realisnlby offeringa theory that explains what makes our true sentences true, antirealism by offering a conceptual analysis of what it means to say that a sentence is true (Fine 1986:133, 142). In this way, realism and antirealismcan be said to share an importantassumption. Both regardtruth as a 'ssubstantial something"about which one might have a theory or provide an analysis (Fine 1986:142).In this agreement, both fail to see that truth, in Davidson's words, "is as clear and basic a concept as we have" (1990:135), our "fundamental semantical concept" (Fine 1986:149). As such, it can be neither explained nor defined without vicious circularity, without assuming that we understandit well enough and apply it successfully in the theory that is supposed to account for it (Fine 1986:149; Davidson 1990:135). Of course, the simplicity of truth does not prevent us from offeringa Wittgensteinian theory of the concept in use, which would in fact be no different than an ethnography of speaking that attended to truth talk: a description of the job the notion does for us.l4 In this respect, truth is no different from any other concept. Like baseball, sunscreen, and bleachers, those who have mastered the concept use it in this way and not that. A good account of the concept will describe how that is. The simplicity of truth does, however prevent us from pursuingthe sorts of explanatorytheories that we have examined here: realist theories that explain how the world makes our true beliefs true, as well as antirealist theories that explain what it means for a belief to be true by referringto what we are justified in asserting within discrete domains. This temptationto explain truth,shared by realists and antirealists reveals one final point of agreement among them. Both find the relation between our beliefs and the world troubling,and thus both find reason to doubt the veracity of even our most common commitments. We have seen that this skepticism comes easily to antirealists. Once they contend that multiple schemes intervenebetween believers and the world this

doubt follows almost automatically.Unable to resolve their skepticism about unambiguous connections between the world and true belief, antirealists take comfort by redefining truth as a relation among beliefs within a domain.l6 By the same token, realists take comfort in a correspondence theory of truth precisely because they worry that something like a conceptual scheme stands between us and the world, blocking our unmediatedaccess to it. Correspondencetheories hope to quiet these doubts by reestablishing that access. It seems, then, that the only thing that divides realists from antirealists is an attitude toward a human life bound by conceptual schemes that threaten access to the world. Realists consider it a prison house (Stout 1988:57-59);antirealists do not.

Anthropological Practice
What are the implications of these thoughts for anthropologicalpractice? On the one hand we hope to have demonstrated that it is mistaken, and in some instances disingenuous, to pretend that an utterance can be understood apartfromjudgments about its truth value. Indeed, to think otherwise, to think that we can and should bracket questions of truthin interpretation, encourages us to misunderstandwhat actuallyhappens when communication of any sort proceeds. On the other hand, we have argued that accounting for this unavoidable truth talk by resorting to a theory that explains what makes an utterance true is an unproductive enterprise. Indeed, we hope to have demonstrated that it is faith in this folly that realist and antirealist share. Both regardculture as a puzzlingset of epistemic practices that need the kind of elaborationthat explanatory theories of truth hope to provide (Fine 1986:148). In fact, there is no such need. Instead, what is needed is a rather banal attitude toward ethnographic inquiryand its conclusions. Call it a naturalontological attitude, NOA ("noah")for short. The phrase is Arthur Fine's (1986), who encourages a similarattitudetoward inquiries in the natural sciences. A NOArecommends truth talk without theory. The beliefs we consider true are those we have good reason to maintain.Most true beliefs are distinguished from falsehoods by the good reasons that justify them.l6 And since what we have good reason to believe today may turn out to be false tomorrow,all that we believe must be considered revisable, even the most certain truths. Nevertheless, what we are justified in believing now is what we consider true for now, that is, until different warrantsarise. The mean to strike is between incorrigible confidence and mind-numbing skepticism. Call it epistemic humility.l7 The beliefs of inhabitantsof other times and places should be treated in similar fashion, with a similar



humility. Good reasons offer the best path to the truth, but good reasons can nevertheless fall short of it. This holds for them as well as for us. Since we must assign truth value to many of the sentences we are trying to understand,we will inevitably find ourselves concluding that the members of other societies, at times, hold mistaken beliefs. Their good reasons are not good enough to track the truth. If this is a kind of ethnocentrism, it is nevertheless necessary and largelyharmless in its effects if only because calling a belief false is not equivalentto distributingblame, moralor epistemic. To say that members of another society hold false beliefs about this or that is not equivalent to calling them irrationalor any other pejorative epithet. In fact, if we give sufficient attention to the other thingsthey believe, we will find that, in most instances, their false beliefs are held for the best reasons available to them. It follows that it is not unfair to call the beliefs of others false. Rather, it is unfair to fail to ask whether they have good reasons to believe and act as they do. And note, this failure is a moral one, not an epistemological howler, a failure of imaginationand attention, not the consequence of bad theory. Moreover,it is the only sort of ethnocentrism worth fearing. The other sort, the sort that many antirealistswarnus against, the sort that follows from thinking that multiple domains make truth relative, is nothing but a chimera of bad epistemology. Good ethnographyrequires close attention to belief and its warrants,and we agree with critics such as Asad (1986) who caution that political circumstances may systematically obstruct such attentiveness. Thus it should regularlyoccur that good ethnographyencourages us to conclude that the beliefs and warrantsheld by members of another society track the truth better than our own. We may be led to rethink what we consider true. An ethnography sufElcientlyhumble about matters of belief must concede this possibility and should regard this kind of critical revision of our own beliefs as a welcome consequence of careful inquiry. Overall,it should be apparentthat a NOAwill encourage us to describe the desire to understandthat is at the heart of ethnographicinquiryin rathertraditional terms. It is a desire for truth:the truthaboutwhat others think and feel and do, the truth about the reasons that justify their thoughts and actions, and the truth about our relations to them. A NOAwill not, however, encourage us to resort to the scientific realist's traditional explanation of success in that search. For as we have seen, it makes little sense to regardthe judgments we consider true as instances where mind and world are broughtinto correspondence throughthe mediation of a neutralscientific language.Norwill a NOArestrict the search for truth to discrete domains, as antirealists recommend,if only because carvingup humanlanguage

and experience in this way proves more trouble than it is worth. To close with the concrete concerns of anthropological practice, what does our perspective say about employing Westernconcepts in the study of non-Western groups? For example, what course does it recommend in the recent debate over applying English emotion terms such as anger in describing societies where English is not the primary language?l8It is by now widely remarked and agreed that different languages may name emotions in different ways, so that to translate an emotion term such as the Ilongot liget as anger may in fact distort the truth about Ilongot social realities (see Rosaldo 1980). How does our different approach make a difference here? Theorists have urged a variety of responses to this problem. Anna Wierzbicka(1986) defends a version of the position we have called realism, urgingthe developsemantic metalanment of a "language-independent guage"in which universalemotion terms can be identified. Thatis, she suggests that there are in all likelihood lexical universals in terms of which the emotion labels of many languages can be described.
If the Englishlexicon includes a subset that has isomorphic subsets in the lexicons of all other human languages, then semantic we can use this subset as a language-independent suitable for a psychological and philosophimetalanguageX cal study of human emotions, as well as for cross-cultural comparisons of emotions. [1986:585]

Wierzbicka'spoint is that such a metalanguage would not be contaminated by the ethnocentric bias entailed in any one language's lexicon and would thus "providea much better foundation for a bias-free study of cultures than those [terms]that are restricted to one language"(1993:209). We can only applaudWierzbicka'sattention to the facts of humansimilarity.But her typically realist hope for a metalanguagerendered culturallyneutral by what it corresponds to is a chimera. She argues that cultural analysis can escape its rootedness-in a particularsituation if it is conducted using terms that correspond to concepts that are universalor nearly so. This is a realist argument, for these concepts are something beyond language that are said to anchor some subset of linguistic activity by means of their characteristics. It is a correspondence between language and something outside languagethat is said to validate certain utterances. Like any realist argument,this one faces the difficulty of articulatingwhat it means to say that certain linguistic elements correspond to certain nonlinguistic elements. Furthermore,one must ask why it should be thought to be the case that some utterances in some by facts about other languages are rendered"bias-free" languages. All terms in any language have a history, all


terms bring with them rhetorical nuances, whether or not those terms happento correspondto widely lexicalized ideas. Read as practical suggestions for the practice of ethnography,Wierzbicka's programhas muchto recommend it. An attempt to reduce complexities such as emotion labels to semantic primitives that occur in all languages may well lead to thorough and accurate descriptions of unfamiliaremotions. But the claim that the intentions of others can be transparently depicted through the use of such semantic primitives is yet another version of the realist illusion. A representativeantirealistposition is defended by Catherine Lutz. She warns that the attribution of the Ifalukemotion song (identified in Englishas "justifiable anger") may entail an inherent distortion of the emotional life of Ifaluk speakers. An unreflective application of the English emotion term anger to Ifaluk situations involves "therisk of reducingthe emotional lives of others to the common denominator or intersection with our ownX(Lutz 1985:69). Lutzpoints out that the emotion terms of Western academic psychology are in fact directly tied to the terms of our peculiar Euroamericanethnopsychology and that therefore they can be regardedneither as the natural language of human sentiment nor as the only faithful medium for representing human emotion. She therefore cautions against the possibility of using these terms "as a standard against which to judge the truth value of Oceanic psychologies." Rather,she continues, "whatis of primaryconcern is the articulation of particular psychologies with other aspects of culture and with environments"( 1985:69). l9 There is little to find fault with here. But now consider what she concludes from the well-knownfacts of ethnopsychological diversity and the ordinarydifficulties one finds in the Uarticulation" of psychologies that are not one's own. Following what is for many anthropologicalorthodoxy, the idea that experience is linguistically or culturallyconstituted, Lutzinsists that
ethnopsychological language and knowledge have fundamental structuringeffects on psychological experience and process. Ethnopsychologies are not simply ideological veneers that must be lifted in order to discover actual" psychological events. [1985:70]

In this view, language constitutes what is.20Since people in differenttimes and places employ fundamentally different ethnopsychologies, they will have fundamentally different emotional responses to the world. It follows that a truthfulaccount of an emotional experience must appeal to the concepts that constitute it. Concepts imported from another ethnopsychology will distort understanding precisely because they transform one

kind of "psychologicalexperience and process" into an emotional experience of an altogether different sort. The view that we have been defending encourages us to reject this conclusion. Indeed, if the argumentwe have borrowed from Davidson is correct, then it will be impossible for us to understandhow the Ifalukuse song without assuminglarge measures of agreementin belief and sentiment between us.2l With this assumption in place it will make little sense to say that the Ifalukhave emotional experiences vastly different from our own. Nor will it make sense to fear that using our emotion terms in orderto make sense of theirs need reduce their emotional experience to ours. Of course, this does not imply that there is a sentiment in the modern West that is roughly equivalent to song or a concept that makes translatingthe term unproblematic. Nor do we mean to imply that the beliefs we maintainand the language we employ have nothing to do with the shape of our psychological concepts or the character of our psychological experience, for of course they do. But the conclusion to draw from this ordinary observation is not that language stamps unstructured psychological experience (whatever that might be) into something that a competent speaker could recognize, but rather that belief and sentiment always come jumbled together, each affecting the character of the other. We inevitably think and talk about sentiment by appealingto concepts we employ to think and talk about other things (see Rosaldo 1980:20ff.) It follows that the difficulty we have makingsense of sentiments felt by the inhabitants of different times and places is not explained by the fact that their psychological experience is constitutedby an ethnopsychology radically different than our own. Rather,the difElculty comes in determiningwhich beliefs-some of which we may not share inform which sentiments, also potentially unfamiliar.Indeed, it is likely that we find it difficult to graspsong precisely because the content of that emotion presupposes beliefs that we do not share. But that said, because we very likely share other beliefs with the Ifaluk,our efforts to understandtheir emotions have a reasonable chance, given sufficient effort and care, to succeed despite this difficulty. Thinkingin these terms allows us to conclude that the deeply ingrained figure of anthropological speech 'ilanguageconstitutes experience" comes down to this: the beliefs and concepts that we need in order to use foreign concepts competently are often not readily at hand. Indeed, one is tempted to talk of "languageconstituting experience" when translation becomes difficult in just this way.22As RichardRorty points out, to say that
some things are '4constituted by language"is just a way of saying that two groups are not talking about the same



things if they talk about them very differently if wildly different beliefs and desires are aroused in them by these things. [1991:103] The upshot of this is that if we are faced with a difference of belief or sentiment so strong as to tempt us to speak of radically different cultural systems that provide fundamentally different experiences of self and world, we might just as well construe the problem as a mistranslation. We can preserve the assumption of a general agreement at the level of belief and sentiment by altering our sense of how our interlocutor uses various terms and revising our judgment about the character of his or her actions. The intent of this strategy is simply to get us working harder at trying to understand our interlocutor. Its consequence is to bring us closer to specifying just where our disagreements with him or her lie and how his or her repertoires of belief and sentiment differ from our own. In short, it is carefully detailed ethnography that is needed to spell out these differences, and this is in fact what many antirealists Lutz is a fine example provide. The irony here should be obvious. Lutz's elegant ethnographic practice undermines her theoretical remarks about ethnographic inquiry. For insofar as she succeeds in spelling out the differences that divide angerfrom song with care andprecision (see, for example, Lutz 1988:156 ff.), then it is unlikely that something as significant as different ethnopsychologies stand between us and the Ifaluk. As Davidson points out, "We improve the clarity and bite of declaration of difference, whether of scheme or opinion, by enlarging the basis of shared (translatable) language or of shared opinion" (1984a:197). And if difference can be clarified only as agreement in belief and language is specified, then there is little to recommend talk of incommensurable schemes, domains, languages, and cultures. And yet that talk remains. Regarding different cultures as different epistemic domains or discursive systems that construe experience in different ways is now thoroughly entrenched throughout cultural anthropology (found, indeed among scientific realists as well). If good ethnographic practice seems to undermine this antirealist assumption, what sustains it? Perhaps it is sustained by the need to provide anticolonial sentiments with theoretical backup, with warrants that give the appearance of moral neutrality. Anticolonial sentiments demand that we give careful attention to the self-descriptions of the inhabitants of other times and places. When this demand is ignored, the appeal to antirealist assumptions offers an easy reply. If epistemic domains are in fact multiple and distinct, then genuine understanding can only be had by giving priority, perhaps even autonomy, to the self-descriptions of our informants.

We endorse these anticolonial moral sentiments, but we caution against defending them in this way. We do so not because antirealism is false, but rather because no theoretical account of language, culture, and experience can free us from the hard moral labor of distinguishing better and worse ways of treating the people we study. Too often antirealists have encouraged this confusion by policing their ranks with the insistence that anticolonial moral sentiments cannotbe secured apart from antirealist theory. This is a confusion best left behind.

The view we have defended here makes little advance upon Michelle Rosaldo's observatiorlthat
because no human world is utterly unlike the things we know, the translation of particulars is at once a way of probinga distinctive though not wholly unfamiliarform of life and an exercise in the comparative study of human societies. [1980:233]

The by-now-veneratedanthropological adage that culturaldifference "goesall the way down"is an overstatement. If we add anything that is new to this, it is the recognition that culture is not a language, scheme, or domain; it is not a symbol system through which we view the world. It is an abstraction born of a particular problem, that of communication among social groups. Whenthis abstraction begins to cast doubt on the very possibility of cross-culturalinquiry,aproject of rethinklIlg 1S ln orcer.
. . .

Acknowledgments. This article has benefited from comments made on earlier versions by Catherine Lutz, Richard McDonough,Jeffrey Stout, Paul Roscoe, Geoffrey M. White, and one anonymousreviewer;the authorsremainresponsible for any errors. this article,pronouns signifyingauthorsand 1. Throughout readers will assume a primarilyWestern audience. We, the authors, do not make this assumption because we wish to ignore, exclude, or alienate readers with different perspectives. Rather,this assumptionsimply reflects our sense of the primaryaudience the paper is likely to address. 2. Throughoutthis article we use the term beltef to designate the received ideas to which a people subscribe"(Needham 1972:2).That is, we are not using the term in the marked sense that Rodney Needham argues may not be an appropriate category for cross-culturaluse. 3. The phrase is Ian Hacking's(1985:165). 4. An anonymous reviewer for this journal points out that some may disagreewith our characterizationof what is meant by true"; one often hears some version of true for you, but not for me."Ideally,we would at this point be able to point to a study in the ethnographyof speaking that shows that this


exegesis is not an accurateaccount of actual usage. Since that project is beyond the scope of this article, we will for now simply point out that the academic (for example) who boards an airplane to travel to a conference where he or she will propound a domain-relativeconception of truth is testifying through his or her behavior to a higher level of certainty in his or her own thought. Moreto the point in this context, we hold that the everydaypractice of speaking and interpreting sentences commits us all to a firm sense of what is and what is not Three references are vital to those who wish to pursue this matter further. The first is Rorty's (1991) discussion of the usage of the word true. Second, readers who remain interested in the multipletruths,multipleworlds thesis should see Goodman 1978for a sophisticated defense. For a criticism of this thesis (one that we find compelling), see Swoyer 1982. 5. For a discussion of henneneutical enrichment, see Taylor 1981:204-210. 6. Davidson (1990:132)calls these occasion sentences. 7. And note, uncertainty about truth always comes packaged with uncertainty about meaning. This is the consequence of Davidson'sholism. Utterances are not first understood and then assessed for truth. Rather,judgments about what is being said and judgments about its truth are made together, each affecting the character of the other. It follows that if we cannot be certain about the truth status of an utterance, it is likely that we are equally uncertain about its

8. Is global skepticism possible here? Couldit turnout that all of us, both speakers and interpreters,are mistaken in what we consider true?Davidsonthinks he has provided the skeptic good reasons to put aside his or her doubts, and we agree. Still, reasons are never so good that believing what they deny becomes impossible.Skepticism'sresilient career is evidence of this. So is the interminable character of methodological debate. For this reason Rorty (1991:135-139) insists that Davidson'sargumentshave not answered the skeptic, indeed nothing could. The point in this context is ratherthat Davidson has shown that skepticism will not be a real option for anthropologists in the field, at least not for those seriously committed to resolving the puzzles presented by their interlocutors. For them, skepticism is a decadence, an indulgence, an amusement that can be left for other minds with other interests. 9. That is, interpretationproceeds only as we assume that most of the beliefs held by any rational speaker of any language are true. 10. This is the point that Hacking (1985) develops. 11. Especially here, but throughout as well, we are indebted to Stout (1988). 12. See Davidson 1990:137; Fine 1986:115-116, 120, 131-132; and Rorty 1991:5-6, 130. 13. Thus note CliffordGeertz's (1986) attempt to develop an i'anti-anti-relativistr stance. 14. Fine 1986:149and Rorty 1991:127-128.See also note 4 above. 15. According to Fine (1986:140-141), it is the desire for this metaphysical comfort that above all motivates antirealists and stamps their position with its reactionary character.

16. The caveat is important.For of course it is a mistake to assume that every true belief has explicit warrants.Some do; some do not. Those that do not are normallybeliefs we cannot imagine doubting,beliefs so certain that every potential justifying reason turns out to be less certain than the belief itself. Of course, epistemic conditions might change and I may well come to doubt what I once considered indubitable. In that event, good reasons will be needed in order to save truth. 17. Fine 1986;Rorty 1991:97,101;Stout 1988. 18. See the careful and illuminatingdiscussion of this issue by White(1992). 19. The rejection of generalizingdiscourse evident in this statement is typical of much antirealist writing;see, for example, the more extensive discussion in Abu-Lughod1993. This orientation of interest is perfectly understandableand defensible, but once again we would caution against explaining it in epistemological terms. 20. It is worth noting that the notion that language constitutes reality is simply an inversion of the notion of correspondence, the conviction that reality constitutes meaningin language. This points again to the reactionary character of antirealistthought in contemporaryanthropology. 21. As we note below, this is precisely what Lutz does in practice. 22. Contexts of various sorts grammatical, historical, political, and so on condition belief, not by determining thought but by providing options for assent. Even SapirWhorfianfindings such as those reported recently by Lucy (1992) can be interpretedin this way.

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