Genetic Explanation in <i>Totem and Taboo</i>

Jerome Neu

in On Loving Our Enemies

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199862986
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780199949762 | DOI:
Genetic Explanation in Totem and Taboo

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“One day the brothers who had been driven out came together, killed and devoured their father and so made an end of the patriarchal horde” (Freud 1912–13, 141). The “one day” of this sentence is not the “once upon a time” of fairy tales; it introduces what is meant to be the description of an actual event. It is meant to be a part of a genetic explanation of totemic and later religions, of their associated taboos and rituals, and, indeed, of a good deal more: and the form of the explanation would seem to require the truth of the description. A genetic explanation explains by showing an event or state of affairs to be the result of prior events or states of affairs. It is obvious that not every list of events in chronological order will constitute a genetic explanation. They must form a “developmental sequence.” There must be selection among events, states of affairs, and conditions to find those that form a genuine series. The criterion of relevance here is causal; that is, there must be general principles asserting relations of dependence between succeeding elements in a genetic explanation. Thus, in addition to his historical narrative, Freud must provide plausible connecting general principles if his account is to have any force as an explanation. It may well be that some at least of the claimed historical events can be dispensed with, and that what is of value in the account resides in its general conditions and principles.

Keywords: Freud; genetic explanation; totemic; taboos; rituals; religion

Chapter.  11146 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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