The Controversy Between Sahlins And Gananath Obeyesekere

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Introduction The intend of this paper is to reassess the problem of comparing and explaining different cultures or their aspects under concepts of rationality. In doing so, I will examine the controversy between two cultural anthropologists: Marshall Sahlins and Gananath Obeyesekere. In some of his works, Sahlins claims that eighteenth century Hawaiians regarded Captain James Cook as one of their gods Lono. This shows, according to Sahlins, that people in different cultures have different conceptual systems and that these different conceptual schemes also exemplify different criteria of rationality. Obeyesekere criticizes Sahlins for being enclosed in European mythmaking and for treating the Hawaiians as irrational human beings. In Obeyesekere’s view, human beings share a common practical rationality based in neurobiological nature. Obeyesekere tries to refute Sahlins’s relativist view and claims that the Hawaiians considered Cook as a chief. Sahlins counter-attacks Obeyesekere for his acceptance of Western views and for treating the Hawaiians as modern Europeans.…show more content…
If we admit that there are degrees of rationality, then both Westerners and indigenous can be more rational in some cases and less rational in other cases. Therefore we cannot draw a hard and fast line between Europeans and indigenous, as does Sahlins. But, at the same time, we need not appeal to a common biological nature, as does Obeyesekere. The main debate linking the two resides in the idea of depiction, and an outsider’s ability to comprehend and understand another

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