Lucien Lévy-Bruhl

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Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (1857–1939) was a French philosopher, anthropologist, and sociologist. He was widely influential in his works on the thought systems of different cultures. To Lévy-Bruhl, the impossibility of reconciling the thought systems of different cultures destroyed the possibility of an absolute ethic. (see moral relativism on wikipedia)

His life in brief[edit]

Born in Paris in April 1857 he studied philosophy, music, and the natural sciences before going on to teach Philosophy at Poitiers and Amiens. He attended the University of Paris to pursue his doctorate in 1884, before being appointed to Sorbonne in 1896 as titular professor of the history of modern philosophy.

His thought away from French Philosophy towards sociology under the considerable influence of Durkheim , founding the 'institute of ethnology' at the Sorbonne in 1925, in commemoration of Durkheim's death in 1917.

Although Lévy-Bruhl never carried out his own fieldwork, he wrote 6 books developing and elaborating on a concept of the nature of the "primitive mind".

The Primitive Mind[edit]

Lévy-Bruhl saw the "primitive" of "pre-logical" mind as the polar opposite of the "civilised mind". His aim in producing this dichotomy appears not to simply promote civilisation and denounce the "primitive", but to stress the necessity of understanding it from within its own structures, rather than seeing it as incoherent as may appear from the application of "civilised" rationality.


  • Les fonctions mentales dans les sociétés inférieures (1910), translated as How Natives Think (1926)
  • La mentalité primitive (1922), translated as Primitive Mentality (1923)
  • L'âme primitive (1927), translated as The "Soul" of the Primitive (1928, reedited in 1965 with a foreword by E.E. Evans-Pritchard)
  • Le surnaturel et la nature dans la mentalité primitive (1931), translated as Primitives and the Supernatural (1936)
  • La mythologie primitive (Primitive Mythology, 1935)
  • L'expérience mystique et les symboles chez les primitifs (The Mystic Experience and Primitive Symbolism, 1938)
  • Les carnets de Lucien Lévy-Bruhl (Notebooks of Lucien Lévy-Bruhl, published posthumously in 1949)

External links[edit]

Back to Introduction to Anthropology