Claude Lévi-Strauss: The View from Afar

Home_levi-strauss_260 The UNESCO Courier has an collection of pieces that Lévi-Strauss wrote for UNESCO (via Savage Minds). From the editorial:

“The efforts of science should not only enable mankind to surpass itself; they must also help those who lag behind to catch up”,” Claude Lévi-Strauss wrote in his first UNESCO Courier article published in 1951. He contributed to the magazine regularly during the 1950s suggesting ideas he later developed in the works which made him world-famous.

Recommending the unification of methodological thinking between the exact sciences and the human sciences, he underlined in another article that “the speculations of the earliest geometers and arithmeticians were concerned with man far more than with the physical world”. Pythagoras, for one, was “deeply interested in the anthropological significance of numbers and figures”, as were the sages of China, India, pre-Colonial Africa and pre-Colombian America, “preoccupied” with the meaning and specific attributes of numbers.

His idea grew into a thesis on the “mathematics of man – to be discovered along lines that neither mathematicians nor sociologists have as yet been able to determine exactly,” and destined to be “very different from the mathematics which the social sciences once sought to use in order to express their observations in precise terms,” as the father of structural anthropology explained in a 1954 article published in the Social Science Bulletin, another source for this issue.

“Our sciences first became isolated in order to become deeper, but at a certain depth, they succeed in joining each other. Thus, little by little, in an objective area, the old philosophical hypothesis…of the universal existence of a human nature is borne out”, he said in a 1956 document preserved in the UNESCO archives, which opened their doors wide so that this special issue could be, if not definitive, as varied as possible.