Murray Leaf

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  • Human Thought and Social Organization: Anthropology on a New Plane, 2012
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Murray J. Leaf
Professor of Anthropology and Political Economy

Re: Wiley I decided that I first needed to write my chapter, and be sure to include some well-stated points that I/you could then refer to it in your introduction.

  • I think it is mostly done. Nine pages and perhaps about three to go. I like you personal sketch in the Intro — helpful.
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Murray J. Leaf is a professor of anthropology and political economy at the University of Texas, Dallas


Leaf, Murray
2508  Indian Hills Dr.
Plano, TX 75075
Cell 214 516 1325
Skype murray2508
Wed April 4th 2016

His page 10 problem

Dear Anthon,

Anthropologist Murray Leaf has now written a Chapter 2, which includes these two paragraphs, following my Chapter 1. Would you please evaluate his second paragraph where he asserts "a very serious problem with the independence of the variables themselves, from one another." This may be a problem of Tylor, not DEf. He probably needs to attribute the problem back to Tylor in 1889, not to the mathematics of DEf.

To the extent that Galton’s problem concerns sample independence, I am sure Dow, Eff and White have spent vastly more time thinking this through than I have, and I have no reason to challenge their views. Their method begins with a dependent variable, measures the extent to which independent variables attached to other societies can predict the dependent variable – as a function that includes Galton’s problems of influences of common language, distance and ecological similarities of other societies – and estimates a second stage regression that includes this new predictor. This Dow-Eff solution is a form of two-stage regression with tests for control of autocorrelation.

Nor is there any reason to associate this approach with dualism. The mathematics and the concept of randomness behind it are perfectly good examples of Kant’s synthetic a priori. But assuming that each tabulated society is a “sample,” sample independence is not the only problem with Tylor’s method. There is also a very serious problem with the independence of the variables themselves, from one another. This follows immediately from Tylor’s insistence that he can identify the traits that could be survivals without paying attention to the indigenous contexts they are drawn from or their significance to the people whose usages they are when observed. The selection therefore depends only on the significance the usage has for Tylor. It automatically follows that any correlation among them will be an artifact of that same selection criterion.

March 12 2016 Monistic and Dualism

I am trying to think of how to restate your discussion of the distinction economically. Essentially “monistic” is the idea that we explain experience by experience. Dualism is that we explain things in experience by positing things inherently beyond it. One such postulation of what is beyond experience is pure matter and pure form or mind, starting with Plato. Tylor’s materialism, drawn from Comte, is dualistic in this sense. Boas’s focus on texts, myth, and the like is not—because these are things he finds in experience.

Monism necessarily leads to a much richer view of what experience itself contains, such as ideas of many kinds as well as material objects of many kinds. In culture, this in turn leads to the observation — not postulation—that culture contains many different kinds of distinct systems, which is recognition of cultural pluralism. Boas noted this from his beginning in cultural geography—if we map features the boundaries do not align. So there is no integrated whole; there are systems: language, technologies of many kinds, myths, etc.

Murdoch’s kinship types and his seeming underlying idea that there is a finite universe of such types, for example, are definitely dualistic assumptions.”Cognitive anthropology” that comes out of Murdoch, as represented by D’Andrade, Kronenfeld, and other carryovers from componential analysis is similarly inherently dualistic, postulating “components” and the like that the cultural carriers so not need to recognize. This also restates Tylor’s insistence that only he could identify survivals by their associations; they had nothing to do with native perceptions. I also don’t think D’Andrade and some of the others really abandoned the idea of some kind of cultural totality that they might eventually get to. But cognitive anthropology as in the Cognitive Anthropology volume is mostly not this. The different articles embody both epistemologies but primarily monism, in the adherence to a fairly strict empiricism and recognition of cultural pluralism.

Cross cultural research, similarly, can be set up with either epistemological perspective. It depends on what you (we) are looking for and where we expect to find explanations. Many of the articles in the volume are concerned with validation of patterns, which I suppose is inherently neutral unless the validation is intended to include intra-cultural saliency (or what used to be called “psychological reality”), in which case the perspective is monistic. Similarly for the use of network formalizations. Insofar as the writers seem always or nearly always to be recognizing that they are dealing with specific kinds of phenomena and not culture as totalities, it is generally more in the spirit of monism —explaining one observable by relating it others—than dualism.

Kinship brings up a different type of cross cultural comparison. The systems are formal and generative, so comparing one to another is like comparing one drawing to another or one type of mathematics to another. I don’t see how any idea like statistical validation is applicable, but I would certainly say the effort is still monistic rather than dualistic. The properties of the thing are found in the thing, not imposed upon it.

I should get something drafted tomorrow, and if so will send it. If not tomorrow then very soon; this coming week is spring break, so I can focus on it.

My chapter will say this same thing in a more extended way.

Leaf, Murray 2508 Indian Hills Dr. Plano, TX 75075 Cell 214 516 1325 Skype murray2508

Book Publications

  • Leaf, Murray. 1979. Man, Mind, and Science: A History of Anthropology. New York: Columbia University Press. -- dualism vs monism --dualistic vs monistic --
  • Leaf, Murray. 1998. Pragmatism and Development: The Prospect for Pluralism in the Third World. Westport, Conn.: Bergin and Garvey.
  • Leaf, Murray. 2009. Human Organizations and Social Theory: Pragmatism, Pluralism, and Adaptation. University of Illinois Press.
An empirical analysis of social organization, powerfully integrating modern social, psychological, and legal theory.
In the 1930s, George Herbert Mead and other leading social scientists established the modern empirical analysis of social interaction and communication, enabling theories of cognitive development, language acquisition, interaction, government, law and legal processes, and the social construction of the self. However, they could not provide a comparably empirical analysis of human organization, one that could show how interactive communication actually came about. They could say how people communicate to establish mutual relationships but not what they communicate.
The theory in this book fills in the missing analysis of organizations and specifies the pragmatic analysis of communication with an adaptation of information theory to ordinary unmediated communications. In the process it brings together four major streams of modern empirical social analysis: the developmental-social psychology associated with Jean Piaget and Lev Vygotsky; the cultural-ecological analyses associated with Esther Boserup; the language and culture tradition identified with Benjamin Whorf, Edward Sapir, and Paul Friedrich; and the more empirical streams of economic theory identified with Frank Knight, Paul Samuelson, and Theodore Schultz.
Human Organizations and Social Theory also provides the theoretical basis for understanding the success of pragmatically grounded public policies, from the New Deal through the postwar reconstruction of Europe and Japan to the ongoing development of the European Union, in contrast to the persistent failure of positivistic and Marxist policies and programs. Expanding on previous work in social constructivism, this consistent and comprehensive constructionist analysis of human organization powerfully integrates the most successful traditions of modern social, psychological, and legal theory.

"This stimulating work offers a new, promising, integrated theory of social behavior. A timely and welcome attempt to move social theory beyond the debate between positivism and postmodernism."--Martin Ottenheimer, author of The Anthropology of Kinship: An Introductory Text

"Murray J. Leaf's ambitious project for studying cultural meaning systems holds the promise of grounding anthropological knowledge about culture empirically. His efforts help establish the ontological status of culture and pave the way for a more scientific anthropology."--Lawrence A. Kuznar, author of Reclaiming a Scientific Anthropology

"Finally we have a book that addresses anthropology as a science predicated on our understanding of human societies developed through rigorous fieldwork and not through the distorting lens of science as it was defined by logical positivists. Leaf concludes that anthropology is an experimental science based on 'radical empiricism.' A must read for anyone who takes seriously the vision of anthropology as a science grounded in rigorous fieldwork."--Dwight Read, author of Artifact Classification: A Conceptual and Methodological Approach


  • ———. 2001. Instantiating South Asian factions: The instructions are in the definition. American Anthropological Association Meetings Paper. Washington, D.C.
  • ———. 2004a. Cultural systems and organizational processes: Observations on the conference papers. Cybernetics and Systems 35: 289-313.
  • ———. 2004b. What is “formal” analysis? Cybernetics and Systems 35: 129-145. *
  • Leaf, Murray. 2007. Empirical formalism. Structure and Dynamics 2(1):804-824.
  • Leaf, Murray. 2008. Indigenous Algorithms, Organizations, and Rationality. Structure and Dynamics 3(2):81-122.