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The Philosophers' GiftReexamining Reciprocity$
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Marcel Hénaff

Print publication date: 2019

Print ISBN-13: 9780823286478

Published to Fordham Scholarship Online: May 2020

DOI: 10.5422/fordham/9780823286478.001.0001

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Philosophy and Anthropology: With Lefort and Descombes

Philosophy and Anthropology: With Lefort and Descombes

(p.148) Chapter 7 Philosophy and Anthropology: With Lefort and Descombes
The Philosophers' Gift

Marcel Hénaff

, Jean-Louis Morhange
Fordham University Press

This chapter discusses the need to problematize more precisely the possible relationships between philosophy and social anthropology from the perspective of gift exchanges. In France, few philosophers have attempted this effort. Two of them seem especially interesting for this discussion because of their original relationship to Mauss's The Gift: Claude Lefort and Vincent Descombes. Their perspectives are very different. Lefort supports his reflection on the political realm and history based on the social sciences, whereas Descombes questions the validity of the concepts of those sciences, beginning with the concepts of society and social relationship. The question of the social bond is at the core of Lefort's and Descombes's inquiries. It is not enough to ask what unites a group, preserves its unity, and makes it view itself as forming a unique whole. Lefort examines whether seeking this bond entirely absorbs the energy of the members of the group and determines their choices and actions, while Descombes attempts to answer a more general question: How can an individual subject relate to another and view this relationship as being as evident and fundamental as their own existence? It is based on these kinds of questions that the exchange practices of traditional societies are chosen as providing the very model of the strong bond and the specific level that those authors seek to define.

Keywords:   philosophy, social anthropology, gift exchanges, Claude Lefort, Vincent Descombes, society, social relationship, social bond, exchange practices, traditional societies

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