Sunday, May 15, 2016


G. E. R. Lloyd, Analogical Investigations. Historical and Cross-cultural Perspectives on Human Reasoning. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2015. Pp. vi, 139. ISBN 9781107518377. $34.99 (pb).

Reviewed by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, University of Aarhus (

Version at BMCR home site


Despite its brevity, at 120 pages for the full text, Lloyd's Analogistic Investigations is a challenging book which constitutes an intellectually condensed and pleasurable read. It is a humanistic plea against Western academic presumptuousness in the form of unabashed naturalism that considers alternative ontologies erroneous or inferior. Unlike so many other predictable humanistic attacks on naturalism, however, Lloyd knows what he is talking about and he is, therefore, capable also of giving naturalism its due before criticising it for infelicitous self-assurance.

Lloyd courageously tackles four time-honoured dualisms: (1) culture and nature; (2) relativism and realism; (3) appearance and reality; and (4) metaphoricity and literalism. He argues in favour of downgrading their all too often dichotomous character. By placing emphasis on semantic stretch and the multidimensionality of reality, Lloyd strives to steer beyond the Charybdis of glib philosophical relativism and the Scylla of comfortable naturalistic scientism (pp. 26, 90, 103-4). In that sense, the book is as much engaged in Western intellectual self-criticism as it is an attempt to acknowledge elements of truth contained in other ontologies, while also – a recurrent Foulcauldian theme in Lloyd's authorship and related to the first point – recognising that every claim to truth is embedded in relations of power. With respect to naturalism, Lloyd accentuates how there can be no theory-free access to the world independent of our conceptual schemes. He also underscores how naturalism itself is a cultural construct, with its origin in ancient Greek philosophical and scientific thought. Over and against versions of self-assured naturalism, Lloyd points to the importance of revisability not only as an academic virtue but also as a precondition for mutual understanding and scholarly progress. Regarding relativism, he emphasises how analogies in fact allow communication across ontological regimes. Although a uniform definition per genus et differentiam specificam of the individual phenomena may not be obtainable, it is possible to provide a disjunctive account, where each of the disjuncts can be unequivocally identified, while simultaneously granting them considerable semantic stretch. This understanding is a cogent argument against any reification of the 'two cultures', although Lloyd's emphasis on the impossibility of a theory-independent relationship to the world favours approaches with a hermeneutical prioritisation. Yet, what is so intriguing in Lloyd's case is his familiarity with classics, history, philosophy, cognitive science, comparative studies, and social anthropology. The book, therefore, deserves a wide audience in the academy. This poly-historical erudition prevents him from pursuing the all too easy solution of universalism at the cost of particularism and vice versa. On the contrary, in a reasonable and carefully balanced manner Lloyd gives each perspective its due. By his focus on analogy as a ubiquitous epistemological tool, he documents the main points of semantic stretch and the multidimensionality of reality. Yet, the pervasiveness of analogy in human cognition poses the question which Lloyd well acknowledges: how a criteriology may be established that sifts relevant versions from misleading ones.

In addition to an introduction, the book consists of four main chapters and a concluding chapter. Chapter One is concerned with the fundamental question of the very possibility of mutual intelligibility. How can there be understanding of the other in their otherness if the alterity is of a radical nature? Lloyd explores this question by focusing on the translatability of languages. He directs his attention towards the concept of nature which he examines in the ancient Greek and Chinese contexts – although no other ancient cultures had a single concept which covered what phusis and natura covered in Greek and Latin. Lloyd sides with Descola and Viveiros de Castro in rejecting the privileged status of naturalism, but contrary to them he advances the argument by trying also to detach himself from the Procrustean bed of the nature/culture dichotomy as an epistemological basis for the discussion. First, he endorses the view that a single meta-language, not to mention one that seeks to impose a rule of strict lucidity, is a chimaera. Secondly, he pleads that "we can and should exploit the full resources of every understanding to which we can have access, and that will include those expressed in actions rather than words" (26).

Chapter Two proceeds to discuss these two points and their underlying assumptions in the context of comparatism (sic!) at the level of what Lloyd designates second-order comparisons (but since they are located at a modern, etic level of analysis, I would prefer to call them third-order comparisons in order to differentiate them from both ancient first- and second-order comparisons). The crucial questions are: How have comparisons been used, and how can a criteriology be established for viable comparisons without falling victim to a distorting form of reductionism? Lloyd's overall stance on the issue is a foundational form of anthropology (with respect both to the past and to non-Western societies), whereby the others are interesting not by virtue of their likeness to us but due to their otherness. Yet that otherness can obviously not be of such a radical nature as to prevent us from recognising it, let alone understand it. In that case, we would be retrojected to the relativist dilemma of the utter singularity of every cultural stance, be it at the collective or the individual level.

Lloyd shows how comparatism frequently has been put to work in order to demonstrate one's own superiority over and against other cultures. However, it need not imply a privileged vantage point from which to look down on everyone else: "It may even be a stimulus to revision, to criticism and to dissent – which is where my fifth valence comes into its own, allowing for differences but not in a bid to determine hierarchies of superiority or inferiority, nor yet to proclaim mutual unintellegibilities, but rather to make the most of the opportunities for broadening our horizons that those differences present" (40). This is humanities at its best.

In the third chapter Lloyd proceeds to discuss analogies, images and models in ancient ethics. Once again the empirical material is taken from Greece and China. Two groups of thinkers in these ancient cultures had recourse to images in their manner of arguing in the context of ethics. Did they see the use of analogies in this realm as a deficiency or did they even try to develop ways of circumventing its assumed shortcomings? And how should we today relate to the use of images not only in the context of ethics but also in other realms? Ancient Greek and Chinese thinkers recognised the inadequacies of analogy in the context of ethics, but adopted different strategies to their use. Whereas Aristotle attempted to reduce their influence with respect to ethical reasoning, contemporaneous Chinese thinkers adopted a sort of laissez-faire stance. One cannot avoid potentially misleading analogies, but one can work on becoming a sage and, thereby, reduce the number of deceptive images.

Chapter Four develops the argument to discuss analogy as a general way of thinking in other fields of reasoning apart from ethics. This is the basic argument of the book, because it highlights analogical thinking as a fundamental type of cognition. The first step of the argument focuses on the use of images in ancient Chinese and Greek mathematics, but also takes up the discussion of their validity between Kepler and Robert Fludd. In the next step, Lloyd discusses other ancient Greek and Chinese arguments over the value of analogy. In the third step, he returns to Aristotle who appears slightly ambiguous in his assessment of analogies. While criticising the use of imagery and metaphor in definition and demonstration, Aristotle uses it in his metaphysics and zoology as a mode of resemblance. It applies in cases in which the similar things are not the same either in number or in species or genus, but yet are analogous (tōi analogon). In the final step, Lloyd takes up the question of general terms in natural languages. It pertains to their dependence upon the understanding of a relationship of similarity relating to the items upon which the term is brought to bear. The empirical example is the second-order term 'animal'. What were its defining characteristics, and how was it differentiated from 'plant'?

Although Lloyd does not turn Aristotle into an advocate of semantic stretch and the multidimensionality of reality, he espouses the viewpoint that Aristotle, in fact, acknowledged a degree of perspectivism in so far as he "surely recognises that the viability of the general terms that natural languages present us with always depends precisely on the evaluation of the similarities and differences they presuppose" (87). The fifth chapter takes up this Aristotelian challenge by focusing on his presupposition that there are such genera and species which clearly defined terms should render correctly. The teaching of the central Chapter Four, however, is that analogies are decisive for human thinking, but they cannot, Lloyd judiciously emphasises, immunise our procedures against error.

In the fifth chapter Lloyd returns to Descola and Viveiros de Castro as well as the fundamental questions posed in the introduction: What are the true strengths and weaknesses of the Western legacy? Which notions need to be overhauled or used with considerable reservations and qualifications? Which analogies can be relied on, and what is the criteriological basis for investing trust in them? Personally, I have much appreciation and respect for Lloyd's attempt to disentangle himself from simplistic either/or solutions to the problem. A sunset may be captured equally valuably by a scientific explanation and by an impressionist painting. That documents the worth of Lloyd's notion of the multidimensionality of reality: "To escape both the solipsist trap" (i.e. relativism) "and the imperialist pretensions of naturalism we need to recognise the multidimensionality of reality, the semantic stretch of the terms we have to use to capture it, and the radical revisability of any conceptual framework. Multidimensionality does not mean that reality is incoherent: semantic stretch does not imply that the range of the application is limitless: revisability does not entail suspension of all judgement" (106-7).

Lloyd has made a persuasive case for the need to acknowledge the importance of analogies in human thinking and to explore the heuristics of them in future academic work. He well recognises their potential flaw, for which, as he soberly states, there is no cure; but that should not inhibit us from scrutinising them in both vertical and horizontal forms of anthropology in order to learn from the otherness of the other, be it ancient or contemporary. I sympathise a lot with the argument, just as one cannot avoid making a bow in humble respect to the learned character of the book. That said, however, I cannot help expressing an element of discomfort with the argument which in the eyes of Lloyd may be a token of my naturalist penchant. Inasmuch as one can learn considerably from other ontologies and world-views at play, it is noticeable that it takes an academic, scientific discourse to open the other ontologies to the extent that they may be brought to engage in conversation not only with a naturalistic one but also with each other. Personally, I hold it advantageous to install a further differentiation by which one would have to concur with Lloyd that in terms of ethics and with regard to truth there can be no imperialistic supremacy attributed to the one ontology at the cost of other ones. In terms of aesthetics, however, I cannot help thinking that ontologies which by virtue of their complexity are more intricate than others (for instance, in terms of degree of self-reflexivity and extent of self-criticism) should have a certain discursive advantage. In his laudable attempt to grant other ontologies their due, Lloyd comes to underestimate this aspect. This point of criticism, however, does not detract from the great merit of another masterpiece from Lloyd's hand.

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