Animism: Its Scope and Limits

In Tiddy Smith (ed.), Animism and Philosophy of Religion. Springer Verlag. pp. 199-226 (2022)
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What should we be animists about? This chapter aims to answer that question. I begin by distinguishing between ontological and ideological formulations of animism. I suggest that plausible forms of animism will be merely ideological, and I distinguish between full-strength and less-than-full-strength animism. Next, I consider the extent to which idealism, pantheism and panpsychism might be taken to support some sort of universal animism. I conclude that there is no plausible form of full-strength universal animism. After noting that animals are the easy case for animism, I turn to a discussion of a range of hard cases: flora, geological features, astronomical bodies, word tokens, artefacts and institutions. I will argue that we should not be full-strength animists about any of these things. Finally, I will consider whether the discussion that I have given is insensitive to the kinds of reasons that people have had for holding animistic beliefs about things other than animals. In this last part of the discussion, I draw a clear distinction between veneration of flora, artefacts, etc., and the belief that flora, artefacts, etc., are full-strength animated.

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Graham Oppy
Monash University


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