From Primitive Mentality to haecceity: the Unique Case in astrology and divination by Geoffrey Cornelius

Part I

The question before us is the nature of divinatory intelligence, which is the mode of thought whereby meaningful interpretations are sustained in divination. This paper supports the view of some anthropologists that divination involves a distinctive mode of consciousness, mental pattern or cognitive faculty. To this end, I bring forward what may seem at first to be an unlikely combination of descriptions from anthropology and scholastic philosophy. Part I reviews Lucien Lévy-Bruhl’s description of ‘primitive mentality’, in order to establish a characteristic of divinatory interpretation that I have termed the unique case. In Part II I suggest that the unique case parallels the concept of haecceitas (anglicised as haecceity or ‘this-ness’) posited by the medieval theologian John Duns Scotus. This concept is dependent on his distinction between intuitive and abstractive cognition; this pairing indicates a foundational analysis that may be fruitfully applied beyond its original context to the question of omens, astrology and divination. At the same time, this approach complements the anthropological perspective by suggesting a loftier intellectual register for divination than is usually granted to it by contemporary scholarship.

Continue reading: From Primitive Mentality to Hacceity


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