chapter  2
19 Pages

Myth and phenomenology

ByMilton Scarborough

Myth and philosophy are mother and child. Originally there was myth alone. Philosophy came later, emerging from its mythic matrix.1 Literacy and visualism served as midwives for the delivery. Since that time, the two have exhibited all the tensions endemic to troubled families. Not long after its birth, philosophy, like a child anxious to grow up too soon, explored the possibility of independence. Plato rejected poetry, the stuff of myth, but sought refuge in myth when reason, the stuff of philosophy, ran into difficulties. The Christian Middle Ages rejected pagan myths while embracing biblical ones, although without acknowledging the latter as myths. Like a child who lives far away from home but keeps a flattering portrait of mother on the wall, the Middle Ages did not totally deny the connection to myth but dressed it in respectability. In the modern era, having become thoroughly ashamed of anyone associated with the irrationality of magic and monsters, philosophy not only denied its mythic parentage but also sought by matricide to rid the world of myth altogether. Under the influence of Darwin nineteenth-century anthropologists judged it to be acceptable to acknowledge having been nursed in infancy by a mother so long as one had outgrown her. In the twentieth century, however, philosophy has occasionally softened and sought a reconnection to its ancient lineage, especially since anthropological fieldwork and sociology have discovered much about the practical ways in which myth functions. Philosophy, along with the social sciences, has articulated a variety of non-cognitive uses of myth but almost always has regarded science and its own critical enterprise as myth-free. For the most part, however, philosophy has simply ignored myth. More recently, this has begun to change. The appearance of several books which argue for both an original and a continuing relation between philosophy and myth hint at some renewed interest in myth by philosophy and may signal the beginning of a rapprochement (Hatab 1990; Daniel 1990; Scarborough 1994).