Between Philosophy and Archaeology

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Citation: Wylie, A. (1985) Between Philosophy and Archaeology. American Antiquity 50:478-490 (RSS)

doi: 10.2307/280505 Wikidata: Q20749276




In this article, Wylie discusses about applicability of philosophy, especially empiricist philosophy or science to archaeology. The author’s stance about this topic is quite skeptical. He believes that the philosophical approach or theory cannot be matched with archeology. According to him, the philosophical theories and proposals which are vague and abstract are not simply applicable to concrete problems of archaeological practice because archaeology is a social science and not a natural science. Or these theories and proposals are endorsed an extremely narrow and unsatisfactory form of practice to apply to archaeology. Also, the philosophical models are inconsistent with even the New Archaeology and only weakly applicable even to physics because the theories are unavoidably empiricist. In addition, the manner in which the theories are imported and exploited is inherently counter-productive due to their conceptual difficulties.

Not just those three significant reasons, he keeps mentioning several limitations of applicability of philosophy to archaeology. Although certain general frame makes sense and developed philosophical skills and knowledge are valuable, the application to archaeology is inevitably risky because the interest of those two studies is different and their structure is imbalanced. Therefore, their question and puzzling about the subject should be same and the presuppositions informing their questions are reasonable and sound to apply. Unless philosophical study is based in direct consideration of practice and in archaeologists’ spirit, the study is not helpful.