I have heard that philosophy recognizes or recognized a human inner drive to offer sacrifices to a higher being/authority and that this is the basis of early pagan practices and the foundation of religion.

Is this concept discussed anywhere?

  • the study of instinctual "drives" is a matter of empirical science, not philosophy. the same is true of the study of early religion.
    – user20153
    Oct 14 '16 at 19:45
  • Let us continue this discussion in chat.
    – user9166
    Oct 14 '16 at 19:48
  • @DanBron this discussion has been moved to chat. You may continue there, but subsequent comments here will be deleted, since the comment space is not for extended discussion.
    – user2953
    Oct 14 '16 at 20:59
  • @ChrisDegnan I have read The Golden Bough, and cannot bear to do so again, it is horrifically dense. Can you point out what you think the relevance of the passage is to the question? Also, you should not suffer from our inability to hear one another. So I am putting your link back: fyi bartleby.com/196/65.html
    – user9166
    Oct 14 '16 at 21:07
  • @Keelan That's your call to make, but in re the original post, I wish to restate the first comment I made, before the ensuing discussion with jobermark, which two people upvoted (probably because they agree with it), because it goes directly to the question's answerability: I've never heard of such a drive, and personally I've never experienced such an urge.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 14 '16 at 21:34

We all have parents, real and metaphorical, and most of us have things to prove to them.

For some Jungians, sacrifice is an aspect of the archetype of God as the symbol or projection of our relationship to being parented and belonging to a family/culture. So it would be a basic human drive, if not an innate one. (Kleinians might declare the fear of the Other, to which this is a response, to be completely innate, as the natural split-shadow to our basic narcissistic omnipotence, no one can totally lack it.)

From an animal point of view, pack animals are often drawn to bring a kill before their pack leader. And psychoanalytically, the family, the religious community, and the culture in general, are packs.

And this is not gone from modern religion.

We see this in the rules in Leviticus about 'first fruit'. The part of your harvest you bring in before you have to actually start using it goes to be inspected by the priests. And then again in holocaust. There is a component of proof of value, and willingness to give things up for your community. The odds are that all of this food gets eaten or given to the poor, but that is not the central issue. The central issue is proving the willingness to give, and therefore your usefulness to the tribe.

The later form of sacrifice, after the order of Malkezedech and rabbinical blessing, and later basic to Christianity, where what is communally sacrificed is then also consumed, is taken by Jung as symbolic of attaining competence at complex tasks, replacing just having things to willingly give, as a higher standard of proof for the same thing.

Having them judged and blessed means we must have products of which we are proud (pictures on the fridge) and it is this pride in our work that is validated by the parent and proves our value. We have to have bread and wine to offer, to prove we won't ever devolve back to just hunting and gathering -- living off squirrels, nuts and berries. But there is still the urge to convince the parental figure of your value, and your deservingness to remain within the protection of the community.

  • 2
    "to prove themselves worthy to eat off kills in general", imputing this kind of intention seems like a bit of a stretch.
    – Dave
    Oct 14 '16 at 16:23
  • @Dave: Well, if they don't do it, what happens? Whether or not they have fully formed intention, they have the instinct that causes them not to be excluded. It does not really matter whether it is the dog or his genes doing the deduction -- it has been made. If genetic intention does not qualify, what can 'innate drive' mean?
    – user9166
    Oct 14 '16 at 16:29
  • @Dave I have delete the offending phrase. There is no better way to put it, and it is really, really obvious
    – user9166
    Oct 14 '16 at 20:15

Freud covers a lot of this in Totem & Taboo. For example, in tribes, social instincts are traumatised after mortal conflict so the warriors offer sacrifices to appease the dead, or other (nature) spirits, who might inflict revenge. Presumably the actual utility is to salve their consciences and set their usually orderly behaviour straight, because it's generally not normal to get into deadly fights.

Chapter II. Taboo and the Ambivalence of Emotions, page 62

Inclined as we may have been to ascribe to savage and semi-savage races uninhibited and remorseless cruelty towards their enemies, it is of great interest to us to learn that with them, too, the killing of a person compels the observation of a series of rules which are associated with taboo customs. These rules are easily brought under four groups; they demand 1. reconciliation with the slain enemy, 2. restrictions, 3. acts of expiation, and purifications of the manslayer, and 4. certain ceremonial rites.

Freud frequently quotes Sir James George Frazer's Golden Bough in Totem & Taboo.

To clarify how this relates to the question, the regular tribal social behaviour patterns, let's say pre-enlightenment, are mainly based on ritual. If a person breaks a ritual they experience anxiety. Konrad Lorenz describes observing this in even in his pet duck in On Aggression, quoted below. To expiate the anxiety the tribesman has some other expensive ritual to ensure safety. Remember this has behaviour has evolved generally pre-enlightenment. Even in a more rational age it's understandable that someone would make a sacrifice of some sort after an egregious mistake.

So the 'drive' involved is that which leads to evolved social behaviour. The drive for control of social environment. Seeking to gain control and mastery of one's self and one's environment in general is the basic drive, synonymous with Nietzsche's Will to Power. Survival instinct and life drive.

On Aggression habit, ritual and magic, page 67

... she deviated from her habitual path and chose the shortest way, skipping her usual right-angle turn and mounting the stairs on the right-hand side, ‘cutting’ the turn of the stairs and starting to climb up. Upon this, something shattering happened: arrived at the fifth step, she suddenly stopped, made a long neck, in geese a sign of fear, and spread her wings as for flight. Then she uttered a warning cry and very nearly took off. Now she hesitated a moment, turned round, ran hurriedly down the five steps and set forth resolutely like someone on a very important mission, on her original path to the window and back. This time she mounted the steps according to her former custom from the left side. On the fifth step she stopped again, looked round, shook herself and greeted, behaviour mechanisms regularly seen in greylags when anxious tension has given place to relief. I hardly believed my eyes. To me there is no doubt about the interpretation of this occurrence: the habit had become a custom which the goose could not break without being stricken by fear.

  • In a close form this argument already appears in Neitzsche's Genealogy of Morals, as his explanation for the origination of 'bad conscience' in the belief that violation of an implied promise required submission to suffering and deprivation, which people imposed on themselves in sacrifices (especially in the case of murder, when the one offended was dead.)
    – user9166
    Oct 14 '16 at 22:55
  • @jobermark Yes, it would follow that anxiety caused by lesser infractions of the pre-rational moral code could be mollified by penance. Oct 14 '16 at 23:05
  • I get how this as an answer to 'is this discussed anywhere?' But as an answer, it is "no, there is no specific 'drive' here, it is just one possible response to fear of the other and involves specific bad logic." So it may not be universal or innate?
    – user9166
    Oct 15 '16 at 10:16
  • @jobermark I disagree. The regular tribal social behaviour patterns, pre-enlightenment, are mainly based on ritual. If a person breaks a ritual they experience anxiety. Konrad Lorenz describes observing this in even in his pet duck in On Aggression. To expiate the anxiety the tribesman has some other expensive ritual to ensure safety. Throwing salt over his shoulder, for example. Remember this is generally pre-enlightenment. Even in a more rational age it's understandable that someone would make a sacrifice of some sort after a egregious mistake. Oct 15 '16 at 13:07
  • 1
    @mobileink You can define anxiety as cortisol and still get a lot of Freud's results. You can even get his prescription for the basic technique of Freudians: dissolution of the repetition compulsion through transference and refusal to be reduced to the transferred role, out of the basic theory of cortical and limbic balance controlling memory recall a la en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_E._LeDoux So whether you take Freud seriously, per se, you can often still see him as the inspiration for theories that are still taken seriously.
    – user9166
    Oct 17 '16 at 1:31

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