"When we do philosophy we are like savages, primitive people, who hear the expressions of civilized men, put a false interpretation on them, and then draw the queerest conclusions." L. Wittgenstein, Philosohical Investigations, section 194, p.70) "In the realm of the mind,...what is primitive is so commonly preserved alongside the transformed version which has arisen from it that it is unnecessary to give instances as evidence." (Sigmund Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, p.15)
In the progressivist accounts of European civilization, primitive attitudes come to be replaced by rational ones, just as primitive technologies are replaced by modern ones. But recourse to descriptions of the primitive are often motivated by the desire to criticize the civilized or the present. If civilization is thought to rely on "the renunciation of instinct" (Freud) then one is tempted to project a rejection of the modern on to the archaic.
Freud examines the contention that "what we call civilization is largely responsible for our misery, and we should be so much happier if we gave it up and returned to primitive conditions." (p.33) Freud adhered to the notion that individual development followed the lines of social development -- beginning with an animistic phase and then followed first by a religious and then by a scientific phase -- the biological notion that "ontogeny recapulates phylogeny." Thus the child is thought to be more primitive than the adult, just as the "primitive" individual is thought of as a child.
"The European belief in primitive magic has lead to a false distinction between primitive and modern cultures, and sadly inhibited comparative religion." (Mary Douglas, Purity and Danger, p.58) (see order) Mary Douglas criticizes the notion of the sacred as separate and in need of of constant reenforcement through prohibitions and rituals of separation. For her, the concern of anthropologists to underscore the otherness of the sacred derives in part from their own interest in distinguishing magic from religion, the primitive from the modern.
Claude Levi-Strauss describes primitive thought (La Pensée Sauvage) as preoccupied with exhaustive observation and the systematic cataloguing of relations and connections. He suggests that magical thought is not ignorant of determinist causality but demands too much of it. Thus the rigorous precision of magical thought and ritual practices seems to him as "so many expressions of an act of faith in a science yet to be born." (see abstract / concrete )
The "primitive hut" has served as an origin story for architecture, (see organicism ) as a moment of transition from construction to symbolism.