Definitions of culture

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 11:32:51 -0400

In message <> Jesse S. Cook III writes:

> What human invention was invented before us by any nonhuman animal?

How about society?

> If culture is what humans have invented, then that "rules out" all other
> animals, does it not?

Yes. But I have never seen a definition of culture (and BTW as a descriptive
linguist I am wary of "definitions") as simplistic as "what humans have
invented." How many folks out there share this concept of culture? Most
definitions of culture (see textbooks by Harris, Haviland, Scupin, etc.) include
notions such as

(1) patterns of behavior and belief

(2) acquired in a social context, rather than genetically transmitted

(3) shared by the members of a social group

(4) adaptive, i.e. capable of change to match new circumstances

(5) based on a symbolic system (language)

We humans share items (1) - (4) with (at least) other primates; we seem to share
(5) to some extent with our fellow hominoids. Therefore, I think it is a
mistake to think of human culture as something entirely apart from what these
other animals are capable of.

Ronald Kephart
University of North Florida