Re: Definitions of culture

Matthew Hill (mhhill@WATARTS.UWATERLOO.CA)
Tue, 6 Aug 1996 18:21:43 -0400

In refence to Cook's "culture is everything humans invent"

On Tue, 6 Aug 1996, Ronald Kephart wrote:

> Yes. But I have never seen a definition of culture (and BTW as a
> 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 ofbehavior 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
> (5) to some extent withour fellow hominoids. Therefore, I think it is a
> mistake to think of human culture as something entirely apart from what
> other animals are capable of.

It seems to me that to think in that manner requires us to reject the idea
of evolution as regards the origins of culture. Cooke's definition
seems to be circular - It is not culture if non-humans have it
and having culture is what distinguishes humans from non-humans.

That avoids having to consider the difficult and interesting questions
about the origins of culture in favour of what is at base a catastrophic
explanation of the Clarkian (Arthur C.) sort.

Matthew Hill (