Re: Definitions of culture

Ronald Kephart (rkephart@OSPREY.UNF.EDU)
Wed, 7 Aug 1996 11:53:43 -0400

In message <> Jesse S. Cook III writes:

> That [society] 's an invention?

Not of course in the sense of the female macaque inventing potato-washing;

> Nonhuman animals have beliefs?

Good question. If having beliefs implies having language, then perhaps not, but
that's not the point. The point is that culture as we know it consists of
behaviors and beliefs.

> Nonhuman animals rarely, if ever, share anything, strictly speaking.
> Nonhuman animal adaptation is strictly genetic.

The potato-washing invented by one female Japanese macaque spread throughout the
population, and thus ends up being a shared behavior. Although not a
genetically programmed behavior, it was adaptive, the selective pressure being
introduction of a new food to the monkeys.

Itani, Jun'ichiro. 1961. "The society of Japanese monkeys. Japan Quarterly

> Hominoids include the lesser apes as well as the greater apes and the
> hominids. To my knowledge, none of these, excepting our species, has
> anything "based" on language.

Of course, our species is the only one we have direct and undeniable evidence
for, because it's the only one still going. Figuring out what our fellow
hominids (H erectus, H habilis, the australopithecines) had is more problematic.

> But Ron, on or about 22 July 1996, when Robert Snower asked: "Do animals
> have societies? But not culture?", you answered "Yes."
> Then, on 28 July 1996, to Robert Snower's "Is this culture? I think not",
> you responded: "Right."
> And, on 5 August 1996, when I said "I agree with Ronald Kephart", you
> responded with "Jesse, thanks for the support."
> Wha hoppen? It seems to me that you are arguing against yourself, not
> against me.

So, what's wrong with that? I do it all the time. But seriously, in all those
exchanges I was taking "culture" to represent "human culture" as opposed to what
I was calling "proto-culture" (culture without the symbolic component).
Similarly, when we talk about "language" we don't have to specify "human
language" every time. Correct me if I'm wrong or out of line, but this might be
a good example of what I talked about yesterday regarding the nature of a
discussion, as opposed to a formal, carefully prepared, fully referenced,
scholarly exchange that might take place over several issues of a journal.

And, by the way, I hope everyone read and profited from Ralph Holloway's post on
the definition of culture; I know I did.

Ronald Kephart
University of North Florida