"Dumb" Definitions? Apology

Tue, 1 Feb 1994 10:31:00 PST

Graber writes:

"... my skepticism about the value of defining culture in
mentalistic terms"

I am puzzled by this comment. As I suggestetd in an earlier post, the
purporse of a rough-and-ready kind of definition (which is the nature of the
definitions being offered for "culture") is to identify the domain in
question--in efffect, to be more explicit on what is NOT included while
remaining somewhat vague on what IS included. What is the domain in
question? If the domain has to do with phenomena that originate through the
operation of the brain in its capacity to not only received and categorize
input, but to analyze and arrive at constructions that were not immediately
inherent in the inputs, and to use those constructions as part of what then
arises at the level of what is called behavior, then the domain must be
defined in "mentalistic terms" regardless of how easy or hard it is to
investiage such a domain. If however, the domain of culture EXCLUDES this
(or excludes most of this) domain and refers to another domain (e.g.,
is limited, as some suggest, to phenomena that arise by a learning process)
then one would want a definintion that helps to identify the range of
phenomena that should be included under the definition of culture. Or if one
says that culture only has to do (in some sense) with what can be observed
directly then it would be appropriate to exclude "mental phenomena" on the
grounds that "mental phenomena" cannot be observed in the same way that one
can observe someone engaging in some activity.

But even if one is persuaded that teh latter is the propoer definition of
culture, it leaves the domain of "menatl phenomena" (e.g., kinship
terminologies as mental constructs) not as non-existent, but as a domain
which requires its own label. This being the case, then one can legitimately
raise the question: Is there historical precedence for using the label
"culture" to refer to "mental phenomena" (and here I recognize that I am
using the term"mental phenomena" without giving it a very precise
meaning)--thus suggesting that the domainn that e.g. Graber and others who
find "mental phenomena" something outside of the range of what they are
interested in studying shouyld have its own label.

Behind these disputes over definitnions of "culture" are real differences in
what is perceived to be the "iimportant" phenomena whose understanding is
required for the understanding of ourselves as a species. I take it that
those who argue, for example, for a definintion of cultuer as learned
behavior perceive that if we understand what constitutes learned behavior,
how learned behavior can change, etc., other phenomena (e.g., what othbers
refer to as symbol symstems, etc. ) will be shown to be derivative from
understanding learned behavior. (See for example the work being done by
biologcial anthropoplogists and evolutionists such as Cavalli-Sforza and
Feldman, Boyd and Richerrson, Durham, etc. who are extending darwinian
models of gene transmission to models for the transmission of learned
phenomena and use a definitio of culture as learned behavior).

I suggest that it would be more useful to argue about what are primary, and
what are derivative phenomena, then to use definitions of "culture" as a
surrogate for these more basic disputes.

Personally, I am persuaded that "mental phenomena" are primary. My work on
the conceptual underpinnnings of kinship systems in part is, I argue, a
demonstration of that claim through establishiing in a precise sense what
constitutes a kinship terminology structure and demonstrating that it IS a
mental construct and, though of course it is transmitted from generation to
generation via learning, cannot be accounted for through that learnining
process. However, even if this claiam of the primarcy of "mental phenomena"
is correct, it does not provide a complete picture in and of itself for it
says very little tlllll

signing ofl before my computer stops sending\
Dl Readt