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CHAPTER V: THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CULTURAL PHENOMENON

A. The Idea Culture. (The usage of the idea)


- Used to analyse social reality, thus ‘cultural analysis’.
- Not only understood solely as the production of the mind. (Rationalism)
• Culture shows patterns of behaviour of a certain group or a society
correlative to a certain human environment.

1) Meanings of Culture.
a) Etymological Meaning:
• Latin term = cultus, cultura, and colere = to cultivate and care for.
 It evokes man’s activity on physical nature: working the earth, the
collective effort to plant vegetables for man and domestic animals
need.
 In Latin and French implicitly in German, the word evokes
activity, sustained by needs and therefore by lack.
 Therefore, culture is understood as an act of transforming
nature, to serve properly the human ends. (Blondel:43)
• In the Middle Ages the word “culture” was not used. Instead one spoke
about “humanitas, civilitas”.
• In the 17th century: Culture was introduced in relation to natura and for
the development of the spiritual and cognitive capabilities.
 Everything that man added to the nature of himself or his
environment was considered as cultural good.
 Thus, there was a clear distinction between nature and culture.
• Romano Guardini, nature designates the totality of things - all that exist
before man ever does anything.
 Nature: include the earth, the universe, the plants and the animals
and man as an organic and spiritual reality.
 Everything that existed of its own.
 Culture would be that which man acquires or produces through
the exercise of his faculties: the whole of knowing and doing,
science and technique, everything that through knowledge man
carves out of nature.
 It is therefore what man with his intellective-volitive
activity and competence had created.

b) Meaning of Culture in Different Disciplines:


1. In History, it refers to the historic development manifested different forms
and content of material and spiritual goods of man. For example: Greek
culture, Roman culture, and Baroque culture.
2. In Philosophy, it refers mainly to the historical and social philosophy.
• We have the works of William Dilthey (1833-1911) which make
distinctions between the systems of culture such as art, science, religion,
law, and economy, and the “outside” (organizational) forms of culture –
the community, state, church etc.
• Also the distinction between culture and civilization which will be
elaborated later.
3. In Sociology, we refer to the studies of Max Weber, Edward Taylor (1832-
1917) – “Primitive Culture: Resources into the Development of Mythology,
Philosophy, Language, Art, and Custom”.
• Raymond Williams (1981) who takes cultural studies as a branch of
General sociology.
 For him, ideology plays a role defined as "“formal and conscious
beliefs" and “world view or general perspective.”
4. In Anthropology, we refer to cultural anthropology which studies culture in
the historical as the comparative way and from there arrives at social
structures in cultural patterns.
• Social anthropology starts with the social structure and tries to find
the interrelations between these structures and culture.
 Here social change is no longer subordinated to cultural change,
but rather helps to cause it.
5. In Theology, we consider the use and study of culture as uniquely interesting.
Vatican council II in Gaudium et Spes deals extensively with the “proper
development of culture”.
• Pope John Paul II considers “the church is a creator of culture”,
thus he proposes “a demanding task to understand the extreme
variety of cultures, of customs, of traditions and civilizations.”
• The relationship between a certain culture and the Gospel values. In
theology, the incarnation of the gospel values in a given culture is
called "inculturation".

c) Some Distinctions:

1. Culture and Civilization:


• Culture is not different, but at one point put in opposition with
Civilization.
 Culture is not something produced by nature but something
affected by nature through the agency of the human will and
reason.
 Clearly, then, the general notion of culture refers to rationality
controlled processes.
• Culture is placed in opposition to civilization in the 19th century by the
Germans adopted later on by the Russians.
 Culture in this conception has a favourable meaning, “civilization”
a pejorative one.
 Culture is all that expresses life, genuineness, and spontaneity,
while civilization includes much that is artificial, mechanical, and
contrived.
• Civilization would imply that what pertains to man, as a citizen. It is
something artificial or mechanical, rather than genuine and spontaneous.
 For instance, legal relationships would thus be relegated to
civilization, removed from what is alive and personal to man.

2. Material and Immaterial Culture.

• Material culture refers to the concrete cultural objects that are made by
man.
 For example, the stones probably used by the Tasaday, the bow
and arrow of the Aetas, chairs and tables used in school, the
electric computers, nuclear plants, etc.
• Immaterial culture refers to cultural ideas, myths, stories, cultural
attitudes and behaviors. “A difference in the speed of development of
material and immaterial culture might lead to a cultural lag where two
parts of culture no longer correspond.”1

3. Culture and Nation.


• "Whereas a nation or even a certain country is a political unit, culture
really refers first and foremost to groups of people united in common
history, social life and ideas not necessarily organised in a national
political unit."2
• There can be different cultures in one nation.

B. The Characteristics of Culture. (As a complex phenomenon we can indicate several


characteristics of culture.)
(1) From its origin culture is human, social and laborious achievement.
• Culture is a human achievement.
 It is distinguished from nature as it bears the intentionality and the
efforts of the human being.
 Not of a single individual but of the whole social group.
• Social: It is a social heritage that the individual at first receives and in his
turn transmits. Everything that is totally private does not form part of
culture.
• Laborious: And the elaboration of culture has to be possessed with much
personal effort.
 One has to learn the language, support the present type of
government and understand and reinterpret the scientific method
for every generation.

(2) From its form culture is sensible, dynamic and creative.

1
Source: Franz-Josef Eilers, svd, Communicating Between Cultures (Manila: divine Wor Publications,
1992), p.22.
2
ibid. pp. 23-24
• Sensible because all the manifestations even the most spiritual is
perceptible to the senses, as poetry, and music.
• Dynamic since it is in continuos development and transformation,
following the nature of the social groups that may be in the process of
expansion or contradiction.
 Chenu attributes the dynamism of culture to the fact that the
human being reconstructs truth only through gathered pieces of
knowledge.
• Creative since as an authentic product of the person's genius it expresses
his/her transcending mechanical repetition.
 Mircea Eliade, however, has revived the idea begun in Plato that
culture is an imitation of the eternal ideal with his theory of "the
myth of the eternal return."

(3) From its end or finality, culture is variously considered as religious,


humanistic and natural.
• Niebuhr sees the objectives of culture as not mutually exclusive.
 Through the development of nature the human being realises
himself/herself as well as the divine design.
 For this reason, the goods that human efforts seek to realise are not
purely temporal and material.

C. Unity Among The Various Aspects Of A Culture.


- There is a certain unity. This is the first notion understood and verified in the
data among the various aspects of a culture. Thus, a complex whole.
• We have discussed this in our investigation on the cultural phenomenon.
 It is rather a vague notion: it could be indicated in various terms
(coherent grouping, integration, pattern, configuration, profile…)
conceived and formulated diversely in the respective studies of
history or of cultural anthropology.
 It is not rigid; it leaves a certain space for flexibility.
 It oscillates independently of individual aspects or components of a
culture - a broad space more or less according to the nature of this
or that.
 Therefore, a "certain" unity only.
• For example: some vague but comprehensive concepts = romanticism,
renaissance, classical antiquity.
 Such terms are difficult to define in the proper sense of the word.
 They refer more to a certain literary and artistic style in determined
country in a determined period of time, but not without involving a
certain vision of the world or of the human being.
 It takes a certain affective attitude also towards things - a certain
taste of the totality of life.
- There is also certain interdependence among various aspects of life in a group:
• between mentality and material environment (farmer-city guy),
• between mentality and profession (jurist-business man),
• between art and the scopes to which it serves (art and religion, art and
prestige and social symbol, art for art sake..) and so on.

- There is difficulty in formulating this unity in a clear determined and explicit


because of some obstacles: such as the following philosophical prejudices.
• “Empiricsim” : it tends to reduce everything to isolated data, mistrusting
of any intelligibility.
• "Rationalism": it tends to deduce all a priori in a unique order, or as any
preconception of the human being that wants to discover whatever
determined motives and order of priority.
• However, cultural life presents extreme complexity even among the
"primitive” cultures of human groups which are more restricted:
 An anthropologist (M. Gluckman) affirms that the organization of
a thousand Tokopia Melanesians is as complicated as that of the
city of London.
- However, history portrays also a certain unity, thus the notion of cultural unity.
• Take the works of Johan Huizinga, "The Autumn of the Middle Ages” - an
authority in Egyptology, Bizantine history… which in a certain sense
constitute each one an inseparable whole;
• Arnold J. Toynbee: The history of England or of Germany in whatever
epoch cannot be written without continuous reference to the realisations of
the single aspects of which it composes itself - economic production,
social organisation, currents of thought, artistic and literary style… in a
series of other countries.
• Sociology: The sociologists with the statistical method establish
interdependence among some measurable aspects of the great actual
society.
 Max Weber has proposed the theses of decisive influence of
Calvinism on the origin and development of capitalism.

- The anthropologists tried to determine or to formulate the idea of the unity of


culture.
• Here, they distinguished minimal elements called "traits": single gestures,
objects, relations… such as the way of blessing or extending the hand as
peace, or such structuration of time, or such relation as nephew-uncle.
 Evidently under the same name, it does not hide the wide variety
of traits.
 The diversity which exist between the relations of nephew-
uncles existing in Europe today and that of those in the
Island of Samoa
 The blessing of the dying father as that of Isaac and of that
of Papal blessing.
• Single traits become a part of a "complex" or a "function" from which
they received their meaning:
Examples:
 the ax - of the sacrifice, of a court ceremony, or as a weapon of
war;
 the relation of nephew-uncle - for certain political or education;
 extending the hand - in the context of friendship, recognition of
membership of the same class.
 Not only single traits but also the same function can made part of
more cultures or limiting itself instead to one only, and its
geographical diffusion is called "cultural area".

- In a culture the functions change among themselves in a whole.


• Radcliffe-Brown conceives culture the same as the living organism: the
groupings of the functions (the object of physiology) would result from
the structure (as the organs of a living organism - object of morphology)
and would secure the continuity of that same structure.
• Levi-Strauss, the structure would be the fit-model that renders the
meaning or intelligibility of all the facts in the ambit of a given culture -
model as a way of a logical system of interdependent elements formally
manipulable:
• For example, the "totemism":
 phenomenon widespread among “primitive"
cultures.
 Connected to a single animal specie or part of the
organism of an animal or also objects with the
single human group, clan, etc…
 Resulting sometimes to a taboo, like not eating the
same animal specie used by the group with the
same totem …),
• Totemism can be seen as a logical system in which the
oppositions and correlation between groups are organised
by analogy, metaphorical expression or thought by means
of oppositions or correlation among the said objects specie
or part of animals chosen because "good for thinking".
• Sapir, Ruth Benedict, C Kluckhon = use the term "pattern"
configurations: every culture would have its design and would result a
proper "profile" as that of a personality or a face.

- We have to confront the question of foundation. Given such interdependence or


unity among various aspects: traits, functions, single structure…of a culture,
would it not be possible to conceive one of these as its reflection?
- There are different theories to this:
• Religion: This religious foundation is manifested in religious diversity
among peoples – list of beliefs, precepts and rites.
 It is perceived as the matrix of all the errors and human atrocity:
• Lucrezio: the fruit of fear from humans should be liberated
per rendering joy.
• Comte: evolutive stage of humanity, theological state
• Hegel: form not explicitly of philosophy. N.B. philosophy
is highest mode of the reflection of the Spirit.
• Economics: According to Marxism, the economic is the foundation.
Classical Marxism tells us that economic is the foundational structure and
all the rest of social life is superstructure.
 Levi-Strauss, who proclaimed himself a Marxist, attributed to the
systems of consanguinity rather than to purely the modes of
productions.
• There are similarities among cultures with diverse modes of
productions. (you can see similar cultures even if their
modes of productions are diverse: feudal, capitalistic,
socialist.)
• There are diverse cultures with the same mode of
productions.
 Paul Radin presented great cultural diversity of
society coming from the same economic system.

D. Culture and Biology.


- Another characteristic pertains to the relations of culture and human biology.
• The organism presents a remarkable level of unitary organization.
• We have already affirmed a certain unity between the different aspects of
the behaviour and of the cultural world which is internal in culture.
- Different Observations on relationship of culture and biology:
1) The first observation = determination of behaviour and of the
environment which every culture implies – based on the biological
needs of organism.
• Men must feed themselves, but they do it in different ways
and time; types of food for a given culture.
• Sex exists in animals. However, the exercise of sex varies
from one specie to another in terms of frequency,
promiscuity or dominance of the male.
• Levi-Strauss considers it the first fundamental
passage from nature to culture. This means that the
sexual issue of humans is more than just the
biological point of view.
• The protection from the harsh weather of the climate –
clothing, habitations.
• The physical and psychical energy which man uses in
his/her daily living for its biological needs.
• Based on this observation, the psychical activity of man
correlative his/her environment is subordinated or reduced
to the service of his biological needs.
• Malinowski: cultural functions are oriented fro the
satisfaction of man’s need. But this position is
already abandoned by many anthropologists.
2) The second observation = discarding apriori explanations in
contradiction with the data of the phenomenon.
• Discarding the theory that cultural behaviour is derived
only from genetically heredity in the human specie as a
whole.
• The diversity of culture immediately opposes such
hypothesis.
• Conclusion: Culture of a given human individual is not the
result of the racial origin only. The diversity of cultures
does not correspond to the diversity of races.
• Culture is not determined by specific or racial
nature of the individual.
• Culture is acquired.

E. The Acquisition of Culture

- The acquisition of culture involves the whole history of humanity and also the
nature of man in the philosophical sense of the term.
 Based on the metaphysical perspective between being and becoming.
- Two general considerations on the mode of acquisition:
 one re: the emergence of cultures
 two re: the acquisition of culture on the part of the invidual.
a. Re: the emergence of cultures: If culture is not determined biologically of
individuals, then it searches its origin in the natural environment. (Nature-
nurture)
 Natural environment is conceived as geographical environment in
relation to the needs and the biological possibility of man.
 Cultural diversity would be due to the diversity of environment
reflective of their opportunity and of their exigencies.
 It is clear that all the cultures take account of the environment.
• Toynbee has seen the birth of the great civilization: for
example Egypt, Sumerian, Indian and China – where its
territories (natural environment) have shaped these
civilizations.
 However, many variety of cultures more or less ‘primitive’ or
indigenous in the same or similar geographical environments did
emerge in the same geographical environments.
 The emergence of a single culture is factored by many elements.
Heredity and environment are not enough to account its diversity.
b. Re: The acquisition of a determined culture on the part of the single
individuals.
 Race or biological heredity alone does not predestine a given group
to have such and such a culture.
 The great differences of hereditary based of individuals are by
genetics. However, they only account partly.
 The acquisition of culture is partly therefore of the environment
and not totally by way of nature.
 Cultural environment consists in the modifications of the natural
environment introduced by the group, and also any new
development in the cultural behaviours of the group and its
members.
 From infancy, the individual is shaped by the behaviour and
cultural environment of the group which later become carriers of
its culture.
 In this sense, culture is acquired through traditions, that is
transmitted intentionally, or that which we learned since the time
of our childhood.
 Tradition in this sense opposes itself clearly to the biological
evolution.
• Theodosius Dobzhansky: "Culture (…) is wholly acquired
by human beings from other human beings, and not only
children from their parents as in biological heredity.
Culture is acquired by imitation, training and learning
(…). Biological heredity does not transmit characters
which a human individual has acquired during his or her
lifetime, but culture transmits only characters."3

Conclusion.

- The stable and general characteristic of cultural phenomenon:


 a certain internal unity of any culture,
 the non-derivability of culture and of every single culture from biological
nature of man
 their acquisition not pure reflection of the natural environment
 their transmission to new generations is through traditions - we know the
existence of culture according to a certain intelligibility that is proper to
it.
- Culture presents itself inseparable from man himself.

3
Source: Theoduius Dobzhansky, Mankind Evolving. The Evolution of the Specie (New Haven: Yale
University Press, 1982), p. 8.
 Man as biological organism, man participating to a determined culture,
man as single person, as purely its natural environment, its cultural world
and its personal world
• these are all abstract aspects of a unique being correlative
globally to the whole which is his world.
 Murray and Kluckhon, anthropologists: " every
man is similar in the first place to men, secondly to
some, thirdly to no one."

- To understand culture its is necessary to consider more closely its relationships


with human nature, the reality of man's existence.
 And this brings us to the doing of philosophy
• To indicate the divergences of foundation regarding culture
and history among the studies itself on these matters.
• To consider also the ultimate and radical question on
human existence par excellence.

- To say more, that culture is acquired by groups not simply as replica of the
exigencies of natural environment, and by individuals through traditions.
 This leads us to the question of the relationship between culture and
human nature.

- Finally, this relation is not only of acquisition of the existing culture on the part of
the individuals who participate,
 but also - if it is true that cultures begin and change – to the question of the
contribution of the individuals participating to the culture itself.