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National Educational radio in cooperation with the University of Chicago presents a short series of lectures designed to initiate a new discussion on the nature of man his place in the universe and his biological intellectual and social potentialities. This lecture the fifth in the series is entitled The impact of the concept of culture on the concept of man. Our speaker is Clifford girds professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago. Here now is Professor Gates. Toward the end of his recent study of the ideas the tribal peoples used to think with. A ponce so was the French apologist many Strauss remarks that I explain Nations scientific explanation does not consist as we've been led to imagine in the reduction of the complex to the simple rather Yet it consists he says of this in the substitution of a complexity more intelligible for one which is less. So far
as the study of man is concerned. When I go I think even further. And I argue that explanation often consists of the substitution of complex pictures for simple ones while striving somehow to retain the persuasive clarity that went with the simple ones. Elegance remains I suppose the general scientific ideal but in the social sciences it is very often free in departures from that IDEO that are truly creative developments occur. Scientific advancement commonly consists in a progressive complication of what once seemed a beautifully simple set of notions but now seems an unbearably simplistic one. And exactly the sort of disenchantment occurs that intelligibility and thus explanatory power. Come to rest on the possibility of substituting the involved but comprehensible for the involved. But in comprehensible to which let me stress or refer to. What
had once offered to the natural sciences the Moxon seeks simplicity and distrusted to the social sciences. He might well have offered C complexity and order. Certainly the study of culture has developed as though this maxim were being followed. The rise of a scientific concept of culture amounted to war at least was connected with the overthrow of the view of human nature. Dominant in the enlightenment a view which whatever else may be said for or against it was both clear and simple and its replacement by a view not only more complicated but enormously less clear. The attempt to qualify it to reconstruct an intelligible account of what man is has underlying scientific thinking about culture ever since. How do you sort complexity and on a scale
grander than they ever imagined. Found it. Anthropologist became involved in a torturous effort to order and the end is not yet in sight. The enlightment view of man was of course that he was wholly of a peace with nature and shared in the general uniformity of composition with natural science under Bacon's or Gina Newton's guidance had discovered there. The reason briefer human nature is regularly organized as clearly and variant and is marvelously simple as Newton's universe. Perhaps some of these laws are different but there are laws. Perhaps some of its immutability is obscured by the trappings of local fashion but it is immutable. A quotation of love joy gives from the Enlightenment historian Moscow presents the picture with the useful bluntness one often finds in a minor writer. The stage setting in different times and places holding him
is indeed altered the actors change their garb and their appearance but their inward motions arise from the same desires and passions of man and produce their effects in the vicissitudes of kingdoms and of people. Now this view is hardly one to be despised. Despite my easy references a moment ago to overthrow can to be said to have disappeared from contemporary anthropological thought the notion that man or man under whatever guise and against whatever backdrop has not been replaced by other mores other beasts yet cast as it was the Enlightenment concept of the nature of human nature has some much less acceptable implication. The main one being to quote Lovejoy himself this time anything of which the intelligible being the verifiability or the actual affirmation is limited to men of a special age race temperament tradition or
condition is in and of itself without truth or value or at all events without importance to the reasonable man. The great vast variety of differences among men in beliefs and values and customs and institutions over time and from place to place is essentially without significance in defining his nature. It consists of mere creations distortions even overlaying and obscuring what is truly human. The constant the general the universal in man. Thus in a passage now notorious Dr. Johnson saw Shakespeare's genius to lie in the fact that quote. His characters are not modified by the customs of particular places unpractised by the rest of the world by the peculiarities of studies or professions which can operate on but a small number or by the accidents of transient fashions your temporary opinions and were seen as regards excessive as plays on classical themes as proof that quote the taste of Paris and
point to that of Athens. My spectators been knew by the same things which in other times brought tears to the eyes of the most cultivated classes of Greece. The trouble with this kind of view aside from the fact the sounds coming coming from someone is profound. English is Johnson or French is saying is that the image of a constant human nature independent of time place and circumstance of studies and professions of trance infractions and temporary opinions may be an allusion that what man is may be so entangled with where he is who hears what he believes that it is inseparable from them is precisely the consideration of such a possibility that led to the rise of the concept of culture and the decline of the uniformitarian view of man. Whatever else anthropology asserts modern biology asserts and seems to assert almost everything I want time or another it is firm in the conviction that men
unmodified by the customs of particular places do not in fact exist have never existed. And most importantly who are not in the very nature of the case exist. There is there can be no backstage where we can go to catch a glimpse of mask whose actors as quote real persons lounging about in street clothes disengage from their professions displaying with artless candor their spontaneous was ours an unprompted passion. They change the roads and change their styles of acting even the dramas in which they play but a Shakespeareans of course remarked. They are always performing. This circumstance makes the drawing of a line between what is natural universal and constant in man and what is conventional local and variable extraordinarily difficult. In fact it's adjusted to do all such a law on this to fall so far the human situation or at least to mis render it seriously considered
Bonnie's trends that always fall into extreme dissociated states in which they perform all sorts of spectacular activities. By now the heads of living chickens stabbing themselves with daggers showing themselves wildly about speaking with tongues performing miraculous acrobatic feats of one sort or another and then a few sexual intercourse and feces and so on and so on. And they do this for all these trances these dissociative states rather more easily and much more suddenly than most of us fall asleep. Trance states are crucial part of the ceremony in some ceremonies 50 or 60 people my four are one after the other like a string of firecrackers going off. One observer can sit emerging anywhere from five minutes to several hours later totally unaware of what they've been doing. You convinced despite the amnesia they have had a most extraordinary and deeply satisfying experience a man can have. What does one learn about human nature from this sort of thing and from the
thousand similar peculiar things anthropologist discovered investigating the scrawny little belly is a peculiar sorts of beings so see Martians that they are just the same as we have based with some peculiar really rather instead of customs we don't happen to go in for they are innately gifted or even instinctively driven in certain directions rather than others built into their bodies. That human nature does not exist and men are pure and simply what their culture makes them and nothing else. It is among such interpretations of these all of them and satisfactory that anthropology has attempted to find its way to a more viable concept of man one in which culture and the viability of culture would be taken into account rather than written off as Caprice and prejudice. And yet at the same time one in which the governing principle of the field the basic unity of mankind would not be turned into an empty Freds. To take the giant step away from the
uniformitarian view of human nature is so far as the study of man is concerned to leave the garden to entertain the idea that the diversity of custom across time and over space is not a mere matter of God an appearance of stage settings and comic masks used to entertain also the idea that humanity is as various in its essence as it is in its expression. And with that reflection so well fasten philosophical moorings are loose and uneasy drifting into perilous water begins. Perilous because of one discards the notion that man with a capital M has to be looked for behind under or beyond his customs and replaces it with a notion that he UN capitalized is to be looked for in them. What is in some danger of losing sight of them altogether. Either he dissolves into his time and place a child in perfect captive as age or he becomes a conscripted soldier in a vast Australian
Army engulfed in one or another of the terrible historical determinisms with which we've been plagued from Hegel forward. We have had to some extent still have both of these aberrations in the social sciences 1 march into cultural relativism. Man is just a product of US culture and that's it. The other one of that of cultural evolution of their sort of intrinsic development we've had also and more commonly attempts to avoid both of these errors by seeking in cultural patterns themselves. The defining elements of human existence which were not constant expression is yet distinctive in character. Attempts to locate man made the body of this customs have taken several directions adopted diverse tactics. But they have all or virtually all proceeded in terms of a single intellectual strategy. What I will call so much to have a stick to beat it with the stratigraphic conception of the relationships between biological psychological social and cultural factors in human life.
In this conception man is a composite of levels each superimposed upon those beneath it and underpinning those above it as one analyzes man one peels off layer after layer each session their being completed in every deuce upon itself. Really another quite different sort of layer underneath. Strip off your motley forms of culture and one find structural and functional irregularities of social organization. Peel off these in turn and one finds the underline psychological factors. A basic needs or what have you which support and make them possible. People are psychological factors and one is left with biological foundations. Within the biological foundation the anatomical physiological neurological and so on. The whole edifice of human life. You try sion of this sort of conceptualization aside from the fact that a guarantee of
established academic disciplines or independently sort of agree on was that it seemed to make it possible to have one's cake and eat it. Cultural facts could be interpreted against the background of non cultural facts without either dissolving into that background or dissolving the background of them. Man was a hierarchically stratified animal a sort of evolutionary deposit and whose definition each level organic psychological social and cultural. How did the song and on its own terms and contestable place to see what he really was. We had to superimpose by means of the various relevant sciences and college sociology psychology. Well upon one another like so many patterns in MRI and when this was done the cardinal importance of the cultural level the only one which was distinctive to man would not surely appear as would what it had in its own right to tell us about what he really was. For the eighteenth century image of man is the naked reason who appeared when he took his cultural costumes off.
Yeah the late 19th and early 20th centuries substituted the image of man as a transfigured animal who appeared when he put them on. And the level of concrete research and specific analysis this grand strategy came down first. To hunt for the four universals and culture. For NPR called uniformity which in the face of the diversity of custom around the world and over time can be found everywhere at about the same form lowest common denominator sort of thing. And second to an effort to relate such universal such lowest common denominators. Once found to the established constants of human biology psychology and social organization to root them in these fundamental factors. If some customs could be ferreted out of the quarter catalogue of world culture and is common to all local variants of it and if these constants then could be connected to determined matter was determined matter with certain invariant points of
reference on the subcultural of those that at least some progress might be made toward specifying which cultural traits are essential to human existence and which merely have been Tish's peripheral or ornamental in such a way anthropology could determine cultural dimensions of a concept of man commensurate with the dimensions provided in the similar why biology psychology and sociology. In essence this is not altogether a new idea the notion is the notion of a consensus gentium a consensus of all mankind that there are some things which all men will be found to agree upon is right real just are attractive and that these things are therefore in fact right REAL JUST SO ATTRACTIVE was present in the Enlightenment and probably has been present in some form or other in all ages and climes is one of those ideas which occurs to almost everyone sooner or later he's developing one of apology however added something new
it added the notion that a cork like cork on perhaps the most persuasive of the consensus can't you. There's some aspects of culture take a specific form so only as a result of historical accidents. Others are tailored by processes which properly can be designated as universal within this man's cultural life is split in two. Part of it is like actors Ghar independent of men's Newtonian inward motions. Part. Is an emanation of those motions themselves. The question that then arises is can this halfway house between the 18th and 20th centuries really stand. Whether can or not depends upon whether the dualism between empirically universal aspects of culture rooted in some cultural realities and empirically verifiable aspects not so rooted can be established and sustained. And this in turn demands three things. First that the universe was proposed a
substantial one and not empty categories. Second they be specifically grounded in a particular biological psychological or sociological processes and not just vaguely associated with them. And three hundred times most important that they can do this only they can convincingly be defended as core elements in a definition of humanity in comparison with which the much more common much more numerous cultural particularities are clearly secondary importance on all three of these counts it seems to me that the consensus gentium approach fails rather moving toward the essentials of the human situation. It moves away from it. Reason why the first of these requirements that the proposed universes be substantial ones and not empty or near empty categories has not been met is that it cannot. There is a logical conflict between asserting the sake quote religion quote marriage or quote property or empirical
universals and giving them very much in the way of substantial content specific content or to say that they are empirical universals is to say that they have the same content and to say they have the same content used to fly in the face of the undeniable fact that they do not. If one defines religion generally and indeterminately as man's most fundamental orientation to reality for example then one cannot at the same time assign to that orientation a highly circumstantial content. For clearly what composes the most fundamental orientation to reality among the transport Aztec looking pulsing hearts toward life in the chest of human sacrifice to the heavens is not the same as what comprises the ultimate out a reality among the stars Zuni dancing in their great mass supplications to the benevolent gods of writing the obsessive ritualism and unbutton policies of the
Hindus exposes a rather different view of the really real. Then does the uncompromising monotheism and austere legalism of Sunni Islam even if one does try to get down to less abstract levels. And a service book on the end of the concept of the afterlife is universal or smell nasty good for the sense of Providence is the same contradiction wants one to make a generalization about an afterlife stand up like for confusions in the calculus for the Zen Buddhist in the Tibetan Buddhist one has to define it in most general terms and be so general in fact that whatever force whatever me it seems to have seems virtually to evaporate. So too with any notion of a sense of Providence which can include under its wing both Navajo notions about relations of God to men and troubling ones. And as with religion so
with marriage quote and trade and all the rest of what they all cover up we call fake universal down to even so seemingly concrete a matter as shelter that everywhere people mate and produce children have some sense of mind and gone and protect themselves in one fashion other from the rain in the sun are neither false nor from some points of view are important but they are hardly very much help in drawing a portrait of man. There will be a true and honest likeness and not one ten of the John Q public sort of cartoon. My point it should be clear and I hope will become even clearer in a moment when I go on a more positive matters is not that there are no generalizations which can be made about man as man say that he is the most virus animal or the study of culture has nothing to contribute to the uncovering of such generalisations. My point is that such generalizations are not to be discovered through a big county in search for cultural universal the kind of public opinion polling of the world's
peoples in search of a consensus Kantian which is not in fact exist and the further they attempt to do so. Leads to precisely the sort of relativism the whole approach was explicitly designed to who or what is the only culture applied prizes restraint quick on rights. What you know encourages exhibitionism on the part of the individual. These are contrasting values but inherent to the Sunni and the clock you know. So they're only just the one universal value the price of the distinctive norms of one's culture. This is sheer evasion but is only more power not more abrasive the discussions of cultural universals in general. What after all does it avail us to say with Herskovitz that quote morality is universal and so is enjoyment of beauty and some standard for truth. Unquote. If you're first in this very next sentence as he is to add that quote the many forms these concepts takes are both products of a particular historical experience of the societies that manifest them. Once one abandons uniformitarianism even as a consensus Kantian theories do
but partially and certainly relativism is a genuine danger. But it could be worded off only by facing directly and fully the diversities of human culture. The Sunni's restraint and the quokka utils exhibitionism and embracing them within the body of one's concept of man not by talking past them with a tautologies and forced most banal things. The difficulty in past of study cultural universals which at the same time substantial of course also has performed the second requirement of facing the consensus Kantian approach that of grounding such universals in particular biological psychological or sociological processes. But there is more to it than that the stratigraphic conception is level's conception of the relationships between cultural non cultural factors hinder such a grounding. Even more effectively once having converted culture psyche society an organism into separate scientific levels. Complete and autonomous in themselves is very hard to get them back together again.
The most common way way of trying to do so is through the utilization of what are called invariant points of reference. These are to quote one of the most famous statements of the strategy toward a common language in the areas of social science memorandum produced by talk of Parsons Taylor and others in the early 40s. These are these invariant points of reference are to be found in the nature of social systems in the biological and psychological nature of the component of the jewels in the external situations in which they live and act in the certainty of the coordination social systems and cultures during the memorandum. These pro-side of structure are never ignored. They must in some way be adapted to or taken account of. You know so the cultural universals are conceived then to be crystallized responses to these unavailable. It's like a logical social articles on realities. Institutionalized ways established ways of coming to terms with them. Analysis consists then in matching assumed universals which we've all already cast
doubt on to postulate underlying necessities. But I'm going to show some sort of goodness of fit between the two on the social level of level reference is made to such irrefragable facts of the North to persist all societies must be reproduced at membership or allocate goods and services. Hence the universe they all have some form of family or some form of truth there on the psychological level recourses hard to basic needs or presume basic needs like personal growth and ubiquity of education institutions or Japan human problems like the edible predicament has ubiquity a punishing God to nurture goddess. Biologically there is metabolism in health. Culturally donning custom purity procedures and saw the Times to look at underlying human requirements of some sort or other and then try to show that those aspects of culture which are universal are to use Cochran's figure again tailored by these requirements for Explain fact are universal. The problem here is again not so much whether this or general sort of way this sort of concurrence exists but whether it is more than a
loose and indeterminate one. It is not difficult to relate some human institutions to what science our common sense tells us our requirements for human existence. But it is very very much more difficult to state this relationship in an unequivocal form. Not only is almost any institution serve a multiplicity of social psychological organic needs of the sacred marriage is a mere reflection socially to reproduce organic customs of metabolic necessities a sort of court parity but further there is no way to state any precise untestable way the interloper relationship to response to a car conceived hope despite first appearances there was no serious attempt here to apply the concepts and theories of biology psychology or even sociology to the analysis of culture and of course not even the mere suggestion of reverse exchange but merely a place you have supposed facts from the cultural and the sub cultural levels. Son by son so as to induce a vague sense of some kind of relationship between them and
obscure sort of tailoring of trains. There is no theoretical integration here at all but a mere correlation and that intuitive of separate findings with A levels approach we can never even by invoking invariant points of reference construct genuine functional relationships in the connections between cultural and non cultural factors we can only sort of pose more or less persuasive analogies parallelisms suggestions. However even if I am wrong as many are apologists would hope. I submit in coining the consensus getting approach can produce neither substantial universals nor specific connections between cultural and subcultural non-cultural phenomena to explain them. The question still remains whether such universal should be taken as a central element in the definition of man. Whether a lowest common denominator view humanity is what we want anyway. This is of course now a philosophical question not a such a scientific one.
But the notion that the essence of what it means to be human is most clearly revealed in those features of human culture which are universal rather than those which are distinctive to this people or that is not a prejudice we are necessarily obliged to share is it in grasping such general facts that every man is everywhere some sort of quote religion or grasping the richness of this religious phenomena that powered the trance of Indian which was an Aztec human sacrifices in the rain dancing that we grasp here. The grass man is the fact that marriage is if it were called marriage as if it is universal. So kind of trying to comment on what we are as the facts concerning family and probably wondering Are those fantastic Australian marriage rules or the elaborate bride price systems upon to Africa. The comment the Cromwell was the most typical Englishman of his time precisely in the fact that he was the artist may be relevant in this connection to him maybe in the cultural particularities of people in their oddities and some of the most instructive revelations of what is to be
The Chicago lectures
Clifford Geertz, part 1
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University of Chicago
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program presents the first part of a speech by Clifford Geertz of the University of Chicago: "The Impact of the Concept of Culture on the Concept of Man."
Series Description
This series presents lectures given at University of Chicago, focusing on the nature of human beings, their place in the universe, and their potentialities. The lectures were also published in The Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, beginning in September 1965.
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Social evolution.
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Producing Organization: University of Chicago
Speaker: Geertz, Clifford
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University of Maryland
Identifier: 65-40-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:58
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Chicago: “The Chicago lectures; Clifford Geertz, part 1,” 1965-10-07, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed September 30, 2022,
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