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Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


STRAUSS, Danie. Nuances of the concept culture - in historical and systematic perspective. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2011, vol.51, n.4, pp.645-665. ISSN 2224-7912.

In following up on the exposition of Garuba and Raditlbalo regarding different nuances of the term culture, a number of questions are articulated that are direction-giving for the subsequent argumentation. The overall focus is to investigate the underlying (ontic) unity amidst the diverse contexts in which the term culture is found. While the word "value" entered our everyday parlance through the mediation of philosophical reflection, the word "culture" obtained a richly nuanced meaning. One of these meanings relates to the idea of values. The neo-Kantian Baden school mediated this process and advanced a view in which culture is seen as the result of relating factual natural reality to values. Yet from a purely etymological point of view, the term culture is derived from the Latin term for agriculture, "cultura". This generated the idea that culture results when nature is transformed by means of the use of tools. Since animals are also using tools, the further qualification was that only human beings manufacture tools. Yet this also did not save the day for the uniqueness of humankind, because it appeared that animals can also make tools. Simpson eventually reverted to the perspective that only humans use tools to make tools. The archaeologist Narr went a step further, because archaeologists realised that the free formative imagination of human beings manifests itself in conformity with three criteria which are decisive for the typical human manufacturing of tools. When tools are made by humans, the form, the function and the mode of manufacturing should not be assumed automatically. Tools are cultural objects and what is peculiar about them is that they are made to make something else, which means that their foundational function and characteristic qualifying function are found within the same aspect of reality, namely the cultural-historical aspect. Attention is briefly given to the legacy of the modern natural science ideal where it is not nature that is opposed to culture, but an assumed hypothetical state of nature, which is only transcended in a social contract. Marx discerned the assumptions underlying this idea also in the way in which Darwin recognises among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening up of new markets, "invention", and the Malthusian "struggle for existence". In Darwin the animal kingdom figures as civil society. It was Rousseau who reacted against the rationalistic intellectual culture of the Enlightenment in his plea for the feeling of freedom present within humans. More than a century later the term culture entered Western society as part of the expression: cultural philosophy (in German: Kulturphilosophie). The distinction between natural sciences and cultural sciences emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, borrowing from the way in which Kant distinguished between the domains of is and ought (nature and freedom). The neo-Kantian twist assigned all values, norms, beliefs and meaning to culture as container, while degrading social reality into pure (a-normative) factuality. Culture and civilisation are respectively characterised in terms of subject-object relations and subject-subject relations. Attention is given to those aspects that are distinct from the cultural-historical aspect but nonetheless contain an inner connection with the cultural-historical aspect, manifest in expressions such as legal history, religious history, art history, economic history and intellectual history. The last part of the article focuses on people in an ethnic sense - as a cultural community. In conclusion a brief indication is given how to avoid both an atomistic (individualistic) and holistic (universalistic) view of human society. Therefore culture can never be appreciated as the root of human life, but merely as one branch among multiple other branches. Amidst the diverse nuances and diverging contexts in which the term culture is met the (ontic) structure of the cultural-historical aspect indeed provides us with a unified perspective. It does not only account for the inherent structural elements present within this aspect, for acknowledgement is also given to the fact that all processes and entities in principle function within all aspects of reality and therefore also within the cultural-historical aspect.

Keywords : culture; values; cultural objects; cultural-historical aspect; culture and civilisation; ethnic group; cultural community; power; office; identity; competence; giving shape to principles.

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