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Boas, Franz. Race, Language and Culture – T26


The Aims of Anthropological Research 1

The science of anthropology has grown up from many distinct
beginnings. At an early time men were interested in foreign countries
and in the lives of their inhabitants. Herodotus reported to the
Greeks what he had seen in many lands. Caesar and Tacitus wrote on
the customs of the Gauls and Germans. In the middle ages Marco
Polo, the Venetian, and Ibn Batuta, the Arab, told of the strange peoples
of the Far East and of Africa. Later on, Cook's journeys excited the
interest of the world. From these reports arose gradually a desire to find
a general significance in the multifarious ways of living of strange
peoples. In the eighteenth century Rousseau, Schiller and Herder tried
to form, out of the reports of travelers, a picture of the history of mankind.
More solid attempts were made about the middle of the nineteenth
century, when the comprehensive works of Klemm and Waitz
were written.

Biologists directed their studies towards an understanding of the
varieties of human forms. Linnaeus, Blumenbach, Camper are a few
of the names that stand out as early investigators of these problems,
which received an entirely new stimulus when Darwin's views of the
instability of species were accepted by the scientific world. The problem
of man's origin and his place in the animal kingdom became the prime
subject of interest. Darwin, Huxley and Haeckel are outstanding names
representing this period. Still more recently the intensive study of
heredity and mutation has given a new aspect to inquiries into the origin
and meaning of race.

The development of psychology led to new problems presented by
the diversity of the racial and social groups of mankind. The question
of mental characteristics of races, which at an earlier period had become
a subject of discussion with entirely inadequate methods — largely stimulated
by the desire to justify slavery — was taken up again with the more
243refined technique of experimental psychology, and particular attention
is now being paid to the mental status of primitive man and of mental
life under pathological conditions. The methods of comparative psychology
are not confined to man alone, and much light may be thrown
on human behavior by the study of animals. The attempt is being made
to develop a genetic psychology.

Finally sociology, economics, political science, history and philosophy
have found it worth while to study conditions found among alien peoples
in order to throw light upon our modern social processes.

With this bewildering variety of approaches, all dealing with racial
and cultural forms, it seems necessary to formulate clearly what the
objects are that we try to attain by the study of mankind.

We may perhaps best define our objective as the attempt to understand
the steps by which man has come to be what he is, biologically,
psychologically and culturally. Thus it appears at once that our material
must necessarily be historical material, historical in the widest sense
of the term. It must include the history of the development of the bodily
form of man, his physiological functions, mind and culture. We need
a knowledge of the chronological succession of forms and an insight
into the conditions under which changes occur. Without such data
progress seems impossible and the fundamental question arises as to how
such data can be obtained.

Ever since Lamarck's and Darwin's time the biologist has been struggling
with this problem. The complete paleontological record of the
development of plant and animal forms is not available. Even in favorable
cases gaps remain that cannot be filled on account of the lack
of intermediate forms. For this reason indirect proofs must be resorted
to: These are based partly on similarities revealed by morphology and
interpreted as proof of genetic relationship, partly on morphological
traits observed in prenatal life, which suggest relationship between forms
that as adults appear quite distinct.

Caution in the use of morphological similarities is required, because
there are cases in which similar forms develop in genetically unrelated
groups, as in the marsupials of Australia, which show remarkable parallelism
with higher mammal forms, or in the white-haired forms of the
Arctic and of high altitudes, which occur independently in many genera
and species, or in the blondness and other abnormal hair forms of
domesticated mammals which develop regardless of their genetic

As long as the paleontological record is incomplete we have no way
of reconstructing the history of animals and plants except through morphology
and embryology.

This is equally true of man, and for this reason the eager search for
early human and prehuman forms is justified. The finds of the remains
of the Pithecanthropus in Java, the Sinanthropus in China, of the
Heidelberg jaw and of the later types of the glacial period are so many
steps advancing our knowledge. It requires the labors of the enthusiastic
explorer to furnish us with the material that must be interpreted by careful
morphological study. The material available at the present time is
sadly fragmentary. It is encouraging to see that it is richest in all those
countries in which the interest in the paleontology of man has been
keenest, so that we may hope that with the increase of interest in new
fields the material on which to build the evolutionary history of man
will be considerably increased.

It is natural that with our more extended knowledge of the evolutionary
history of the higher mammals certain points stand out that
will direct the labors of the explorer. Thus on the basis of our knowledge
of the distribution of ape forms, nobody would search for the ancestors
of humanity in the New World, although the question when the earliest
migration of man into America took place is still one of the problems
that is*prominent in researches on the paleontology of the glacial period
of America.

The skeletal material of later periods is more abundant. Still it is
difficult to establish definitely the relation of early skeletal remains and
of modern races, because many of their most characteristic traits are
found in the soft parts of the body that have not been preserved. Furthermore,
the transitions from one race to another are so gradual that
only extreme forms can be determined with any degree of definiteness.

On account of the absence of material elucidating the history of modern
races, it is not surprising that for many years anthropologists have
endeavored to classify races, basing their attempts on a variety of traits,
and that only too often the results of these classifications have been
assumed as expressions of genetic relationship, while actually they have
no more than a descriptive value, unless their genetic significance can be
established. If the same metric proportions of the head recur in all
races they cannot be a significant criterion of fundamental racial types,
although they may be valuable indications of the development of local
strains within a racial group. If, on the other hand, a particular hair
245form is a trait well-nigh universal in extensive groups of mankind, and
one that does not recur in other groups, it will in all probability represent
an ancient hereditary racial trait, the more so, if it occurs in a geographically
continuous area. It is the task of the anthropologist to search out
these outstanding traits and to remember that the exact measurement
of features which are not exclusive racial characteristics will not answer
the problems of the evolution of fundamental types, but can be taken
only as an indication of independent, special modifications of late origin
within the large racial groups.

From this point of view the general question of the occurrence of
parallel development in genetically unrelated lines assumes particular
importance. We have sufficient evidence to show that morphological
form is subject to environmental influences that in some cases will have
similar effects upon unrelated forms. Even the most skeptical would
admit this for size of the body.

Changes due to environment that occur under our eyes, such as
minute changes in size and proportion of the body, are probably not
hereditary, but merely expressions of the reaction of the body to external
conditions and subject to new adjustments under new conditions.

However, one series of changes, brought about by external conditions,
are undoubtedly hereditary. I mean those developing in domestication.
No matter whether they are due to survival of aberrant forms or directly
conditioned by domestication, they are found in similar ways in all
domesticated animals, and because man possesses all these characteristics
he proves to be a domesticated form. Eduard Hahn was probably
the first to point out that man lives like a domesticated animal; the morphological
points were emphasized by Eugen Fischer, B. Klatt and

The solution of the problem of the origin of races must rest not only
on classificatory studies and on those of the development of parallel
forms, but also on the consideration of the distribution of races, of early
migrations and consequent intermingling or isolation.

On account of the occurrence of independent development of parallel
forms it seems important to know the range of variant local forms
that originate in each race, and it might seem plausible that races producing
local variants of similar types are closely related. Thus Mongoloids
and Europeans occasionally produce similar forms in regions so
wide apart that it would be difficult to interpret them as effects of intermingling.246

The biological foundations of conclusions based on this type of evidence
are, to a great extent, necessarily speculative. Scientific proof
would require a knowledge of the earliest movements of mankind, an
intimate acquaintance with the conditions under which racial types may
throw of variants and the character and extent of variations that may
develop as mutants.

The solution of these problems must extend beyond morphological
description of the race as a whole. Since we are dealing to a great extent
with forms determined by heredity, it seems indispensable to found the
study of the race as a whole on that of the component genetic lines and
of their variants, and on inquiries into the influence of environment and
selection upon bodily form and function. The race must be studied not
as a whole but in its genotypical lines as developing under varying conditions.

In the study of racial forms we are too much inclined to consider the
importance of races according to the number of their representatives.
This is obviously an error, for the important phenomenon is the occurrence
of stable morphological types, not the number of individuals representing
each. The numerical strength of races has changed enormously
in historic times, and it would be quite erroneous to attribute
an undue importance to the White race or to the East Asiatics, merely
because they have outgrown in numbers all other racial types. Still,
in descriptive classifications the local types of a large race are given
undue prominence over the less striking subdivisions of lesser groups.
As an example, I might mention Huxley's divisions of the White race
as against his divisions of other races.

We are interested not only in the bodily form of races but equally in
the functioning of the body, physiologically as well as mentally. The
problems presented by this class of phenomena present particular difficulties
on account of the adjustability of function to external demands,
so that it is an exceedingly precarious task to distinguish between what
is determined by the biological make-up of the body and what depends
upon external conditions. Observations made on masses of individuals
in different localities may be explained equally well by the assumption
of hereditary racial characteristics and by that of changes due to environmental
influences. A mere description of these phenomena will
never lead to a result. Different types, areas, social strata and cultures
exhibit marked differences in physiological and mental function. A
dogmatic assertion that racial type alone is responsible for these differences
247is a pseudo-science. An adequate treatment requires a weighing of
the diverse factors.

Investigators are easily misled by the fact that the hereditary, biologically
determined endowment of an individual is intimately associated
with the functioning of his body. This appears most clearly in cases of
bodily deficiency or of unusually favorable bodily development. It is
quite a different matter to extend this observation over whole populations
or racial groups in which are represented a great variety of hereditary
lines and individuals, for the many forms of bodily make-up found
in each group allow a great variety of functioning. Hereditary characteristics
are pronounced in genetic lines, but a population — or to use
the technical term, a phenotype — is not a genetic line and the great
variety of genotypes within a race forbids the application of results
obtained from a single hereditary line to a whole population in which
the diversity of the constituent lines is bound to equalize the distribution
of diverse genetic types in the populations considered. I have spoken so
often on this subject that you will permit me to pass on to other questions.

While paleontological evidence may give us a clue to the evolution
of human forms, only the most superficial evidence can be obtained
for the development of function. A little may be inferred from size and
form of the brain cavity and that of the jaw, in so far as it indicates the
possibility of articulate speech. We may obtain some information on
the development of erect posture, but the physiological processes that
occurred in past generations are not accessible to observation. All the
conclusions that we may arrive at are based on very indirect evidence.

The mental life of man also can be studied experimentally only
among living races. It is, however, possible to infer some of its aspects
by what past generations have done. Historical data permit us to study
the culture of past times, in a few localities, as in the eastern Mediterranean
area, India, China as far back as a few thousand years — and a
limited amount of information on the mental life of man may be obtained
from these data. We may even go farther back and extend our
studies over the early remains of human activities. Objects of varied
character, made by man and belonging to periods as early as the
Quaternary, have been found in great quantities, and their study reveals
at least certain aspects of what man has been able to do during these

The data of prehistoric archeology reveal with progress of time a decided
branching out of human activities. While from earliest periods
248nothing remains but a few simple stone implements, we see an increasing
differentiation of form of implements used by man. During the
Quaternary the use of fire had been discovered, artistic work of high
esthetic value had been achieved, and painted records of human activities
had been made. Soon after the beginning of the recent geological
period the beginnings of agriculture appear and the products of human
labor take on new forms at a rapidly accelerating rate. While in early
Quaternary times we do not observe any change for thousands of years,
so that the observer might imagine that the products of human hands
were made according to an innate instinct, like the cells of a beehive,
the rapidity of change becomes the greater the nearer we approach our
time, and at an early period we recognize that the arts of man cannot be
instinctively determined, but are the cumulative result of experience.

It has often been claimed that the very primitiveness of human handiwork
of early times proves organic mental inferiority. This argument
is certainly not tenable, for we find in modern times isolated tribes
living in a way that may very well be paralleled with early conditions.
A comparison of the psychic life of these groups does not justify the
belief that their industrial backwardness is due to a difference in the
types of organism, for we find numbers of closely related races on the
most diverse levels of cultural status. This is perhaps clearest in the
Mongoloid race, where by the side of the civilized Chinese are found the
most primitive Siberian tribes, or in the American group, where the
highly developed Maya of Yucatan and the Aztecs of Mexico may be
compared with the primitive tribes of our western plateaus. Evidently
historic and prehistoric data give us little or no information on the
biological development of the human mind.

How little the biological, organic determinants of culture can be
inferred from the state of culture appears clearly if we try to realize how
different the judgment of racial ability would have been at various
periods of history. When Egypt flourished, northern Europe was in
primitive conditions, comparable to those of American Indians or
African Negroes, and yet northern Europe of our day has far outdistanced
those people, who at an earlier time were the leaders of mankind.
An attempt to find biological reasons for these changes would necessitate
innumerable unprovable hypotheses regarding changes of the biological
make-up of these peoples, hypotheses that could be invented only for
the purpose of sustaining an unproved assumption.

A safer mode of approaching the problems at issue would seem to lie
249in the application of experimental psychology which might enable us
to determine the psychophysical and also some of the mental characteristics
of various races. As in the case of biological inquiry it would
be equally necessary in this study to examine genotypical lines rather
than populations, because so many different lines are contained in the

A serious difficulty is presented by the dependence of the results of all
psychophysical or mental tests upon the experiences of the individual
who is the subject of the tests. His experiences are largely determined
by the culture in which he lives. I am of the opinion that no method
can be devised by which this all-important element is eliminated, but
that we always obtain a result which is a mixed impression of culturally
determined influences and of bodily build. For this reason I quite agree
with those critical psychologists who acknowledge that for most mental
phenomena we know only European psychology and no other.

In the few cases in which the influence of culture upon mental reaction
of populations has been investigated it can be shown that culture is a
much more important determinant than bodily build. I repeat that in
individuals a somewhat close relation between mental reaction and bodily
build may be found, which is all but absent in populations. Under
these circumstances it is necessary to base the investigation of the mental
life of man upon a study of the history of cultural forms and of the
interrelations between individual mental life and culture.

This is the subject-matter of cultural anthropology. It is safe to say
that the results of the extensive materials amassed during the last fifty
years do not justify the assumption of any close relation between biological
types and form of culture.

As in the realm of biology our inferences must be based on historical
data, so it is in the investigation of cultures. Unless we know how the
culture of each group of man came to be what it is, we cannot expect
to reach any conclusions in regard to the conditions controlling the
general history of culture.

The material needed for the reconstruction of the biological history
of mankind is insufficient on account of the paucity of remains and the
disappearance of all soft, perishable parts. The material for the reconstruction
of culture is ever so much more fragmentary because the largest
and most important aspects of culture leave no trace in the soil;
language, social organization, religion — in short, everything that is not
material — vanishes with the life of each generation. Historical information
250is available only for the most recent phases of cultural life and is
confined to those peoples who had the art of writing and whose records
we can read. Even this information is insufficient because many aspects
of culture find no expression in literature. Is it then necessary to resign
ourselves and to consider the problem as insoluble ?

In biology we. supplement the fragmentary paleontological record
with data obtained from comparative anatomy and embryology. Perhaps
an analogous procedure may enable us to unravel some of the
threads of cultural history.

There is one fundamental difference between biological and cultural
data which makes it impossible to transfer the methods of the one
science to the other. Animal forms develop in divergent directions, and
an intermingling of species that have once become distinct is negligible
in the whole developmental history. It is otherwise in the domain of
culture. Human thoughts, institutions, activities may spread from one
social unit to another. As soon as two groups come into close contact
their cultural traits will be disseminated from the one to the other.

Undoubtedly there are dynamic conditions that mould in similar
forms certain aspects of the morphology of social units. Still we may
expect that these will be overlaid by extraneous elements that have no
organic relation to the dynamics of inner change.

This makes the reconstruction of cultural history easier than that of
biological history, but it puts the most serious obstacles in the way of
discovering the inner dynamic conditions of change. Before morphological
comparison can be attempted the extraneous elements due to cultural
diffusion must be eliminated.

When certain traits are diffused over a limited area and absent outside
of it, it seems safe to assume that their distribution is due to diffusion.
In some rare cases even the direction of diffusion may be determined.
If Indian corn is derived from a Mexican wild form and is
cultivated over the larger part of the two Americas we must conclude
that its cultivation spread from Mexico north and south; if the ancestors
of African cattle are not found in Africa, they must have been introduced
into that continent. In the majority of cases it is impossible to
determine with certainty the direction of diffusion. It would be an
error to assume that a cultural trait had its original home in the area
in which it is now most strongly developed. Christianity did not originate
in Europe or America. The manufacture of iron did not originate
in America or northern Europe. It was the same in early times. We
251may be certain that the use of milk did not originate in Africa, nor the
cultivation of wheat in Europe.

For these reasons it is well-nigh impossible to base a chronology of
the development of specific cultures on the observed phenomena of diffusion.
In a few cases it seems justifiable to infer from the worldwide
diffusion of a particular cultural achievement its great antiquity. This
is true when we can prove by archeological evidence its early occurrence.
Thus, fire was used by man in early Quaternary times. At that
period man was already widely scattered over the world and we may
infer that either the use of fire was carried along by him when he
migrated to new regions or that it spread rapidly from tribe to tribe and
soon became the property of mankind. This method cannot be generalized,
for we know of other inventions of ideas that spread with incredible
rapidity over vast areas. An example is the spread of tobacco
over Africa, as soon as it was introduced on the coast.

In smaller areas attempts at chronological reconstruction are much
more uncertain. From a cultural center in which complex forms have
developed, elements may radiate and impress themselves upon neighboring
tribes, or the more complex forms may develop on an old, less
differentiated basis. It is seldom possible to decide which one of these
alternatives offers the correct interpretation.

Notwithstanding all these difficulties, the study of geographical distribution
of cultural phenomena offers a means of determining their
diffusion. The outstanding result of these studies has been the proof of
the intricate interrelation of people of all parts of the world. Africa,
Europe and the greater part of Asia appear to us as a cultural unit in
which one area cannot be entirely separated from the rest. America appears
as another unit, but even the New World and the Old are not
entirely independent of each other, for lines of contact have been discovered
that connect northeastern Asia and America.

As in biological investigations the problem of parallel independent
development of homologous forms obscures that of genetic relationship,
so it is in cultural inquiry. If it is possible that analogous anatomical
forms develop independently in genetically distinct lines, it is ever so
much more probable that analogous cultural forms develop independently.
It may be admitted that it is exceedingly difficult to give absolutely
indisputable proof of the independent origin of analogous cultural
data. Nevertheless, the distribution of isolated customs in regions far
apart hardly admits of the argument that they were transmitted from
252tribe to tribe and lost in intervening territory. It is well known that in
our civilization current scientific ideas give rise to independent and
synchronous inventions. In an analogous way primitive social life contains
elements that lead to somewhat similar forms in many parts of the
world. Thus the dependence of the infant upon the mother necessitates
at least a temporary difference in the mode of life of the sexes and makes
woman less movable than man. The long dependence of children oh
their elders leaves also an inevitable impress upon social form. Just
what these effects will be depends upon circumstances. Their fundamental
cause will be the same in every case.

The number of individuals in a social unit, the necessity or undesirability
of communal action for obtaining the necessary food supply constitute
dynamic conditions that are active everywhere arid that are
germs from which analogous cultural behavior may spring.

Besides these, there are individual cases of inventions or ideas in
lands far apart that cannot be proved to be historically connected. The
fork was used in Fiji and invented comparatively recently in Europe;
the spear, projected by a thong wound spirally about the shaft, was used
on the Admiralty Islands and in ancient Rome. In some cases the difference
in time makes the theory of a transfer all but unthinkable. This
is the case, for instance, with the domestication of mammals in Peru,
the invention of bronze in Peru and Yucatan and that of the zero in

Some anthropologists assume that, if a number of cultural phenomena
agree in regions far apart, these must be due to the presence of an
exceedingly ancient substratum that has been preserved notwithstanding
all the cultural changes that have occurred. This view is not admissible
without proof that the phenomena in question remain stable not
only for thousands of years, but even so far back that they have been
carried by wandering hordes from Asia to the extreme southern end of
South America. Notwithstanding the great tenacity of cultural traits,
there is no proof that such extreme conservatism ever existed. The apparent
stability of primitive types of culture is due to our lack of historical
perspective. They change much more slowly than our modern
civilization, but wherever archeological evidence is available we do find
changes in time and space. A careful investigation shows that those
features that are assumed as almost absolutely stable are constantly
undergoing changes. Some details may remain for a long time, but the
general complex of culture cannot be assumed to retain its character
253for a very long span of time. We see people who were agricultural become
hunters, others change their mode of life in the opposite direction.
People who had totemic organization give it up, while others take it
over from their neighbors.

It is not a safe method to assume that all analogous cultural phenomena
must be historically related. It is necessary to demand in every
case proof of historical relation, which should be the more rigid the less
evidence there is of actual recent or early contact.

In the attempt to reconstruct the history of modern races we are
trying to discover the earlier forms preceding modern forms. An analogous
attempt has been demanded of cultural history. To a limited
extent it has succeeded. The history of inventions and the history of
science show to us in course of time constant additions to the range of
inventions, and a gradual increase of empirical knowledge. On this
basis we might be inclined to look for a single line of development of
culture, a thought that was pre-eminent in anthropological work of the
end of the past century.

The fuller knowledge of to-day makes such a view untenable. Cultures
differ like so many species, perhaps genera, of animals, and their
common basis is lost forever. It seems impossible, if we disregard invention
and knowledge, the two elements just referred to, to bring cultures
into any kind of continuous series. Sometimes we find simple, sometimes
complex, social organizations associated with crude inventions
and knowledge. Moral behavior, except in so far as it is checked by
increased understanding of social needs, does not seem to fall into any

It is evident that certain social conditions are incompatible. A hunting
people, in which every family requires an extended territory to insure
the needed food supply, cannot form large communities, although
it may have intricate rules governing marriage. Life that requires constant
moving about on foot is incompatible with the development of a
large amount of personal property. Seasonal food supply requires a
mode of life different from a regular, uninterrupted food supply.

The interdependence of cultural phenomena must be one of the
objects of anthropological inquiry, for which material may be obtained
through the study of existing societies.

Here we are compelled to consider culture as a whole, in all its manifestations,
while in the study of diffusion and of parallel development
the character and distribution of single traits are more commonly the
254objects of inquiry. Inventions, economic life, social structure, art, religion,
morals are all interrelated. We ask in how far are they determined
by environment, by the biological character of the people, by psychological
conditions, by historical events or by general laws of interrelation.

It is obvious that we are dealing here with a different problem. This
is most clearly seen in our use of language. Even the fullest knowledge
of the history of language does not help us to understand how we use
language and what influence language has upon our thought. It is
the same in ether phases of life. The dynamic reactions to cultural environment
are not determined by its history,- although they are a result
of historical development. Historical data do give us certain clues that
may not be found in the experience of a single generation. Still, the psychological
problem must be studied in living societies.

It would be an error to claim, as some anthropologists do, that for
this reason historical study is irrelevant. The two sides of our problem
require equal attention, for we desire to know not only the dynamics of
existing societies, but also how they came to be what they are. For an
intelligent understanding of historical processes a knowledge of living
processes is as necessary as the knowledge of life processes for the understanding
of the evolution of life forms.

The dynamics of existing societies are one of the most hotly contested
fields of anthropological theory. They may be looked at from two points
of view, the one, the interrelations between various aspects of cultural
form and between culture and natural environment; the other the interrelation
between individual and society.

Biologists are liable to insist on a relation between bodily build and
culture. We have seen that evidence for such an interrelation has never
been established by proofs that will stand serious criticism. It may not
be amiss to dwell here again on the difference between races and individuals.
The hereditary make-up of an individual has a certain influence
upon his mental behavior. Pathological cases are the clearest proof
of this. On the other hand, every race contains so many individuals of
different hereditary make-up that the average differences between races
freed of elements determined by history cannot readily be ascertained,
but appear as insignificant. It is more than doubtful whether differences
free of these historic elements can ever be established.

Geographers try to derive all forms of human culture from the geographical
environment in which man lives. Important though this may
be, we have no evidence of a creative force of environment. All we
255know is that every culture is strongly influenced by its environment, that
some elements of culture cannot develop in an unfavorable geographical
setting, while others may be advanced. It is sufficient to see the fundamental
differences of culture that thrive one after another in the same
environment, to make us understand the limitations of environmental
influences. The aborigines of Australia live in the same environment in
which the White invaders live. The nature and location of Australia
have remained the same during human history, but they have influenced
different cultures. Environment can affect only an existing culture, and
it is worth while to study its influence in detail. This has been clearly
recognized by critical geographers, such as Hettner.

Economists believe that economic conditions control cultural forms.
Economic determinism is proposed as against geographic determinism.
Undoubtedly the interrelation between economics and other aspects of
culture is much more immediate than that between geographical environment
and culture. Still it is not possible to explain every feature of
cultural life as determined by economic status. We do not see how art
styles, the form of ritual or the special form of religious belief could
possibly be derived from economic forces. On the contrary, we see that
economics and the rest of culture interact as cause and effect, as effect
and cause.

Every attempt to deduce cultural forms from a single cause is doomed
to failure, for the various expressions of culture are closely interrelated
and one cannot be altered without having an effect upon all the others.
Culture is integrated. It is true that the degree of integration is not always
the same. There are cultures which we might describe by a single
term, that of modern democracies as individualistic-mechanical; or that
of a Melanesian island as individualization by mutual distrust; or that of
our Plains Indians as overvaluation of intertribal warfare. Such terms
may be misleading, because they overemphasize certain features, still
they indicate certain dominating attitudes.

Integration is not often so complete that all contradictory elements
are eliminated. We rather find in the same culture curious breaks in the
attitudes of different individuals, and, in the case of varying situations,
even in the behavior of the same individual.

The lack of necessary correlations between various aspects of culture
may be illustrated by the cultural significance of a truly scientific study
of the heavenly bodies by the Babylonians, Maya and by Europeans
during the Middle Ages. For us the necessary correlation of astronomical
256observations is with physical and chemical phenomena; for them
the essential point was their astrological significance, i.e., their relation
to the fate of man, an attitude based on the general historically conditioned
culture of their times.

These brief remarks may be sufficient to indicate the complexity of
the phenomena we are studying, and it seems justifiable to question
whether any generalized conclusions may be expected that will be applicable
everywhere and that will reduce the data of anthropology to a
formula which may be applied to every case, explaining its past and
predicting its future.

I believe that it would be idle to entertain such hopes. The phenomena
of our science are so individualized, so exposed to outer accident that
no set of laws could explain them. It is as in any other science dealing
with the actual world surrounding us. For each individual case we can
arrive at an understanding of its determination by inner and outer
forces, but we cannot explain its individuality in the form of laws. The
astronomer reduces the movement of stars to laws, but unless given an
unexplainable original arrangement in space, he cannot account for
their present location. The biologist may know all the laws of ontogenesis,
but he cannot explain by their means the accidental forms they
have taken in an individual species, much less those found in an individual.

Physical and biological laws differ in character on account of the
complexity of the objects of their study. Biological laws can refer only
to biological forms, as geological laws can refer only to the forms of
geological formations. The more complex the phenomena, the more
special will be the laws expressed by them.

Cultural phenomena are of such complexity that it seems to me
doubtful whether valid cultural laws can be found. The causal conditions
of cultural happenings lie always in the interaction between individual
and society, and no classificatory study of societies will solve this
problem. The morphological classification of societies may call to our
attention many problems. It will not solve them. In every case it is
reducible to the same source, namely, the interaction between individual
and society.

It is true that some valid interrelations between general aspects of
cultural life may be found, such as between density and size of the population
constituting a community and industrial occupations; or solidarity
and isolation of a small population and their conservatism. These
257are interesting as static descriptions of cultural facts. Dynamic processes
also may be recognized, such as the tendency of customs to change
their significance according to changes in culture. Their meaning can
be understood only by a penetrating analysis of the human elements
that enter into each case.

In short, the material of anthropology is such that it needs must be a
historical science, one of the sciences the interest of which centers in
the attempt to understand the individual phenomena rather than in
the establishment of general laws which, on account of the complexity
of the material, will be necessarily vague and, we might almost say, so
self-evident that they are of little help to a real understanding.

The attempt has been made too often to formulate a genetic problem
as defined by a term taken from our own civilization, either based on
analogy with forms known to us or contrasted to those with which we
are familiar. Thus concepts, like war, the idea of immortality, marriage
regulations, have been considered as units and general conclusions have
been derived from their forms and distributions. It should be recognized
that the subordination of all such forms, under a category with which
we are familiar on account of our own cultural experience, does not
prove the historical or sociological unity of the phenomenon. The ideas
of immortality differ so fundamentally in content and significance that
they can hardly be treated as a unit and valid conclusions based on their
occurrence cannot be drawn without detailed analysis.

A critical investigation rather shows that forms of thought and action
which we are inclined to consider as based on human nature are
not generally valid, but characteristic of our specific culture. If this
were not so, we could not understand why certain aspects of mental
life that are characteristic of the Old World should be entirely or almost
entirely absent in aboriginal America. An example is the contrast between
the fundamental idea of judicial procedure in Africa and America
; the emphasis on oath and ordeal as parts of judicial procedure in
the Old World, their absence in the New World.

The problems of the relation of the individual to his culture, to the
society in which he lives have received too little attention. The standardized
anthropological data that inform us of customary behavior,
give no clue to the reaction of the individual to his culture, nor to an
understanding of his influence upon it. Still, here lie the sources of a
true interpretation of human behavior. It seems a vain effort to search
for sociological laws disregarding what should be called social psychology,
258namely, the reaction of the individual to culture. They can be no
more than empty formulas that can be imbued with life only by taking
account of individual behavior in cultural settings.

Society embraces many individuals varying in mental character,
partly on account of their biological make-up, partly due to the special
social conditions under which they have grown up. Nevertheless, many
of them react in similar ways, and there are numerous cases in which we
can find a definite impress of culture upon the behavior of the great
mass of individuals, expressed by the same mentality. Deviations from
such a type result in abnormal social behavior and, although throwing
light upon the iron hold of culture upon the average individual, are
rather subject-matter for the study of individual psychology than of
social psychology.

If we once grasp the meaning of foreign cultures in this manner, we
shall also be able to see how many of our lines of behavior that we
believe to be founded deep in human nature are actually expressions of
our culture and subject to modification with changing culture. Not all
our standards are categorically determined by our quality as human
beings, but may change with changing circumstances. It is our task to
discover among all the varieties of human behavior those that are common
to all humanity. By a study of the universality and variety of cultures
anthropology may help us to shape the future course of mankind.259

1 Address of the president of the American Association for the Advancement of
Science, Atlantic City, December, 1932. Science N.S., vol. 76 (1932), pp. 605-613.