Early Civilization: An Introduction to Anthropology

By Alexander A. Goldenweiser | Go to book overview

CHAPTER XVII
EARLY LIFE AND THOUGHT

At this stage it will be well to turn once again to the sub. ject of primitive mentality and attempt to weave into a whole the various strands of argument dispersed throughout this book.

In the course of our examination of early civilization, a number of attempts to explain its peculiarities were analyzed and rejected. Explanation through racial differences was one. The races may prove to be similar or equivalent in all fundamentals -- an eventuality from which we need not shrink -- but even were this not so, we know enough about racial characters to feel certain that the possible differences would not be such as to account either for the contrast between modern and primitive civilization or for the great variety of cultural types found within early civilization itself. Another factor often suggested as a determinant of cultural differences was shown to be physical environment. But on further examination this also had to be rejected. Not that it does not count, nor that adjustment to environmental conditions is of no significance in early civilization. Again and again we had occasion to see that the very reverse is true. But physical environment is powerless to account for those civilizational peculiarities which strike our eye and our sense of values when we compare one civilization with another. This holds whether the terms of comparison are between the modern and the primitive or are restricted to either one of these two levels. Nor are general psychological and sociological interpretations wholly adequate as a solution of our problem. General psychological, sociological and historical conditions account for man and culture everywhere insofar as the common elements are concerned, but they break down when the differentiations are the things one is interested in.

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