Primitive Culture: Researches Into the Development of Mythology, Philosophy, Religion, Art, and Custom, Volume 1. Front Cover. Edward Burnett Tylor. Edward B. Tylor, the first Professor of Anthropology at the University of Volume I of Primitive Culture focuses on social evolution, language. Edward B. Tylor’s Primitive Culture articulates one of two major theories of culture to emerge around His theory defines culture in descriptive terms as the.

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Engraving of Edward Burnett Tylor. His work was critical to the recognition of culturw as a distinct branch of science inwhen the British Association for the Advancement of Science admitted it as a major branch, or section, of the society, rather than a subset of biology, as had previously been the case.

Tyler was the first president burnegt the section, and in became Professor of Anthropology at Oxfordthe first academic chair in the new discipline Stocking, Victorian Anthropology While a foundational figure in cultural anthropology, Tylor thought about culture in radically different terms than we do today.

He accepted the premise that all societies develop in the same way and insisted on the universal progression of human civilization from savage to barbarian to civilized.

The cultire of evolution was explained by Charles Darwin in The Origin of Speciesand he expanded his finding to include human evolution in The Descent of Manwhich was published the same year as Primitive Culture. While Darwin concentrated on biology, Tylor focused solely on the evolution of human culture. In this, he participated in a lengthy philosophical tradition explaining human development from its beginning to the present day.

This speculative practice extends back to classical antiquity. In De Rerum Natura The Way Things Arerecounting the even earlier ideas of the Greek philosopher Epicurus BCEthe Roman poet Lucretius BCE told the dramatic story of a turbulent primal earth that generated all forms of life, including giant humans, who would slowly come together to create social groupings. Lucretius was particularly concerned with the development of beliefs about supernatural beings, which he viewed as anthropomorphic attempts to explain the natural world.

Cklture by the eighteenth century, philosophers proposed new, secular accounts that minimized the story of Genesis. Enlightenment philosophers like Vico typically divided the development of human culture into three distinct stages. The French burnetr Marquis de Condorcet used ten stages, but he saw them as more dynamic than did Montesquieu. Nonetheless, Klemm, like his predecessors, considered human culture or civilization as a single condition.

The exception was the German Romantic philosopher Johann Gottfried Herderwhose unfinished Ideen primitivd Philosophie der Geschichte der Menschheit —91; Outlines of a Philosophy of the History of Man insisted on cultural relativism, arguing that there was too much variety to view all human societies as part of the same unilinear process.


In his most influential work, Primitive Culturehe spelled primitivd two major contributions to anthropology: His science of culture had three essential premises: Tylor saw culture as universal. In his view, all societies were essentially alike and capable of being ranked by their different levels of cultural advancement. As he explains in a later essay:. They succeed each other in series substantially uniform over the globe, independent of what seem the comparatively superficial differences of race and language, but shaped by similar human nature acting through successively changed conditions in savage, barbaric, and civilized life.

Determining where the group stood on the hierarchical ladder of cultural development provided the context tlor interpreting all aspects of the society by comparing it with others on the same rung around the world. One of the most prominent consequences of this logic was the familiar practice edwardd Victorian museums of displaying together all objects of one type from around the world, arranged to illustrate the intrinsic cultural evolution of a musical instrument, bowls, or spears, for example.

Primitive Culture

The progression from savage to civilized did not occur evenly or at the same pace in every society, but the distinct stages were always the same, much as the growth of the individual from infant to adolescent to adult takes a similar form in different places.

The association this analogy created between primitives and children was roundly rejected in anthropology at the turn of the century, but in the meantime it created a sense that Victorians were confronting their infant selves in what they regarded as primitive societies. In this sense, the science of anthropology was not just about the study of other, largely colonized people; it was also about the connection between modern life in Europe and its own earlier stages, and this meant that anthropology had much to teach the British about their own society.

Such aspects of modern life, he argues, are survivals from mythology or rituals that served a purpose in the past but had lost their meaning over time, even as the practice itself continued. To Tylor, the most apparently insignificant aspects of Victorian life were critical to anthropology.

Reuniting survivals with their lost meaning was the key to understanding the true nature of the primitive mind. Ultimately, understanding the perceptions and working of that primitive mind was the object of anthropology. His central premise was the doctrine of psychic unity: The principal of psychic unity explained the appearance of identical myths and artifacts in widely disparate societies.

The defining trait of the primitive mind was its inability to think abstractly. For the same reason, primitives were unable to group similar objects into abstract categories—all trees, or rocks, or flowers, for example. Instead, the primitive saw only individual trees, without understanding categories like a forest, because of their abstract nature.


This was above all a concrete world, one in which each object had a unique identity or personality that could not be replaced by any other. Primitives were thus immersed in a world of singular objects.

At the same time they were unable to comprehend events, like thunder, in a logical fashion, because they lacked the power to construct abstract natural laws. Instead, primitives projected their emotions onto the world around them as a means of explaining natural events. In response to the threat posed by thunder, for example, the primitive invents an angry supernatural being to explain it.

Like Comte, Tylor held that the progress of culture was a slow replacement of this magical thinking with the power of reason. He produced a narrative of human evolution that begins with a global supernaturalism in the savage stage.

Supernaturalism coexists with the development of language, laws, and institutions in the barbaric stage. This is not a rational utopia, by any means. Magical thinking persists in the present; the primitive tendency to imagine objects as having a life of burnety own exists even within the most civilized gentleman, who might think in a moment of frustration that a broken watch was inhabited by an evil spirit. Tylor did not imagine modern culture in idealist terms, but, ever the Victorian, he fdward view it as fundamentally better than that of primitive culture.

Edward Burnett Tylor – Wikipedia

There were numerous contributing factors, including a new emphasis bugnett the importance of anthropologists doing their own fieldwork rather than examining the reports of others. But in terms of cultural theory, the most important criticism was that of the American anthropologist Franz Boas Boas had been actively contesting evolutionary orthodoxy since at leastwhen he objected to the typological arrangement of ethnographic artifacts within American national museums, insisting that they should instead be displayed with other objects from their originating culture Stocking, Shaping of American Anthropology Evolutionary anthropology remerged in the twentieth century, as early as the eward but more influentially later in the century, and it continues today.

Unlike its Victorian variant, evolutionary thought now emphasizes multi-causality, the interaction of multiple events to account culrure the development of societies, as well as the presence of multiple paths in the development of particular cultures.

He is the author of Victorian Fetishism: Britain, Representation and Nineteenth-Century History. Extension of Romanticism and Victorianism on the Net. The Positive Philosophy of Auguste Comte. Tylor, and the Uses of Invention.


Essays in the Culturee of Anthropology. The Shaping of American Anthropology, A Franz Boas Reader. A Vocabulary of Culture and Society. Download this page in PDF format.