The concept of culture: between monism and dualism (on origins of the problem)

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

Mareev Sergei, Modern Academy for Humanities, Moscow, Russia
Mareeva Elena, Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute), Russia

Mareev Sergei -  Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Chief research worker of R.A. Beloussov Research center of Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute)

Mareeva Elena - Doctor of Philosophy, Professor, Chair of Department of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts of Moscow International Higher Business School MIRBIS (Institute)

If we read in a book on physics, that there are 500 definitions of this science, it would hardly inspire confidence in readers. It is not the same with Cultural Studies. One serious book tells us: “By now, there are over five hundred definitions of culture. There is also an opinion that the definition of culture is the weakest point of Cultural Studies” [1]. When we start arguing about definitions, we open the way for scholasticism. Medieval scholasticism was, in fact, engaged in this process. So, how do we approach this problem of «five hundred definitions?»

It is obvious that all the definitions - even if they are not five hundred but one thousand - can be grouped around three major statements: 1) culture was created by God, 2) culture is a continuation of nature, 3) the culture is created from nature by the man himself. There are no other statements because God, nature and man cover the notion of the universe. Quartumnon datur. Even if we admit that people with their culture were created by aliens, still the problem will be simply postponed till the infinity. With regard to each of the next «creators» there will arise a question, where exactly it came from, because only God, the creator of the world is omni temporal.

It must be said that these three statements have already been discussed in the history of philosophy. The origin of the culture from God is a Christian theological version which prevailed in medieval Europe. In Modern times, especially in the French Enlightment, culture was interpreted primarily as a product of nature. But in classical German philosophy and in Marx’s works and culture, if referred to as nature, is treated as the «second nature», transformed by human activity or labour.

It is believed that Cultural Studies is a young science. But it is young, when it comes to the positivist version of this science. Most often here we refer to an American Leslie A. White, who was the first to use the word «cultural studies», and thus he is the founder of the science. Legendary Pythagoras is believed to be the first to use the word «philosophy». On this ground, we can certainly consider him the founder of philosophy. But prior to Pythagoras there were the Ionians, Thales, Anaximenes, Anaximander, who were referred to as «physiologists» because they spoke about grounds of nature. But since they didn’t know the word «philosophy,» they cannot be called philosophers. Thus, Heraclitus is not just «physiologist» because he speaks about Logos, which operates not only the nature, but also about thinking. And philosophy, whatever may be said about it starts when there arises a question of the objectivity and unity of the foundations of the world and unity of our thinking.

The same happens to cultural studies. And the question here is not who was the first to say “uh” - Bobchinsky or Dobchinsky. The question who was the first to speak about culture as a special reality might be interesting but it is not the main question. We should mention that culturologists do not overlook the contribution of Cicero, who defined culture as «the cultivation of the soul», by analogy with the cultivation of the land. “Like a fertile field gives no crop without cultivation so does the soul. The cultivation of the soul - this is the philosophy; it weeds vice in the heart, prepares the soul tor seeds and sows, only those seeds that bring bountiful harvest” [2].

In the time of Cicero, there were no «professional» philosophers and culturologists, but there was a definition of culture. Here, it is essential to understand what does in the first run: cultivates a field or cultivates a soul. This is important in light of the fact that today many people cultivate the soul, never in their life working on the land, and producing no goods. This is not only a logical, but also a historical origin of culture, the basis on which it makes sense to build all the history and theory of culture.

The world of culture begun when where our distant ancestor made the first stone ax, which Derrida in another context called «Thales stone ax.» These tools belong to the so-called cultural layer, which is distinguished from nature. Here is a fundamental difference between the subject of geology and archeology. If we refuse talking about the first tools, then we will constantly confuse stone tools with the stone itself But archeology neither confuses them, nor identifies, because otherwise this science wouldn’t be possible itself. Neither would be all other cultural sciences.

Cicero not only gave a definition of culture, but also introduced the concept of culture. As you know, he was an active supporter of Greek culture, tried to introduce it to the Romans, first of all keeping in mind Greek philosophy. Thanks to Cicero, we learned a lot about Greek philosophy, which was a self-reflection of the Greek culture. Socrates, whom Karl Marx called «the embodiment of philosophy», unequivocally stated that he was not interested in nature - stars, planets, moon, sun. What was he interested in? He was interested in «conscience», «justice», «good», «truth», «beauty», «courage» and other similar things. Socrates’ follower, Plato identified the Skies as the homeland of these virtues to sanctify there reflection on the sinful Earth with the divine name and the perfect light. After all, their holiness in this world is not obvious. Thus, a Greek “culturologist” Socrates was interested in a question about the origin of culture how it is related to virtue, what is virtue and how to cultivate it in people's souls.

We need to mention here that culture of the Greeks was more democratic than culture of the Romans. All free citizens of the Greek polis were involved into the world of culture and its development. The Greeks were the first to oppose themselves as a cultural nation to barbarians. Since that time barbarism has since become synonymous to the lack of culture. In the Roman Empire this split between civilization and barbarism, culture and lack of culture, happened within the Roman society. Even within their own society Cicero and his contemporaries saw the ground for opposition of “cultus” and “vulgus”. The former, according to Cicero, was represented by his aristocratic environment who continually improved their mind and soul, sometimes deliberately demonstrating extraordinary spiritual complexity and sophistication. The former was represented by the mob with its primitive mores - passion for the circus performances and gladiator fights.

This division of society into cultural upper strata and uncultured lower strata is still ongoing. Under such circumstances, the culture of the upper culture inevitably acquires a perverse character. Late Romans already knew all kinds of perversions, including sex, which is so spread in modern Western «culture». Early Christianity has been a reaction to this perversion and an attempt to idealize the commoner. Thus, distortion of culture does not lead to denial, but to idealization of nature. Think of Tertullian, who believed that the soul of the barbarian is open to faith and the Kingdom of God more than the soul of an educated Roman.

But no matter how heavily Christianity might castigate «the whore of Babylon», as Christians called Rome, it did not defeat the perversion and corruption of culture, but only made worse the contradiction, which in the late nineteenth -early twentieth century, took the form of a contradiction between «culture» and «civilization», which found its clearest expression in the «Decline of the West» by Oswald Spengler. Although the most insightful philosophers like Jean Jacques Rousseau noticed it already in the eighteenth century. And it happened in France not by chance, since France was a center of culture and acted as a culture model for other countries including Russia, where French was a compulsory language for aristocratic elite, and Russian was the language of the mob.

Among L. White’s predecessors in terms of formation of cultural studies it is worthwhile mentioning a German educator I. Herder. He took priority over L. White and E. Tylor in their evolutionary naturalistic understanding of culture, when it gradually comes from nature and preserves it without any significant changes. But Herder was a contemporary of Kant. Kant outlived Herder for just one year, but was 20 years older than him. That is why, perhaps, he believed that with the help of culture one can conquer the nature. Kant as the founder of the German classics represents quite a different tradition in the science of culture.

It is known that Kant made a rather serious book criticism of Herder’s «Ideas about the philosophy of humanity history», in which cultural studies as mixed with anthropology. Herder does not separate the natural, physical development from the social and historical development, and human history, according to him, begins with the formation of the solar system and the planet Earth. (If he were alive today, it would start with the «Big Bang»). Criticizing Herder, Kant sees clear advantages in the philosophy of history of Rousseau, who opposes culture to nature. “Rousseau - Kant writes - is not so wrong, preferring the state of the barbarians, as soon as we overlook the last stage of development, which we are yet to achieve. Due to the arts and science, we have reached a high level of culture. We are too civilized in terms of politeness and courtesy in dealing with each other. But we still lack a lot to consider ourselves morally perfect. Indeed, the idea of morality relates to culture; however, the application of this idea, which is limited to image of morality in love honor and external decency, is just the feature of civilization» [3].

As we see, Kant separates «culture» and «civilization», thereby indicating another aspect of the problem. Civilization - is a kind of courtesy that Schopenhauer later calls “formal politeness”, since it does not express a true relationship of a man to another man and, in fact, is hypocrisy. Culture, in the Kantian understanding, is the “moral” and “moral perfection”. Thus, Kant transfers culture into the internal sphere, contrasting it with the external decency. Something similar is now called the “spirituality”, but the latter is often identified with religiosity, that Kant didn’t have in mind when he spoke of “morality.” In his understanding of morality there is not a grain of mysticism, as, indeed, what is called the highest spiritual senses.

Kant saw all the evils of «civilization». But he did not bring to the severity the contradiction between “culture” and “civilization”, but on the contrary, he tended to smooth out this contradiction. As a result, he connected the resolution of this contradiction with the ideal of «the-of-law state”. But the moral law in his philosophy has a purely formal character.

It is well known that no law can keep people from crime, if he has no conscience. A moral sense, that is, conscience is not the same thing as a categorical imperative. On the contrary, Kant didn’t believed an act to be moral, if it was performed due to some sensual inclinations. Those who read Kant carefully, might note that in his moral system, there is little space for such a spiritual sense as “love”. But there is a lot of space for the description of sexual desire. “The strongest natural impulses - Kant writes - that sometimes substitute the higher mind , which invisibly leads the human race to the physical well-being (the ruler of the world) are the love of life and sexual love” [4].

Inside a man, according to Kant, there are, on the one hand, moral requirements, and, on the other hand, animal desires, and in this situation the man finds himself in a delicate situation. “So much effort since time immemorial - Kant writes - was made to throw a thin veil on what although giving pleasure, is an evidence of the close relationship of a man to animals, what causes shame and is not allowed to talk of openly in good society; however, broad hints, that cause a smile, are not forbidden. - Imagination can here can wander at its leisure in the dark, and it requires much skill to avoid the danger ridiculous purism, without going into cynicism” [5].

Cynicism and purism in this issue are the two extremes. A cynic is led by instinct, a purist denies indiscriminately everything natural in a man. But they both agree on the fact that there is no love. For them, there is Romeo and Juliet, whom we admire, simply don’t exist, because they loved each not like animals, but like people.

If we believe Kant, then the great works of love are only the “thin veil” that hides the animal within us. That’s why Kant's definition of marriage is so cynical. “Sexual intercourse by law - he writes - is marriage (matrimonium), i.e. a union of two persons of different sex for the sake of possessing sexual characteristics of each other for a life time” [6].

And nature in Kant’s works exists side by side and are opposed to each other, but culture cannot be “sublated” by nature, as Kant didn’t know the idea of dialectical sublation, when a man gets freedom not by ignoring and , but by subjugating nature, cultural meaning and direction in his life activities.

Thus, Kantian dualism turns our freedom in a situation of choice between promiscuity and repression. The radical renunciation of sensual, according to Kant, suddenly gives way to perfection, although he understands the “magic” of such a transition. “Renunciation - he writes is that magic tool, that transformed the purely sensual attraction into the ideal animal need - love, a taste for beauty first in the first person, and then in nature. Modesty, that is, a disposition to inspire respect to oneself through good behavior (concealing everything that could cause contempt) as a necessary foundation of communication is the first condition in developing man as a moral being” [7].

But the thing is that repression continually creates hypocrisy. That is why the humility that Kant has to pass off as morality is closer to what he calls «civilization», not «culture». After all, culture is a sublation of nature, which is its idealization. Because love, in contrast to sexual desire is a highest sense of a spiritual and perfect man. And only love can justify him.

As a result, the methodological dualism of Kant pushes the artificial and the formal into the soul of a man. These contradictions in Kant's philosophy is a reflection of a real contradiction, in which a «civil society» still exists. The contradictory notions of culture and nature, culture and civilization from antiquity to the present day have been reflecting the fact that the progress of culture is extremely controversial, and is similar to Molech, who, according to Marx, wanted to drink the nectar of no other way but of the skulls of the slain. Kantian imperative, that «the man is always the goal and never the means» is the core of culture, but on this way there are as much losses as there are gains.


1. Kuznetsova T.F. Cultural worldview: theoretical problems. М., 2012, p. 7.

2. Cicero. Selected works, М., 1975, p. 252.

3. Kant I. Collected works in 8 volumes, CHORO, 1994, V.8, p. 23.

4. Kant I. Collected works in 8 volumes V. 7, p., 313.

5. Same, С. 152 – 153.

6. Kant I. Collected works in 8 volumes CHORO, 1994, V.6, p. 305.

7. Same, V.8, С. 76 – 77.

Table of contents: The Kazakh-American Free University Academic Journal №7 - 2015

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