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Primitive Concepts and the Origin of Cultural Patterns

Charles A. Ellwood
American Journal of Sociology
Vol. 33, No. 1 (Jul., 1927), pp. 1-13
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2765036
Page Count: 13
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Primitive Concepts and the Origin of Cultural Patterns
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Abstract

A culture is a complex of pattern ideas or cultural patterns. A combination of the psychological and historical method is necessary for the study of their origin. The mind of primitive man resembled that of the child; it was a pre-experimental or pre-traditional mind. In the sense that the primitive mind was not critical, and had no knowlege of the science of logic, it was pre-logical, but not in the sense in which Levy-Bruhl uses that term, because, while the experience of primitive man was different from our own, he had the capacity to acquire this experience. Such minds are still to be found among the masses of mankind today. Nature furnishes man with inborn generalized patterns for carrying on the fundamental activities of nutrition, reproduction, and defense. These blurred inborn patterns are one source of our cultural patterns. The physical environment is a second source, and the primitive group life which man lived before he was human in the primary groups is a third. Primitive occupations, as Dewey has pointed out, probably furnished man with his principal social and cultural patterns. The hunting pattern, which dominates business, war, and many other predatory activities of life, still plays a large part, but is associated with the child-care pattern, which is non-predatory, altruistic, and co-operative. Certain periods in our cultural history have emphasized the one and others the other pattern. While human culture has a fundamental general pattern based on the essential life processes, a "universal culture pattern," such as Wissler suggests, is too fixed and arbitrary. Man is a value-making as well as a tool-making machine. Culture is the process by which the spiritual element in man is gradually transforming not only the material environment, but man himself.

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