THE NATURE/CULTURE DIVIDE
A DIFFERENCE IN DEGREE OR IN KIND?
Iñaki Xavier Larrauri Pertierra
This essay explores the relation between nature and culture and analyses it from the perspective of contemporary evolutionary theory. Both animals and humans are conceived of as attaining both natural and cultural features that interact with each other on a number of levels of varying complexity: nature as cultural, nature as influenced by culture, culture as natural, and culture as influenced by nature. “Nature as cultural” is meant to express a decoupling of behavioral/phenotypic changes of an organism from its genetic determination. “Nature as influenced by culture” is the idea of niche construction, wherein such decoupled changes can causally feedback to genetic reality, thereby influencing the evolutionary features of downstream species. “Culture as natural” portrays how cultural structures of humans and animals persist through the generations, accumulate incurred changes, and evolve in analogous ways to biological natural selection. “Culture as influenced by nature” is the notion that the cultural/linguistic capacities of animals and humans have evolutionarily emerged from precultural history. All this is meant to evaluate the viability of constructing a nature/culture divide. The conclusion is made that the divide seems arbitrary within and between human and animal life when considering how the differences between the natural and cultural dynamics of humans and animals are modelled as differences of degree, not kind. A potential approach in using the concept of consciousness to recontextualize a nature/culture divide in terms of the possession of consciousness is proposed at the end.