Edward B. Tylor
A discussion of a nineteenth-century theorist in anthropology cannot be conducted without insight into the environment from which he/she came. As in any science, environment and time period is an influential part of any individual’s developing theory. To appreciate the theories of Sir Edward Burnett Tylor (1832-1917), his social influences must also be considered.
Tylor was an Englishman born of a Quaker family in England. Quaker belief structure is based on the idea that every individual is a vessel of God. This faith influenced Tylor’s stances as a man of tolerance and his belief in his theory of psychic unity to be discussed later. Despite his personal beliefs, one must understand he is still a product of Victorian England. This English culture held the belief that they are the superior people of the world and all others are below them. This type of group-think was bolstered by the ongoing industrial revolution of the time and the vast empire England resided over. Understanding this society reveals how liberal and progressive Tylor’s thinking truly was.
Tylor had many similar ideas to another theorist of his time, Henry Morgan (1818-1881). They both rooted their theories in the idea of psychic unity. This assumes that all mankind thinks the same and has the same cognitive abilities. This meant that all societies advance through the same stages towards a more advanced society. However, Tylor focused predominantly on how people think across cultures while Morgan focused on how societies operated and what technological advancements they achieve. In Tylor’s work, Primitive Culture (1871) culture is described as…
…that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society (1871:28).
This statement reflects Tylor’s belief in psychic unity and theorizes that culture is derived from differing amounts of gathered information on...
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