In the 20th century, "culture" emerged as a central concept in anthropology, encompassing the range of human phenomena that cannot be attributed to genetic inheritance. Specifically, the term "culture" in American anthropology had two meanings: 1. the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experiences with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively; and 2. the distinct ways that people living differently classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively.
Hoebel describes culture as an integrated system of learned behavior patterns which are characteristic of the members of a society and which are not a result of biological inheritance.
Distinctions are currently made between the physical artifacts created by a society, its so-called material culture, and everything else, the intangibles such as language, customs, etc. that are the main referent of the term "culture".
The etymology of the modern term "culture" has a classical origin. In English, the word "culture" is based on a term used by Cicero in his Tusculan Disputations, where he wrote of a cultivation of the soul or "cultura animi", thereby using an agricultural metaphor to describe the development of a philosophical soul, which was understood teleologically as the one natural highest possible ideal for human development. Samuel Pufendorf took over this metaphor in a modern context, meaning something similar, but no longer assuming that philosophy is man's natural perfection. His use, and that of many writers after him "refers to all the ways in which human beings overcome their original barbarism, and through artifice, become fully human".
As described by Velkley:
The term "culture," which originally meant the cultivation of the soul or mind, acquires most of its later modern meanings in the writings of the 18th-century German thinkers, who on various levels developing Rousseau's criticism of ″modern liberalism and Enlightenment″. Thus a contrast between "culture" and "civilization" is usually implied in these authors, even when not expressed as such. Two primary meanings of culture emerge from this period: culture as the folk-spirit having a unique identity, and culture as cultivation of waywardness or free individuality. The first meaning is predominant in our current use of the term "culture," although the second still plays a large role in what we think culture should achieve, namely the full "expression" of the unique or "authentic" self.