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The cultural determinism approach theory is developed on the basis that the human nature is greatly determined by beliefs, ideas, values and meanings that people acquire as members of a given society (Murdock, 1932). "Optimistic approach of this theory puts no bound on the capability of people to do or to grow to be what they aspire" (Miller, 2010). A number of anthropologists presuppose that human nature does not have common "right way". They have suggested that "Right way" depends on the society from which one comes, and that the culture make up make of a given society is always unique and different from any other society (Miller, 2010). This theory has two approaches; the optimistic account of the hypothesis of cultural determinism as later stated suggests that human beings are to a great deal flexible and malleable and that they can decide on the way of life they want. Another approach of this theory is the pessimistic account that postulates; human beings are always what they are accustomed to be and there is nothing they can do about it. In other words human beings are passive creatures who are required to live by what the culture in the society they are living prescribes them to do. According to Miller (2010) this results to behaviorism from which human behavior is founded in a sphere that human beings have no control about (Miller, 2010).

Cultural determinist claims about limitations of our capacity for moral motivation obviously rely on assumptions about the implication of cultural diversity. Moreover cultural diversity implies that enculturation can take place certain moral consideration beyond our conceptual reach, and that some moral conflicts will be 'fundamental' or 'ultimate' (Miller, 2010).

Cultural determinism upholds the hypothesis which postulates that human nature is usually determined by environmental factors as opposed to biologically inborn persona. This approach has been employed to explain the concept that; political and economic set up of a given society is influenced by the culture that is in play. According Jarvie (1975) this is a concept which has persisted in numerous cultures throughout the human history, starting from earliest evolution through the present. According to Miller (2000) Cultural determinism entails describing the causes that create the infinite diversity of cultures and civilizations within the history of mankind. Numerous theories on social development have been developed to explain culture as a determinant factor that is paramount in molding human nature. Miller (2000) suggests that most societies strongly think that their uniqueness and form of economic and political set ups were greatly determined by their culture. According to him culture exhibits itself in the form of ideas, habits and customs that are exercised by a given society. This has exhibited in many societies for instance, emphasis of the national language a mark of national identity, varying religious beliefs and also in observance of national epics (Miller, 2010).

According to Donald (1991) the genes that determine the structure and operations of human mind and body are usually in interaction with environments in which they operate. Donald says that these environments usually differ depending on culture that is in play. He further says that this will translate into operations and structures of the mind and body that that will differ across populations and also across individuals. Donald further says that various mental operations entail adjustment to surrounding environment leading to behaviors that differ by design. This inconsistent reactions and responses may well come out to be cultural. For instance, according to Donald (1991), "human beings posses an evolved and developed system for sensing and preferring faces that for many of their features, are near the mean (or average) of what one sees". "Because the   average might differ from one population to another, the resultant values of attractiveness or beauty would differ as well, and this could simply be understood as a cultural inconsistency or diversity".

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Neuroscientists are progressively coming up with evidence of operational variation in brain activity and design amid cultural factions, careers, and persons who posses diverse set of skills (Sweder, 1991). This means that social models and norms, enculturation forms, training routines, rites, and models of experience mold the way human brains are structured and function. According to Sweder (1991) "the major rationale that culture becomes embodied, is that neuroanatomy intrinsically builds experience material". According to Sweder "if material transformation will not take place in the brain, then it means memory, maturation, learning and even trauma will not occur". This means that neural structures acclimatize in the course of lasting modification and alteration, which consequently results in profound enculturation. Sweder further says that it is through orderly transformations in the nervous structures that the human discovers to arrange itself as a result cultural ideas and meanings develop into anatomy (Sweder, 1991).

Romantism is one example in history that had large element of cultural determinism drawn from outstanding authors for instance, Schlegel, Goethe and Fichte. The movement of romantism is said to have sprang from literature, art and philosophy (Herrnstein, 1977). Romantism stresses poignant, impulsive and creative approaches. In the field of visual arts, this movement was employed to denote the exit from conventional forms and an emphasis on emotional or poignant and spiritual premises. According to Morris (1964) Romantism is said to have been caused by abrupt social transformations that took place through the French uprising and the Napoleonic period.  Romanticism therefore was founded   as an uprising against Neoclassicism and its stress on "order, idealization, harmony, rationality and balance" (Morris, 1964). It started in England and Germany during 1770's, from where it extended all over Europe by the 1820's before spreading its power to the United States. In this framework, individuals were molded by geography and culture and customs linked to that geography arose, and these, being in accord with the position of the society, were superior to randomly obligatory laws (Herrnstein, 1977).

To support their opinions that sex roles are acquired through social interactions, many feminists have always used cross- cultural data as their supporting evidence. For instance most of their arguments are founded on one of the most famous book titled 'Sex and Temperament in Three Primitive Societies (1935) that was written by Margaret Mead. The author in this book clearly brings out a comparison on sex roles in three guinea societies with those of Europe. Mead came out with a conclusion that these three societies were set very differently from those in Europe. In this book, the culture of the Arapesh men and women were expected to be good-natured and deficient in libido (relatively like European women).  In the Mundugumor cultures both men and women appeared belligerent and also high sexed ('masculine'). On the other hand, this book brings out the Tchambuli culture as people who purportedly depicted a reverse of European sex roles, in which women are outstanding figures and where men are emotionally reliant. In this book Mead brings out a conclusion that all the persona traits that we often brand as feminine or masculine are as frivolously connected to sex as are "mode of dressing including the type and manner of head-dress assigned to both sex by the society at any given time" (Freeman, 1983).

In his work, Pinker (2000) tries to bring out a balance to the argument of what is supposed to be human. Pinker employs the "Blank model" to develop his arguments. Pinker in his book defines "Blank Slate" as "the idea that the our mind lacks intrinsic makeup and can be emblazoned at will by ourselves and the culture " in this arguments Pinker claims that the 'modern denial of human nature', is founded in three viewpoints, which he says are: "the Blank Slate, the Noble Savage and the Ghost in the Machine". He uses his Blank Slate model to argue that human beings are born with blank heads and it is through social exposure (culture) that they obtain knowledge. By using the noble savage model by Mead, Pinker agrees with Mead that human beings are born naturally good but their inborn goodness in usually tainted by the society (culture). In his arguments Pinker brings out the idea that just as different people have varying levels of intelligence, cultures vary to a greater degree from one another thus creating people with varying human nature (Pinker, 2000). Despite this, he further argues that all culture similar in a number of ways. For instance, "in all culture People take gratification in thinking about killings, he supports this using a number of elements such as the popularity of crime dramas, murder mysteries, spy thrillers, Shakespearean tragedies, hero myths, biblical stories, and heroic poems and also the fact that people take pleasure in watching the stylized combat sports" (Pinker, 2000).  He further says that another similarity that comes out in all cultures is the aspect of division of labor between women and men (Pinker, 2000).

Scores of anthropologist have supported this concept of the 'blank slate'. For instance George Murdock held that cultural trends are not inherited but instead are typically and with no exemption obtained (Murdock, 1932). In support of the blank slate doctrine, Murdock further argues that human nature simply had an arbitrary capacity for culture in the same manner they had an arbitrary capacity to learn. In his book, Murdock brings out human nature as a simple and undefined object which can be molded and consequently transformed by that the social factor or culture (Murdock, 1932).

Human nature has been assumed to be to a great deal invariable, unbelievably elastic and not inhibited by a universal human nature (Mead, 1935). Mead concludes that   human nature can be molded in a manner that exactly corresponds to the divergent cultural conditions in play. The concept of the blank slate was also supported by Clifford Geertz who argued if human behavior was not directed by culture models will turn out to be practically uncontrollable and that his experience virtually ill-defined (Geertz, 1973). In other words the slate is blank. Therefore according Geertz ( 1973) " human nature will remain ill-defined, formless, vague and shapeless and it remain that way until the elements of culture , social writings,  social functions, or exterior incidents of support deliver a composition during which various roles are assigned, and cultural elements impress their lasting stamp in human nature.

Margaret Meads in the doctrine of the noble savage postulated that human beings naturally are basically good, harmonious and peaceful. According to Mead, wickedness and immorality does not come naturally but instead results from the alteration and tainting of a good human nature when one is exposed to bad culture. Using this doctrine Pinker specifically brings out the Western culture as corrupting especially for its focus on rivalry, individuality, status striving and  avariciousness, something he says has tainted the good human nature (Pinker 2000).

Therefore cultural determinism approach tries to establish that the culture in which we are exposed to molds our human nature. Also this theory presupposes that human nature is to a great deal elastic and flexible and that human beings can decide on the way of life they want through different cultures. This theory also suggests human beings are passive creatures who are required to do whatever their culture requires them to do.


  1. Church, A.T. (2000). Culture and personality: toward an integrated cultural trait psychology. Journal of personality, 68:655-703.
  2. Donald, E. (199 1).Human Universals. New York: McGraw-Hill (and Temple University Press).
  3. Freeman. 1983. Margaret Mead and Samoa: The making and unmaking of an anthropological myth: New York: Viking Penguin.
  4. Geertz, C. (1973). The interpretation of cultures. New York: basic books.
  5. Herrnstein, R.J. (1977). The evolution and behaviorism. American psychologist, 32:593-603.
  6. Jarvie, IC. (1975). "Epistle to the Anthropologists." American Anthropologist, Vol 77 No. 2, June 1975. pp 253-266.
  7. Mead, M. (1935). Sex and temperament in three primitive societies. New York: Morrow.
  8. Miller, F. (2010). Cultural Determinism: VDM Publishing House Ltd.
  9. Milton, K. (1996).Environmentalism and cultural theory: exploring the role of anthropology in environmental discourse: Routledge.
  10. Morris, E. (1964). "The Human Being in Culture Theory." American Anthropologist, 66 ( 3): 507-528.
  11. Murdock, G.P. (1932). The science of culture. American Anthropologist, 34:200-215.
  12. Pinker, S. (2000). The blank slate, the noble savage, and the ghost in the machine. Paper presented at the annual meeting of human evolution and behavior society, Amherst Massachusetts, June 4-8.
  13. Sweder, R. A. (1991).Thinking through cultures: expeditions in culture psychology. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
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