Source Book For Social Origins

Comment on Part VII: Social organization, Morals, The State

Table of Contents | Previous

Moral control---the modification of the natural disposition and behavior of men in view of the fact that they are members of a society---may be regarded as the great problem of early times. In Part II, in connection with the Australian initiation ceremonies and foodregulations we saw how this control was secured through habit and custom. Sumner's Folkways is a volume treating this aspect of society extensively. In the papers of Howitt, and Spencer and Gillen on the influence of old men in Australia and Australian tribal government we see how custom is both carried out and modified through influential persons. Morgan's account of the Iroquois confederacy brings us to the stage of control through general ideas and the formation of the state. The Central Australians present a state of society as it probably existed almost in the beginning, and the Iroquois had almost reached the stage of white society as it is.

The older idea that the clan system as represented by the Iroquois was at one time universal in America has been revised by later investigations. See, e. g., Swanton, "The Social Organization of American Tribes," American Anthropologist, N. S., 7:663-73.

The volumes by Westermarck, Nieboer and Steinmetz, listed in the bibliography below, and dealing with offenses and punishments, blood-revenge and compensation, human sacrifice, the duel, the ordeal, cannibalism, the treatment of women, duties to gods, property, slavery, etc., are especially recommended as supplementary to Part VII.

( 857) Westermarck's work perhaps affords the best example of a method of presenting ethnological materials which is very useful, but which has its limitations. It corresponds with the method of arranging materials in museums developed by Pitt-Rivers in England a number of years ago. By this method all the knives, throwing-sticks, or other articles of a particular kind were brought together in one place, with a view to exhibiting the steps in the development of this article-and some very pretty effects were thus secured, as can be seen from the two papers by Pitt-Rivers included in this volume. But our great museums are now recognizing (with some unfortunate exceptions) that it is on the whole better to arrange materials on the principle of presenting the culture of a given region as a whole. No object can be completely understood when separated from the whole culture of which it is a part, and no culture can be understood when its fragments are dislocated. On the other hand, when cultures are displayed by regions and understood as wholes, it is still possible to compare the different regions and the different cultural elements in the different regions.

Similarly after reading Westermarck's Moral Ideas (and it is a good thing to do this first), the student should examine moral practices in connection with the whole culture of certain selected societies. Take, for instance, the Pueblo Indians, as presented by Cushing, Stevenson, Holmes, Fewkes, and others, and study their moral life in connection with their physical environment and whole material culture. Compare the particular practices of the different Pueblos, and compare them also with those of such contrasted peoples as the Eskimo, as presented by Boas, Nelson, Murdock, and others. The

( 858) intensive and admirable study of the Chukchee by Bogoras also affords an excellent opportunity to study the culture of a people as a whole. This should be first compared with the equally admirable study of the Koryak by Jochelson. The two can then be compared with the culture of the Zuni. The Reports of the Cambridge Expeditious to Torres Straits, and the works of Rivers (on the Todas), Skeat and Blagden, van der Sande, von den Steinen, Overbergh, Spencer and Gillen, Codrington, and Hurgronje are among the convenient startingpoints for other regions. This method should, of course, he applied to any activity in which the student is interested---religion, magic, myth, art, marriage, invention, mind, etc.

It is a noticeable defect in the work of the type of Westermarck and Herbert Spencer that the writers cannot reconcile with their theories all the ethnological statements which they collect and present. When the fragments are counted and compared there always remain some exceptions, which are treated as exceptions and counted as negligible. The explanation of all the facts can be effected, if at all, only through the regional study of cultures and the application of the standpoint of attention, habit, and crisis.


No notes for this document

Valid HTML 4.01 Strict Valid CSS2