There are a few pages buzzing around this question, and no agreed distinction yet. Let's try on a few definitions for size:
- Non-violence. Especially, not killing people.
- Living in cities, as opposed to towns or tribes.
- An etiquette that permits the construction of large social systems like cities and WikiDom.
- Avoiding the use of force unless in defense of yourself, your family, and your property.
- Avoiding the use of force unless in defense of the innocent.
- The PrimeDirective of non-interference.
- The BillOfRights.
- The FourFreedoms.
- Copulism (see WhatIsCopulism).
- A cultural abstraction with no moral, ethical, or logical force.
- OpenPolitics - a RepresentativeDemocracy of competing OpenParty structures
- Western Europe.
- Northern Europe.
- The steady progress of large numbers of humans from birth to death through a large mall lined with pizza restaurants, hamburger chains, TV sets, and all-you-can-eat salad bars. Not to mention StarBucks?
- Groups of people engaged in exchange and division of labor among themselves and among the groups to common and mutual benefit.
- Ritualized agriculture, followed by locking up the food.
- MutualHospitality?. Hence, the Clampetts were civilized. And the Drysdales weren't. C2 is civilized. And, at least at present, GreenCheese ain't. OpenSource is civilized. MicroSoft ain't. Etc.
- The realization that there is inherent value in helping other people
- A fine game by SidMeier? and BruceShelly?
Actually I really like that "mutual hospitality" one. Is there anyone who doesn't think that's really it?
- I gather that enlightenment has no place in civilization? Sort of a "we don't care if wisdom is attained as long as you're all nice to one another" thing?
You can derive 1, 2, 5, 7 (mostly), 8 (mostly), 14, 16 and 18 from 3. I think #3 is the most general, most abstract, most rigorous, and most accurate. Who came up with it? It's a very nice
I did all of 'em except 13, 14, 16 & 17. #3 was my favourite coming in, but there's something more in #18. #3 admits hypnotic cultures, where #18 speaks more to chivalry - which is etymologically necessary. But don't get too attached to 'em, cause we're not done yet I expect.
Yeah, but who are you? :)
That would be telling.
#18 is more narrow, and #3 rightly
admits hypnotic cultures as lesser forms of civilization (less complex and adaptable social systems).
Seems most of the comments below fail to make a distinction between CivilizationAsCivility?, which is to say that behavior we regard as being courteous, CivilizationAsDevelopment?, an abstraction championed by folks like SirKennethClark?, and AcivilizationAsaCulture?, which is to say a bunch of people sharing one or more languages and one or more technologies.
If we don't make this distinction explicit, we're going to spend a lot of time arguing at cross-purposes.
There is no such distinction. By civilization we mean something between
civility, development and culture. We certainly do not mean civility as politeness, development as technology, nor culture as art.
#3 is equivalent to: "a way of behaving that allows civilization" or more simply "civilized behavior", which although true, isn't particularly informative as a definition.
Are you saying that a definition of civilized behaviour shouldn't be equivalent to 'civilized behaviour'? Or that a definition of civilized behaviour isn't close enough to 'civilization' to be useful?
Except that #3 is not using either civilized or civilization in the definition. The definition says that civilization is the construction of large social systems, and the codes of conduct that enable such construction. That's an important (non-trivial and non-obvious) insight into the nature of civilization.
- If I may interject, it seems that using "civilized" or "civilization" in the definition of "civilization" amounts to a CircularDefinition?, which is what makes it not "particularly informative" (round: see circle ... circle: see round)
Important in what way? Maybe if you could spell out some of those codes of conduct you'd have something less tautologous.
As far as I know, there is no underlying set of rules applicable to all civilizations. Every possible crime, including theft, rape, murder, mass murder, child abuse, infanticide and cannibalism, has been permitted by one or another civilization at some point in time.
A definition is by definition a tautology so if you have a complaint against definition #3, make it meaningful.
- Yes, but as with most definitions, the question isn't whether there are exceptions (there always seem to be), the question is whether the definition captures the essence of the matter. I think the point is that cities always have codes of conduct that are enforced, even if sporadically and in a corrupt way, even if shifting, illogical, etc etc.
- I suppose it's the natural extension of frequent inter-group contact by nomads (which tends eventually towards a code of conduct; people fall into ruts in behavior, if nothing else), merged with the universal intra-group behavioral codes. In cities, one is in the vicinity of strangers constantly.
No, this is wrong. From Merriam-Webster:
- a statement expressing the essential nature of something
- A needless repetition of an idea, statement, or word
The complaint against #3 is that it is a tautology rather than a definition.
Look up what 'tautology' means in an encyclopedia of mathematics or symbolic logic textbook. Because that's the only sense of tautology which applies to "civilization is an etiquette".
But to see exactly how meaningful and insightful definition #3 is, contrast with the usual conception of civilization as culture. Culture is usually understood as 'art' but since art qua art is not a meaningful part of social systems, it is ruled out. The only way that art can be part of civilization (except as an incidental by-product of it) is if it is a means of social control, like religious art in ancient times.
- Errrm, qua?? Civilization='an etiquette' -> tautology? Merde! I am confused.
Can we agree that "large social systems" are "civilization" and that "etiquette" is behaviour? Then #3 says that the definition of civilization is the behaviour that makes civilization possible. While this refutes the StrawMan
definition of civilization as production of culture, it doesn't seem particularly enlightening.
- Perhaps "etiquette" is "being civilized" -- or even "etiquette" is a civilizing influence?
If you define etiquette as a code of conduct then it's not necessarily a civilizing influence. If you define it as a code of conduct that civilizes people then saying that etiquette civilizes people is tautological.
Also how does a civilization differ from a society?
"Civilization" is a general term denoting some (as yet undefined) set of attributes common to all entities that can be said to be "civilized". Note that this is not a tautology, it is a "meta-definition"--a definition about a definition.
"Society" is a specific term, denoting the forms of social organization peculiar to an identifiable group; for example, "American society" or "Melanesian society".
For much of its history, the term "civilization" has been used in an unscientific and self-serving manner by entities seeking to assert and promote their own superiority to other entities. Thus the notion, common in the 18th. and 19th. centuries, that "Englishmen are civilized; [American] Indians are savages." Vestiges of this older way of using the term "civilization" seem to inform one of its most common modern usages, and can be clearly seen on this page, especially in definition # 3, with its implication that a hallmark of a "civilization" is some kind of "large social system". The antidote to this line of thought would be definition 18: mutual hospitality.
My view, though, is that Definition 10 is closest to the truth. In social science terms, "civilization" is a nonsequitur. The terms "culture", "society" and "state" provide all of the classification and rigor needed for the study and analysis of large-scale human organization. In ethical terms, "civilization" connotes a value judgment that a certain level of size or complexity in human organization is somehow "superior" or "advanced" in relation to organizations of smaller size or lesser complexity. There is, of course, no objective methodology to measure such concepts of superiority or advancement that everyone can agree on. In popular use, there are two common and competing meanings of the term. These are the ones set forth by Definitions 3 and 18. The fact that people can, and frequently do, talk past each other because they hold only one of these definitions in mind tends to make the term useless for meaningful communication.
As suggested elsewhere, it is possible to consistently classify certain human behaviors as "crimes" regardless of whether a particular society or political entity sanctions them, prohibits them, or looks the other way. It is also possible to identify patterns of human organization that tend toward social disintegration and/or greater human suffering over time. However, such self-destructive patterns have existed in various societies or states that exhibited varying degrees of size and complexity, at various times over their lifespans--including situations in which the decline was reversed, at least for a while. This makes the notion of reliably linking size or complexity to quality-of-life measures or even to the simple concept of stability over time, fairly problematic.
Definition 20, by the way, is indisputable.
numbers 11-14 are rather missing the point ... or at least they're missing a point.
Can a civilization that cannot protect itself against invaders be
considered a civilization?
Make "can protect itself" a value attribute. Ancient Greece was once a civilization and did, for a time, protect itself. Eventually another "civilization" came along and annexed it. I suppose the "can protect itself" attribute belongs somewhere on a scale. In fact, it would seem that civilizations succeed as a matter of degree, some do it better for longer than others.
So what isn't a value attribute?
''What does "value attribute" mean in this context anyways. And the answer to "can a society be a civilization if it cannot protect itself against invaders" is yes.
I think the question may be confusing civilizations with states. China has been overrun several times while remaining distinctly Chinese. Greek culture and society flourished in Ionia even while it was a Persian satrapy, and hardly died out with the coming of Macedonia and Rome. And then there are many peoples who have maintained themselves through times where they had no states at all.
The comments on this page annoy me. Civilization has nothing to do with non-violence, etiquette, avoiding the use of force, hospitality or helping others. Read a few ethnographies of "primitive" peoples and you'll see strong evidence that civilization is contrary to these traits. Civilization is a by-product of sedentary agriculture and animal domestication. -- EricHodges
So, something along the lines of
- Nomads may be hospitable to their own group, but they are often hostile to others, and a city has the population equivalent of several to many tribes. Everything I've seen suggests that "primitive" people have a much higher chance of dying through violent crimes, though the rate is of course lower. Civilization doesn't promote violence, though it does organize it.
- City (and nations) are hostile to other cities (and nations) in the same manner. Civilized forms of warfare are often more violent to more of the population. "Primitive" people have (on average) a much lower chance of dying from violent crimes.
- Older studies with that result were eventually refuted; are you basing that on very recent or relatively old info?
- I'm basing it on work I've read over the last 20 years.
- Things have changed during that period; you might look for something recent on that topic, e.g. in regard to the !Kung.
- You may be right. I still wouldn't use violent crime rates (or cooperation, etiquette, etc.) to distinguish "civilization".
- :-) Originally meaning city-dweller, now having the strong connotation of...civility. Opposite of barbarism. More moral than animals. Below the gods but above the dirt. The Middle Kingdom, love it or leave it.
- We can't be more moral than animals as long as we are animals, only more moral than other animals. Some folks (like Genghis Khan) were labeled "barbarians" because they had the bad judgement to kill rich people (while civilized rich people had the good sense to limit their killing to poor people.)
- Actually, Khan was mostly hostile towards farmers, who he never understood the need for. As for civilization, how about living with and tolerating people you aren't related to or don't know? This scarcely comes up for tribes, and developed along with the first by-products of agriculture. Modern states are generally further along in this, though they still leave a great deal to be desired.
- Khan never understood the need for rich people (some of whom were farmers). He always understood the need for farmers. I don't see strong evidence that civilization correlates to tolerating people you aren't related to or don't know. It increases the number of people you feel related to, but intolerance for those outside your group remains strong. Civilized people bombed Dresden, Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Civilized people built Auschwitz.
- First, no, Khan constantly killed serfs and the like. Second, the increase in size of the in-group is significant. The rise of large cities was the first time people constantly had to deal with other folk they'd never met, and that made considerable changes to the way they thought and behaved. Nowadays many people's in-group is as large as a race or nation, or even larger. That we're still hostile to outsiders shows that civilization has a long way to go yet, but what's developed is still noticeable.
- All leaders killed serfs. Khan killed nobles and that earned him the barbarian label.
- Khan was worse than most, and tended to exterminate rather than devastate. This doesn't mean I'm impressed with the performance of his contemporaries.
- You mean contemporaries like Pope Innocent III and other leaders of the 4th crusade? I'd take Khan over Boniface any day.
- Yeah, those contemporaries. The crusaders were also worse than most, although even they usually left something standing, in contrast to what Khan did at places like Samarkand. This is somewhat beside the topic at hand, I expect.
- It's on topic because Khan was as ruthless in war as other 13th century warlords and more enlightened in peace than other 13th century rulers. The major difference was that he killed nobles instead of ransoming them. Yet he was called a barbarian and the others were called civilized. Being civilized has as little to do with tolerance and kindness now as it did then. It's a word we like to apply to ourselves and pretend that it distinguishes us from what we fear.
- No doubt this has to do with high prestige culture versus low prestige culture; the Khan didn't follow the culture of the nobles in dress, speech, habit, etc, so he wasn't high prestige culture from their point of view.
- He wasn't "civilized" from their point of view. And I doubt they were "civilized" from his point of view. "Civilized" is what we call ourselves. Others we call "barbarians", "primitives", "savages", etc.
- Quite. What I mean is that people use those terms to label those who are not perceived to be part of the prestige culture; it is not just a matter of standards of civility etc, so the discussion above of Khan behaving civilly in certain ways wouldn't have mattered. He was a "barbarian" because he didn't show the signs of the prestige culture of the nobles. Probably didn't even appreciate fine vintage wines, and was happy with inferior table wines. How uncouth.
- All this praise for Genghis is completely inaccurate, since he built little and was far more ruthless than all but a very few contemporaries, and may be thinking of some later relatives like Kublai. More importantly, though, it's irrelevant. There are real and important differences between industrial and tribal societies, in behavior as well as technology, and civilization is what everyone calls this difference, including those who don't consider it a benefit. I stand by my earlier statement, that civilized people have larger in-groups, and have to tolerate strangers in a way that tribes don't. That this doesn't equate with greater tolerance for everyone is a different matter; there are many different degrees of xenophobia. How the word civilization has been used and is misused is also beside the point; that America and China both call themselves democracies doesn't mean the word has no meaning.
... "An agreement to cooperate and divide labor toward a mutual benefit
" ... a little more like it?"
No. Cooperation and working for mutual benefit are more common in nomadic tribes than civilizations. Civilization is just what happens when you live in the same place and increase your food supply. Population increases, trade increases and the dominance hierarchy deepens.
If anyone still cares about anthropology here, I've heard that civilization is when you have permanent lifelong specialists. Not just people who do stone masonry, but stone masons who don't do anything else in their entire lives.
I've heard that too (in fact, I did an anthro paper in high school on that topic! :) However I've also heard that there are some hunter-gatherer societies that have such specialists (e.g. for weapon making). One could either call such "civilized", or re-examine the definition again.
Uh, a computer game? :)