4.2.5 Culture and its Evolution

Culture and its evolution set the context for morality in a society; economic circumstances and external events affect how people behave.

People’s moral values are conditioned by changes in circumstances.  Their economic prosperity affects the focus of their concerns and their moral attitudes, as described by Abraham Maslow in A Theory of Human Motivation.  His ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ defines five levels of priority, of which the most pressing is “physiological”: the need for food and drink.  Putting one’s children to work may seem not only reasonable but necessary if the alternative is starvation.  “Safety” needs come next, followed by “Belongingness”, then “Esteem”.  Only when people have satisfied these first four levels of need can they freely strive for “Self-actualisation”.  And, as noted earlier (4.2.2), it has been suggested that people’s attachment to religion depends on their financial security.

Societies reflect the people in them, so they follow a similar trajectory in their concerns.  Culture and its evolution are affected by external events and influences:

●  It evolves through shared experience of events. Wars, revolutions, famines and plagues are just a few examples.

●  It is also influenced by ideas: by esteemed thinkers and leaders, by the emergence of religious groups and by what is happening elsewhere in the world.

●  Immigrants introduce new customs and traditions, which add to a society’s existing diversity.

People’s expectations for each other’s behaviour, their culture, gradually evolves without any conscious negotiation.  And, each time that people negotiate on specific issues, their starting points may have altered.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/425a.htm