What Is Civilization?

Civilization, as we know it, is a movement and not a condition, a voyage and not a harbour. No known civilization has ever reached the goal of civilization yet. There has never been a communion of saints on earth. In the least uncivilized society at its least uncivilized moment, the vast majority of its members have remained very near indeed to the primitive human level.

- Arnold J. Toynbee, Civilization on Trial, IV

Podcast of the Day

This week we polish up a tarnished idea and ask whether it's really as tarnished as all that. The idea is civilisation and our guide to it is the Melbourne philosopher John Armstrong, author of a new book called In Search of Civilization: Remaking a Tarnished Idea. Why does he think that it's a tarnished idea? And isn't the very idea a bit messy? After all, civilisation has brought us lots of things, from the Mona Lisa to good plumbing, so what really does the word mean?

Listen to the Philosopher's Zone episode: In search of civilisation

Video of the Day

Article of the Day

...Someone asked Mahatma Gandhi what he thought of western civilisation, and he replied: “I think it would be a very good idea.” Like many of the best stories, alas, this one is probably apocryphal; but also like many of the best stories, it has survived because it has the flavour of truth. But my own response would have been very different: I think you should give up the very idea of western civilisation. It is at best the source of a great deal of confusion, at worst an obstacle to facing some of the great political challenges of our time. I hesitate to disagree with even the Gandhi of legend, but I believe western civilisation is not at all a good idea, and western culture is no improvement.

One reason for the confusions “western culture” spawns comes from confusions about the west. We have used the expression “the west” to do very different jobs...

Continue reading Kwame Anthony Appiah's article: There is no such thing as western civilisation

Further Reading

A civilization (UK and US) or civilisation (UK variant) is any complex society characterized by urban development, social stratification imposed by a cultural elite, symbolic systems of communication (for example, writing systems), and a perceived separation from and domination over the natural environment.

Civilizations are intimately associated with and often further defined by other socio-politico-economic characteristics, including centralization, the domestication of both humans and other organisms, specialization of labour, culturally ingrained ideologies of progress and supremacism, monumental architecture, taxation, societal dependence upon farming and expansionism...

Continue reading the Wikipedia article on civilization

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