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A taste for the best books, as a taste for whatever is best, is acquired; and it can be acquired only by long study and practice. It is a result of free and disinterested self-activity, of efforts to attain what rarely brings other reward than the consciousness of having loved and striven for the best. ~ John Lancaster Spalding

Culture (from the Latin cultura stemming from colere, meaning "to cultivate") is a term commonly used to indicate the set of shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterizes an institution, organization or group, an integrated pattern of human knowledge, belief, and behavior that depends upon the capacity for symbolic thought and social learning, or an excellence of aesthetic taste in the arts and humanities, (also known as high culture).


  • In 16th-century Italy there lived Lodovico Gonzaga, a 16-year old seminarist who was very fond of playing ball. Once a certain priest passing by wondered if for a future priest the youth was too keen on his pursuit and asked him: "What would you do if you learned that in half an hour the end of the world was coming?" To which Lodovico replied: "I'd play on." According to the Russian thinker Georgy Fedotov, the importance of culture lies in precisely that: we go on playing ball on the verge of Doomsday....
  • Culture is all the things and ideas ever devised by humans working and living together.
  • The astonishing cluster of them [geniuses] that appeared in Athens during the fifth and fourth centuries B. C. ...what changed was the culture, which allowed exceptional minds to flourish.
    • Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization (1968)
  • To say that the invention "was in the air" or "the times were ripe for it" are just other ways of stating that the inventors did not do the inventing, but that the cultures did.
  • Whoever controls the media — the images — controls the culture.
    • Allen Ginsberg, as quoted in Brain Power : Learn to Improve Your Thinking Skills‎ (1980) by Karl Albrecht, p. 6
  • When two cultures collide is the only time when true suffering exists
    • Hermann Hesse, as quoted in Peter's Quotations : Ideas for Our Time‎ (1977) by Laurence J. Peter, p. 456
  • Culture is constituted by human labor, the aesthetic, and the spirit. In this regard, culture is an integrated way of life which shuns false dichotomies between sacred and so-called secular. Human labor denotes a mutuality between base and superstructure. The aesthetic argues for a norm grounded in internal beauty and ethical functionality. And the spirit is the vivifying thread woven throughout all of culture.
    • Dwight Hopkins "A Black Theology of Liberation," Black Theology, v. 3, n. 1, January 2005
  • The disdain for culture expressed by Johst and Fanon is not identical, however. Both despise the deceit of culture, but for opposite reasons. For Johst, culture is in itself a fraud, the cheap talk of weaklings; for Fanon, culture deceives by reneging on its promises. Johst and the Nazis hated culture itself; Fanon hated its hypocrisy, a very different notion.
  • Whenever I hear of culture... I release the safety catch of my Browning!
    • Hanns Johst, playwright, minister in the Nazi Kulturkammer. Often misquoted as "When I hear the word culture, I reach for my revolver", and misattributed to other Nazi leaders.
  • Each form of the sacrosanct was regarded by members of the culture which gave rise to it as a revelation of the Truth.
    • André Malraux, in Voices of Silence [Les voix du silence] (1951), Pt. IV, Ch. V
  • Our art culture makes no attempt to search the past for precedents, but transforms the entire past into a sequence of provisional responses to a problem that remains intact.
    • André Malraux, in Voices of Silence [Les voix du silence] (1951), Pt. IV, Ch. VII
  • Culture would seem … first and foremost, to be the knowledge of what makes man something other than an accident of the universe be it by deepening his harmony with the world, or by the lucid consciousness of his revolt from it. … Culture is the sum of all the forms of art, of love and of thought, which, in the course of centuries, have enabled man to be less enslaved.
    • André Malraux, quoted in Malraux : An essay in Political Criticism‎ (1967) by David O. Wilkinson, p. 153
  • It... [is] a brute fact that our world is organized in large measure around groups with pervasive cultures.... membership of such groups... greatly affects one's opportunities.... If the culture is decaying, or if it is persecuted or discriminated against, the options and opportunities open to its members will shrink
    • Joseph Raz, Ethics in the Public Domain: Essays in the Morality of Law and Politics (1994), Clarendon Press.
  • The multitude are matter-of-fact. They live in commonplace concerns and interests. Their problems are, how to get more plentiful and better food and drink, more comfortable and beautiful clothing, more commodious dwellings, for themselves and their children. When they seek relaxation from their labors for material things, they gossip of the daily happenings, or they play games or dance or go to the theatre or club, or they travel or they read story books, or accounts in the newspapers of elections, murders, peculations, marriages, divorces, failures and successes in business; or they simply sit in a kind of lethargy. They fall asleep and awake to tread again the beaten path. While such is their life, it is not possible that they should take interest or find pleasure in religion, poetry, philosophy, or art. To ask them to read books whose life-breath is pure thought and beauty is as though one asked them to read things written in a language they do not understand and have no desire to learn. A taste for the best books, as a taste for whatever is best, is acquired; and it can be acquired only by long study and practice. It is a result of free and disinterested self-activity, of efforts to attain what rarely brings other reward than the consciousness of having loved and striven for the best. But the many have little appreciation of what does not flatter or soothe the senses. Their world, like the world of children and animals, is good enough for them; meat and drink, dance and song, are worth more, in their eyes, than all the thoughts of all the literatures. A love tale is better than a great poem, and the story of a bandit makes Plutarch seem tiresome. This is what they think and feel, and what, so long as they remain what they are, they will continue to think and feel. We do not urge a child to read Plato—why should we find fault with the many for not loving the best books?
  • One ought not to hoard culture. It should be adapted and infused into society as a leaven. Liberality of culture does not mean illiberality of its benefits.
    • Wallace Stevens, in a journal entry (20 June 1899); as published in Souvenirs and Prophecies: the Young Wallace Stevens (1977) edited by Holly Stevens, Ch. 3
  • [Culture is] that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, law, morals, custom, and other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.
    • Edward B. Tyler, Primitive Culture (1871) as quoted by Peter Farb, Man's Rise to Civilization (1968)
  • I didn't learn until I was in college about all the other cultures, and I should have learned that in the first grade. A first grader should understand that his or her culture isn't a rational invention; that there are thousands of other cultures and they all work pretty well; that all cultures function on faith rather than truth; that there are lots of alternatives to our own society. Cultural relativity is defensible and attractive. It's also a source of hope. It means we don't have to continue this way if we don't like it.
  • No one can take culture seriously if he believes that it is only the uppermost of several layers of epiphenomena resting on a primary reality of economic activity.
    • Richard Weaver, “The Importance of Cultural Freedom,” Life Without Prejudice (Chicago: 1965), p. 25

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