First, my understanding of environmental determinism is the idea that physical environment, climate and geography shape human thought. Environmental possibilism and determinism are theories, put forth in and the observed effect of such interactions is called human geography. ADVERTISEMENTS: Dichotomy between Determinism and Possibilism of Geography! In the history of geographical concepts, there have been.

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In the history of geographical concepts, there have been various approaches and schools of thought of study man-nature interaction. The first approach adopted by the geographers to generalize the patterns of human occupations of the earth surface was deterministic.

Their major initial source for explanations was the physical environment, and that theoretical position was established around the belief that the nature of human activity was controlled by the parameters of the physical world within which it was set. Determinism is one of the most important philosophies which persisted up to the Second World War in one shape or the other. The point of view is that the physical environment controls the course of human action.

In other words, the belief that variation in human behaviour around the world can be explained by the differences in the natural environment. The essence of the deterministic school of thought is that the history, culture, living style and stage of development of a social group or nation are exclusively or largely governed by the physical factors of environment. The determinists generally consider man a passive agent on which the physical factors are constantly acting and thus determining his attitude and process of decision making.

In brief, determinists believe that most human activity can be explained as a response to the natural environment. The first attempt to explain the physical features and character traits of various peoples and their culture with reference to the influence of natural conditions was made by the Greek and Roman scholars.

They included the physician Hippocrates, the philosopher. Aristotle, and the historians Thucydides, Xenophon, and Herodotus. In the Greco-Roman period, regional studies were closely bound up with the study of history. Strabo referred to similar phenomena when explaining the mighty and greatness of Rome.

Aristotle, for example, explained the differences between Northern Europeans and Asians in terms of climatic causes. He argued that the colder climates of Europe produced brave but unintelligent people who were ij to maintain their independence but who did not have the capacity to rule others.

Aristotle thought that the people inhabiting the warm climates of Asia were intelligent but lacking in spirit and therefore subject to slavery. Because humans possiiblism judge their own home as the best place, it geoggaphy not surprising that Aristotle believed that the middle place, combing the best of all possible worlds, was Greece Glacken, The Greek scholars have referred determinims the easy-going ways of Asiatics living in favourable environmental conditions, while the penurious Europeans had to work hard for a aand amelioration of their poor environment.

They contrast the tall, gentle, brave folk of the most windy mountains with the lean, sinewy blonde inhabitants of dry lowlands. Aristotle emphatically attributed the progress of certain nations to their favourable environmental conditions. Similarly, Strabo—the Roman geographer—attempted to explain how slope, relief, climate all were the works of God, and how these phenomena govern the life-styles of people.

Montesquieu pointed out that the people in cold climates are stronger physically, more courageous, frank, less suspicious and less cunning than those in the warm climates. The people of possiiblism climates are timorous, weak in body, indolent and passive. Geographical determinism continued to dominate the writings of the Arab geographers. They divided the habitable world into seven kisbwars, or terrestial zones climate and highlighted the physical and cultural characteristics of races and nations of these zones.

Al-Masudi, for example, asserted that in the land like Sham Syria where water is abundant, the people are gay and humorous, while the people of dry and arid lands are short-tempered. The nomads who live in the open air are marked by strength and resolution, wisdom and physical fitness. George Tathan—a leading historian of the 18th century—also explained the differences between peoples with reference to the differences between the lands in which ddeterminism lived.

Kant was also a determinist, who stated that the people of New-Holland East Indies have half-closed eyes and cannot see to any distance without geograpjy their heads back until they touch their backs. This is due to the innumerable flies which are always flying in their eyes. Kant further stressed the point that all the inhabitants of hot lands are exceptionally lazy and timid.


Timidity engenders superstition and in lands ruled by kings it leads to slavery. In support of possibilisn hypothesis of the influence of climate, he stated that animals and men which migrate to other countries gradually get affected by their environment. For example, the brown squirrels which migrate to Siberia turn grey and the colour of white cows in winters turns greyish. The environmental causation continued throughout the 19th century when geographers themselves used to regard determinnism above all as natural science.

Carl Ritter—the leading German geographer— adopted an anthropocentric approach and introduced geographical determinism in the early 19th century. Ritter attempted to establish the cause variations in the physical constitution of body, physique and health of men living in different physical environmental conditions.

He stated that the narrow eyelids of Turkoman people determinosm an obvious effect of the desert upon the human organism. Determinusm geographers of his school declared that their main task was to identify the influence exerted by geographical conditions on material culture and the political destinies of the inhabitants of a given region, both in the past and present.

Dichotomy between Determinism and Possibilism of Geography

Deerminism origin of the scientific determinism lie in the work of Charles Darwin, whose seminal book Origin of Species influenced many geographers. Fitting well into this intellectual environment, the theory of environmental determinism, developed mostly by geographers, was the prevailing view in American geography at the turn of the 20th century.

The concern was with documenting the control or influence of environment upon human society. He cited the example of British Isles and Japan and asserted that both these countries have insular locations, which provide natural defence against the invaders.

Environmental Possibilism Vs. Environmental Determinism

Consequently, the people of these countries have been making rapid progress. He was convinced that the gdography of history, the mode of life of a people and the stage of its development are closely determiinsm by the physical features and location of a place in relation to mountains and plains.

In his deterministic approach, he gave more weight to location in relation to topographic features. The theological school of thought advocated the idea of a designed earth: The deterministic school of thought is that of environmental influence on culture. This drives initially from the contrast between nature and custom in different places and came to be used in interpreting the great array of human cultural and biological differences.

Thomas Malthus who was a scientific deterministemphasized not only the influence of different environments but also the limitations which the earth imposed on social development. The father of this generation of offspring seems to have been Carl Ritter whose theme was that the physical environment was capable of determining the course of human development. The names of Friedrich Ratzel and Ellen Churchill Semple are associated with the most outspoken expression of the idea of environmental determinism.

This approach was slightly modified by Ellsworth Huntington and Griffith Taylor. Huntington tried to seek out objective evidence of the effect of physical environment, and in particular climate which he regarded as an important influence on human behaviour.

Possibilism (geography)

Taylor was even more careful to gather accurate data about environment and to relate these to his idea of human habitability, especially in Australia. He tended to play down socio-economic factor. He believed that environment sets the limit of human development.

As stated earlier, the origin of environmental determinism lies anv the work of Charles Darwin, whose seminal book Origin of Species influenced many scientists.

The belief that variations in human behaviour around the world can be explained by differences in the natural environment is known as environmental determinism.

Davis in his cycle of erosion model of landform developmentEllen Churchill Semple and Ellsworth Huntington. geovraphy

Semple was the direct descendant of Ratzel. She preached the philosophy of her master and thus was a staunch supporter of determinism. Her books Americal History and its Geographic Conditions and Influences of Geographic Environmentestablished environmentalism in America in the early decades of the 20th century.

Influences of Geographical Environment begins with the following paragraph: This means not merely that he is a child of the earth, dust of her dust, but the earth has geogrxphy hin, set him task, directed his thought, confronted him with difficulties, that have strengthened his body and sharpened his wits, gave him his problems of deter,inism or irrigation and at the same time whispered hints for their solution.


She has entered into his bones and tissues, into his inn and georaphy. On the mountain she has given him leg muscles of iron to climb the slope, along the coast she has left these weak and flabby, but given him instead vigorous development of chest and arm to handle his paddle or oar.

In river valley, she attaches him to fertile soil… Simple, in her book, distinguishes the attitudinal characteristics of the people living in different physical settings and points out that the dwellers of mountains are essentially possibilizm. There is little in their environment to stimulate them to change and little reaches them from the outside world. Hence, innovation is repugnant to them.

As a matter of fact, the process of diffusion of new ideas and innovations in possibilism hilly tracts of isolation and relative isolation is slow as compared to the well-connected plains of the world. This relative isolation of the hill dwellers leads to orthodoxy, conservativism and suspicious attitude towards strangers. They are extremely sensitive to their traditions and do not like criticism. They have strong religious feelings and an intense love for family.

The bitter struggle geogarphy existence makes deter,inism hill men industrious, frugal, provident and honest. Contrary to this, the people of plain parts of Europe are energetic, serious, thoughtful rather than emotional, and cautious rather than impulsive. The people of the Mediterranean region where the climate is temperate and mild are gay, humorous, sporting and imaginative as life is easy.

Elseworth Huntington—the American geographer—who wrote the monumental book, The Principles of Human Geography inwas a protagonist of environmental determinism.

He, however, constantly reiterated the importance of posisbilism constitution and threw his weight behind various genetic enterprises Spate, He took the most decisive step since the time of Hippocrates towards something new and conclusive in environmental causation thinking. Wnd advanced theories relating to course of civilization to climatic change. Huntington divided the world in the mild and harsh climatic zones and established that the ancient civilizations Egyptian, Mesopotamian, Chinese, Indus flourished in the fertile river valleys of mild climates.

He also established the hypothesis of invasion and tribal warfare.

According to Huntington, religion and racial character are the products of climate. Such a climatic condition is found in the North-East U. The underdevelopment of the tropics, he explains, is owing to the humid, hot, oppressive weather which makes the people lethargic, lazy, inefficient, suspicious and timid.

Huntington thus believed that out of all the factors of natural environment, climate was the fundamental factor in the rise of civilization He concluded that his homeland, which was the north-eastern part of Lossibilism.

Environmental determinism is regarded by many people as overly simplistic because it neglects the cultural factors that affect human behaviour.

Possibilism – Geography

Two societies that inhabit areas having similar climates and landforms may be very dissimilar. Many scholars made it vividly clear that climate influenced physical properties of the soil which ultimately determined the cropping patterns, on which depend the dietary habits, physique and attitudes of the inhabitants.

Mac Carrison demonstrated conclusively that the greater stature, strong constitution and superior physical resistance of the Sikhs of Northern India as compared to those of the Tamils of South India are a direct result of the superior Sikh diet, particularly its greater richness in protein.

The Khasis of the plateau detetminism Meghalaya have in general a poor physique because the protein intake in their diet is significantly low and the humid weather throughout the year creates breathing problems to the inhabitants of this plateau.

The Kikuyus are farmers living on a diet of cereals, tubers and legumes; and the Mesais on the other hand, are cattle raisers, whose diet includes meat, milk and ox-blood, which they take from the animals.

These two human groups living side by side in the same environment differ profoundly in their physical measurements. This difference is the direct result of their fundamentally different diets. Similarly, there is no doubt that posskbilism low stature and poor physique of most of the tribals, the rural masses and the slum-dwellers of India are the result of starvation, undernourishment and malnutrition.

The poor physique of the Xeterminism, Nepalis, Bangladesis and Vietnamese may also be explained against the background of their poor diet and undernourishment.