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The World Before Anthropology. The Social Milieu that Gave Shape to the Discipline. Precursors. 16 th C. – Age of discovery European world view Europeans favored by God “Savages” lacked Christianity, lived in a state of nature Concept of “Natural Order”

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the world before anthropology

The World Before Anthropology

The Social Milieu that Gave Shape to the Discipline

  • 16th C. – Age of discovery
  • European world view
    • Europeans favored by God
    • “Savages” lacked Christianity, lived in a state of nature
    • Concept of “Natural Order”
  • World understood in terms of religious beliefs
    • Galileo threatened with torture for supporting Copernicus’ idea of a heliocentric universe
    • Archbishop Ussher: the world was created 4004 B.C.
18 th c enlightenment
18th C. Enlightenment
  • Concern for freedom from religious authority
  • Shift from ideas influenced by theology & supernatural causation to empirical inquiry & scientific objectivity
  • Scientific method & universal laws of human behavior
  • Rationality & natural law
philosophers contribute concept of humanism
Philosophers contribute concept of humanism
  • Hobbes: the condition of man in a state of nature is a condition of war against everyone
  • Rousseau: humans in a state of nature are essentially good, but ruined by civilization
  • Locke: humans born as a tabla rasa, experience makes them what they are
Montesquieu: cultural differences explained by environmental causes, concept of cultural relativism
  • Turgot: human diversity attributed to cultural, rather than biological causes
  • Condorcet: belief in perfectibility of human beings
  • All peoples, including “savages” capable of progress to civilization
  • Idea of the “noble savage”
  • Psychic unity of human kind
  • 1800 Society for the Observation of Man: comparative anatomy, languages, ethnography
the comparative method
The Comparative Method
  • To determine degrees of civilization & assign each group to its stage on a universal evolutionary scale of progress
  • Comparative method substitutes for lack of historical knowledge
citizen deg r ando
Citizen Degérando
  • “Small wonder that most travel accounts transmit to us Bizarre descriptions which amuse the idle curiosity of the vulgar, but which furnish no information useful for the scientific spirit”
  • Human nature is fundamentally the same everywhere, attributed abstract ideas to natives
  • Positive method, live among natives, learn language
deg r ando differs from 19 th c
Degérando differs from 19th C
  • “If the savage had not climbed the scale of civilization, there was no question of his capacity to do so”
  • One thing was missing

—the concept of race

  • He represents the egalitarian humanitarianism of the Enlightenment
18 th vs 19 th centuries
18th vs 19th Centuries
  • 18th: Civilization was the destiny of all humankind
  • 19th: Civilization was the achievement of certain races
19 th c evolutionary theory
19th C. Evolutionary Theory
  • Re: Debates on monogenism, polygenism, degeneration
  • Religious reaction to Enlightenment = resurgence of theological interpretations
  • Conservative political reaction to egalitarian optimism of the French Revolution
  • Laissez-faire economics linked to industrial capitalism
darwin origin of species
Darwin: Origin of Species
  • Materialist theory challenged theologians
  • New ideas about the age of the earth (Lyell’s Uniformitarianism)
  • Return to a doctrine of progress
  • Spencer: “Survival of the Fittest”
    • the application of biological evolution to human societies