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Nature, Human Nature, and Human DifferenceRace in Early Modern Philosophy$
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Justin E. H. Smith

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780691153643

Published to Princeton Scholarship Online: October 2017

DOI: 10.23943/princeton/9780691153643.001.0001

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Race and Its Discontents in the Enlightenment

Race and Its Discontents in the Enlightenment

(p.231) Chapter 9 Race and Its Discontents in the Enlightenment
Nature, Human Nature, and Human Difference

Justin E. H. Smith

Princeton University Press

This chapter surveys some of the more important developments in the history of the concept of race in eighteenth-century Germany. It reveals an inconsistency between the desire to make taxonomic distinctions and a hesitance to posit any real ontological divisions within the human species. This inconsistency was well represented in the physical-anthropological work of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, who was, in many respects, the most important eighteenth-century theorist of human difference. Johann Gottfried Herder, a contemporary of Blumenbach's, was intensely interested in human diversity, but saw this diversity as entirely based in culture rather than biology, and saw cultural difference as an entirely neutral matter, rather than as a continuum of higher and lower. Herder constitutes an important link between early modern universalism, on the one hand, and on the other the ideally value-neutral project of cultural anthropology as it would begin to emerge in the nineteenth century.

Keywords:   eighteenth-century Germany, taxonomic distinctions, Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, human difference, Johann Gottfried Herder, human diversity, cultural difference, early modern universalism, cultural anthropology

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