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In Search of Human Nature : The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought - Carl N. Degler

In Search of Human Nature

The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought

Paperback

Published: 5th November 1992
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Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in History in 1972, and a past president of both the Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association, Carl Degler is one of America's most eminent living historians. He is also one of the most versatile. In a forty year career, he has written brilliantly on race (Neither Black Nor White, which won the Pulitzer Prize), women's studies (At Odds, which Betty Friedan called "a stunning book"), Southern history (The Other South), the New Deal, and many other subjects. Now, in The Search for Human Nature, Degler turns to perhaps his largest subject yet, a sweeping history of the impact of Darwinism (and biological research) on our understanding of human nature, providing a fascinating overview of the social sciences in the last one hundred years.
The idea of a biological root to human nature was almost universally accepted at the turn of the century, Degler points out, then all but vanished from social thought only to reappear in the last four decades. Degler traces the early history of this idea, from Darwin's argument that our moral and emotional life evolved from animals just as our human shape did, to William James's emphasis on instinct in human behavior (then seen as a fundamental insight of psychology). We also see the many applications of biology, from racism, sexism, and Social Darwinism to the rise of intelligence testing, the eugenics movement, and the practice of involuntary sterilization of criminals (a public policy pioneered in America, which had sterilization laws 25 years before Nazi Germany--one such law was upheld by Oliver Wendell Holmes's Supreme Court). Degler then examines the work of those who denied any role for biology, who thought culture shaped human nature, a group ranging from Franz Boas, Ruth Benedict, and Margaret Mead, to John B. Watson and B.F. Skinner. Equally important, he examines the forces behind this fundamental shift in a scientific paradigm, arguing that ideological reasons--especially the struggle against racism and sexism in America--led to this change in scientific thinking. Finally, Degler considers the revival of Darwinism without the Social Darwinism, racism, and sexism, led first by ethologists such as Karl von Frisch, Nikolaas Tinbergen, Konrad Lorenz, and Jane Goodall--who revealed clear parallels between animal and human behavior--and followed in varying degrees by such figures as Melvin Konner, Alice Rossi, Jerome Kagen, and Edward O. Wilson as well as others in anthropology, political science, sociology, and economics.
What kind of animal is Homo sapiens and how did we come to be this way? In this wide ranging history, Carl Degler traces our attempts over the last century to answer these questions. In doing so, he has produced a volume that will fascinate anyone curious about the nature of human beings.

"Just the type of book I have been looking for that deals with ideas in U.S. history I do not think I have seen other books on this."-Donna D. King, Virginia State University "Wonderfully written....This immensely informative and detailed history of social thought...provides a challenging perspective on what it is (or what people have thought it is) to be human."--Kirkus Reviews "Degler has produced a brilliant synthesis of our national preoccupation with the nature of human beings and what that has meant in our democracy."--Los Angeles Times "A scholarly, dispassionate, historical examination of the nature vs. nurture controversy....Wide-ranging."--Publishers Weekly "Masterful....Impressive intellectual history....[Degler] makes his case forcefully and articulately."--The Philadelphia Inquirer "Just the type of book I have been looking for that deals with ideas in U.S. history I do not think I have seen other books on this."-Donna D. King, Virginia State University "Wonderfully written....This immensely informative and detailed history of social thought...provides a challenging perspective on what it is (or what people have thought it is) to be human."--Kirkus Reviews "Degler has produced a brilliant synthesis of our national preoccupation with the nature of human beings and what that has meant in our democracy."--Los Angeles Times "A scholarly, dispassionate, historical examination of the nature vs. nurture controversy....Wide-ranging."--Publishers Weekly "Masterful....Impressive intellectual history....[Degler] makes his case forcefully and articulately."--The Philadelphia Inquirer "Thoroughgoing and evenhanded."--Library Journal "A masterly intellectual history of the reverberation of Darwinian ideas in popular social thought and in the thoughts of social scientists....Takes[s] us on a splendid, informed, eye-opening textual tour of the acceptance, rejection and acceptance again of bio-social thought from the late 19th century to the present....On Mr. Degler's tour one learns many remarkable things about some of the people who have shaped 20th-century thought...An indispensable, and safe enough primer, for the [bio-social] debate."--Richard A Shweder, The New York Times Book Review "A fascinating tour of biosocial thought and a challenging exploration of what it means to be human."--Science News "An excellent exposition of the changing positions of the scientists and provides context for their ideas, experiments, and conclusions. Degler's explication of the work of anthropologist Franz Boas is a major contribution to scholarship."--Magill Book Reviews "An important, impressive book that offers a refreshingly new look at Darwinism."--William H. Goetzmann, University of Texas, Austin "A solid, well-mapped intellectual history."--The Washington Times "Degler's study will both fascinate and disturb its readers. He documents in considerable detail from primary sources an aspect of the history of eugenics that few of those studying the movement have examined so far. . . . a stunning intellectual history of the impact of Darwinism and biological research on the social sciences." --Contemporary Psychology "Very thorough discussion of a critical and controversial issue. I've recommended it widely."--Robert Pyne, Dallas Theological Seminary "Comprehensive....Well written, timely study....Degler is to be congratulated...Balanced and erudite." --Metascience

Biology Acknowledged
Invoking the Darwinian Imperativep. 3
Beyond the Darwinian Imperativep. 32
The Sovereignty of Culture
Laying the Foundationp. 59
In the Wake of Boasp. 84
Does Sex Tell Us Anything?p. 105
Decoupling Behavior from Naturep. 139
Decoupling Intelligence from Racep. 167
Why Did Culture Triumph?p. 187
Remembering Darwin
Biology Redivivusp. 215
The Case of the Origin of the Incest Taboop. 245
The Uses of Biologyp. 270
Biology and the Nature of Femalesp. 293
The Uses and Misuses of Evolutionary Theory in Social Sciencep. 310
Epilogue: Beyond Social Sciencep. 329
Notesp. 351
Indexp. 385
Table of Contents provided by Syndetics. All Rights Reserved.

ISBN: 9780195077070
ISBN-10: 0195077075
Audience: Professional
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Number Of Pages: 416
Published: 5th November 1992
Publisher: Oxford University Press Inc
Country of Publication: US
Dimensions (cm): 22.86 x 15.24  x 2.54
Weight (kg): 0.54