In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought

Oxford University Press
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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.
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About the author

Carl N. Degler is Margaret Byrne Professor of American History Emeritus at Stanford University.
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Additional Information

Publisher
Oxford University Press
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Published on
Nov 5, 1992
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Pages
416
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ISBN
9780199729012
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Language
English
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Genres
Psychology / General
Science / Life Sciences / Evolution
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Content Protection
This content is DRM protected.
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Eligible for Family Library

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The problem of how to treat the mentally handicapped attracted much attention from American reformers in the first half of the twentieth century. In this book, Steven Noll traces the history and development of institutions for the 'feeble-minded' in the South between 1900 and 1940. He examines the influences of gender, race, and class in the institutionalization process and relates policies in the South to those in the North and Midwest, regions that had established similar institutions much earlier. At the center of the story is the debate between the humanitarians, who advocated institutionalization as a way of protecting and ministering to the mentally deficient, and public policy adherents, who were primarily interested in controlling and isolating perceived deviants. According to Noll, these conflicting ideologies meant that most southern institutions were founded without a clear mission or an understanding of their relationship to southern society at large. Noll creates a vivid portrait of life and work within institutions throughout the South and the impact of institutionalization on patients and their families. He also examines the composition of the population labeled feeble-minded and demonstrates a relationship between demographic variables and institutional placement, including their effect on the determination of a patient's degree of disability.

Originally published in 1995.

A UNC Press Enduring Edition -- UNC Press Enduring Editions use the latest in digital technology to make available again books from our distinguished backlist that were previously out of print. These editions are published unaltered from the original, and are presented in affordable paperback formats, bringing readers both historical and cultural value.

New York Times Bestseller

A Summer Reading Pick for President Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg

From a renowned historian comes a groundbreaking narrative of humanity’s creation and evolution—a #1 international bestseller—that explores the ways in which biology and history have defined us and enhanced our understanding of what it means to be “human.”

One hundred thousand years ago, at least six different species of humans inhabited Earth. Yet today there is only one—homo sapiens. What happened to the others? And what may happen to us?

Most books about the history of humanity pursue either a historical or a biological approach, but Dr. Yuval Noah Harari breaks the mold with this highly original book that begins about 70,000 years ago with the appearance of modern cognition. From examining the role evolving humans have played in the global ecosystem to charting the rise of empires, Sapiens integrates history and science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific events within the context of larger ideas.

Dr. Harari also compels us to look ahead, because over the last few decades humans have begun to bend laws of natural selection that have governed life for the past four billion years. We are acquiring the ability to design not only the world around us, but also ourselves. Where is this leading us, and what do we want to become?

Featuring 27 photographs, 6 maps, and 25 illustrations/diagrams, this provocative and insightful work is sure to spark debate and is essential reading for aficionados of Jared Diamond, James Gleick, Matt Ridley, Robert Wright, and Sharon Moalem.

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