In Search of human nature

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Digital Presentation of Carl Degler's In Search of Human Nature.


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In Search of human nature: the decline and revival of Darwinism in American social thought by Carl Degler:

In Search of human nature: the decline and revival of Darwinism in American social thought by Carl Degler New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991

Carl n. degler:

Carl n. degler Margaret Byrne Professor of American History Emeritus at Stanford University Specializes in race and sex in American History Author of: Out of Our Past: The Forces that Shaped Modern America The Age of the Economic Revolution, 1876-1900 Affluence and Anxiety, 1945 to the Present Neither Black Nor White: Slavery and Race Relations in Brazil and the United States * The Other South: Southern Dissenters in the Nineteenth Century Place Over Time: The Continuity of Southern Distinctiveness At Odds: Women and the Family in America from the Revolution to the Present 1921 - * Won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972

Biology versus culture:

Biology versus culture The debate over the relative importance of an individual’s innate qualities (biology) versus personal experiences (culture or history) in determining or causing individual differences in behavior Also known as the nature versus nurture debate

In Search of Human Nature:

In Search of Human Nature

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck:

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck Principle of Acquired Characteristics – evolutionary change occurred as a consequence of an organism’s effort to improve its situation in its habitat Also known as Lamarckianism

Principle of Acquired Characteristics:

Principle of Acquired Characteristics

Charles Darwin:

Charles Darwin British Naturalist, along with Alfred Russell Wallace, made the discovery of natural selection Natural Selection - the process by which traits become more or less common in a population due to consistent effects upon the survival or reproduction of their bearers. It is a key mechanism of evolution. 1809-1882

Charles Darwin:

Charles Darwin The Origin of Species (1859) – essential argument was that the enormous variety of living things had resulted from 3 principles: All organisms reproduce Even within a given species each organism differed slightly from any other All organisms compete for survival This book does not apply evolution or natural selection to human beings.

Charles Darwin:

Charles Darwin The Descent of Man (1871) – inclusion of human beings in evolution, with an emphasis of depicting them, along with all other animals, as shaped by natural selection

Darwinian sexism:

Darwinian sexism “Man differs from woman in size, bodily strength, hairiness, etc. as well as in mind… in the same manner as do the two sexes of many mammals;” furthermore, “man is the rival of other men; he delights in competition, and this leads to ambition which passes too easily into selfishness” –Darwin Women’s brains were smaller than Men’s and thus could never be as intelligent as men. Women’s “sensibility, feeling, emotionality, or affectability” linked to the “larger development of her abdominal zone, and the activity of the physiological change located there in connection with the process of reproduction” –Sociologist William Thomas “Women had less reasoning power and creative imagination than men, but they excelled men in intuition –M.A. Haraker

Racist evolution:

Racist evolution Darwin rejected the idea that races were different species because he could not figure out how natural selection could have separated the races; however, he did acknowledge different levels of human societies (such as savages) leaving an opening for racist conclusions Racism – biological makeup shapes capability of individuals Hereditarianism – biology determines the behavior of human beings; does not draw comparisons between human groups Race a contributor but not a primary explanation for human behavior subject most prominent between 1910-1915, however it was still less than 5% of articles


Instinct Psychologist William James, contended a Darwinian ideal that instinct, was common to both animals and human beings. Anthropologist Alfred Kroeber of the University of California – in 1910 stated that “there can be no doubt that the essential moral ideas of man spring from instinct” regarding murder, incest, and cannibalism  “these instincts have arisen… In the animal world, they are, in the main, a necessity. The species that consumes itself, habitually inbreeds, or neglects its offspring, perishes. The unreasoning conditions of nature therefore have impressed strong aversion to such practice or have suppressed the instincts toward them, in virtually all higher animals. From our animal ancestors we no doubt derive the same feelings.” Criminal Anthropology was Cesare Lombroso’s theory that criminals could be identified by their physical characteristics


Intelligence IQ Tests were increasingly used to identify differences between races as well as between ethnic groups Virtually every tester who published his or her results in the early 1920s reported that blacks achieved scores significantly lower than whites Lewis Terman, the leading tester in the country, emphasized that tests from Chinese and Japanese indicate these races are on par with Europeans while blacks and Amerindians generally scored significantly lower Terman ruled out class as an explanation of differences in intelligence by 1916 – “practically all of the investigations which have been made of the influence of nature and nurture on mental performance agree in attributing far more to original endowment than to environment” Feeblemindedness – adults who test at a level below a 13 year old


Eugenics Recognition of heredity’s role in spawning social pathologies, disease, and immoral actions spurred the movement of Eugenics Francis Galton – creator of the idea and movement for Eugenics 1883 coined the term believed that Darwin laid down the essential ideas of Eugenics, because Darwin recognized humans were in the unique position to escape the controls generally imposed by natural selection Eugenics did not catch until the concept of acquired characters had been routed among social scientists  breeding became the only option to better the race Progressivism, accounted for much of the growth of Eugenics Eugenics greatly shaped public policy Expectation that Eugenics would become law – no marriage licenses for people whose children might become a burden upon society. Sterilization laws passed within 30 states


Thesis The next part of the book looks to show the shift from biological to cultural explanations for behavior while who made these arguments and what kind of evidence did they use to support their claims. Furthermore, Degler argues that the reason social scientists shifted from nature to nurture as the identifying factor of behavior is due to the idea that the world could become a “freer and more just place.”

Part II: The Sovereignty of culture:

Part II: The Sovereignty of culture “Franz Boas’ works declared war on the idea that differences in culture were derived from differences in innate capacity.” Boas maintained that the differences between savage, colored, civilized, and white people were the product of their histories not different biological experiences.

Franz boas:

Franz boas Groundbreaking study: Changes in the Bodily Form of Descendants of Immigrants


Gender Psychologist Helen Bradford Thompson concluded that there was no place for innate “feminine” characteristics in her investigations into the differences of men and women. William Thomas changed his opinion from biological factors to cultural ones within 2 years of claiming women’s brain were inherently smaller than men’s.


Intelligence feeblemindedness theory: Intelligence level of an 8-12 year old: “moron” Intelligence level of a 3-7 year old: “imbecile” Intelligence level less than a 3 year old: “idiot” William Healy – The Individual Delinquent William Wallin – Study of Iowa farmers and housewives


Eugenics Social scientists’ opposition to eugenics stemmed from its inability to address the issues and provide the solutions which they saw as the primary goal of their profession The most significant opposition against Eugenics was not from social scientists but geneticists.


Race Almost 2 million drafted into WWI tested which identified sharp differences among races and ethnic groups. Boas' concept of culture began to have an effect in the other social sciences Degler argues that the Great Migration of the 1920s, which led to many African Americans moving to the north changed the perception of blacks within the social sciences.

Return to biology:

Return to biology Degler argues the scientific inadequacy of environmental theories and “new and exciting answers and theories in the biological sciences… converged in the 1950s and 1960s” to revive interest in biological explanations. For instance, Degler focuses on the use of Ethology (the study of animal behavior) in the works of social scientists

MilgrAm Study:

MilgrAm Study

Strengths and weaknesses:

Strengths and weaknesses Exceptionally well researched Identification of the key contributors to the change in ideology The study of shifting attitudes towards race and gender Structure makes it difficult to comprehend



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