In the late 1770s, as a wave of revolution and republican unrest swept across Europe, scholars looked with urgency on the progress of European civilization. The question of social development was addressed from Edinburgh to St. Petersburg, with German scholars, including C. G. Heyne, Christoph Meiners, and J. G. Eichhorn, at the center of the discussion.
Michael Carhart examines their approaches to understanding human development by investigating the invention of a new analytic category, "culture." In an effort to define human nature and culture, scholars analyzed ancient texts for insights into language and the human mind in its early stages, together with writings from modern travelers, who provided data about various primitive societies. Some scholars began to doubt the existence of any essential human nature, arguing instead for human culture. If language was the vehicle of reason, what did it mean that all languages were different? Were rationality and virtue universal or unique to a given nation?
In this scholarship lie the roots of anthropology, sociology, and classical philology. Dissecting the debates over nature versus culture in Enlightenment Europe, Carhart offers a valuable contribution to cultural and intellectual history and the history of the human sciences.
With enormous erudition, Carhart examines the innovations in the human sciences taking place in and around Göttingen in the eighteenth century but set in a larger European context. He does us the service of shedding light on such figures as Christian Gottlob Heyne, Johann David Michaelis, and Johann Gottfried Eichhorn in a synoptic treatment that is both new and important. This is a work of revisionism that brings forward neglected materials, challenges settled views, and proposes yet another 'rival enlightenment.'
Michael Carhart's ambitious contribution to our knowledge of the German Enlightenment should appeal to Enlightenment specialists of any national focus, as it situates German figures in conversation with other European figures. The author provides a well-informed analysis of many illuminating but often little-known episodes in intellectual history of the eighteenth century, from the discussions of feral children to that of Tahitian natives, from expeditions to Yemen and Syria to scholarly ones into the philological past.
- 374 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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