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

by Carl N. Degler

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Charles Darwin is known particularly for his theory of evolution, developed in the mid 18th century

Charles Darwin is known particularly for his theory of evolution, developed in the mid 18th century. As a biologist he looked at society in theory as well. Darwin's written theories essentially became the beginning of sociobiology, a forerunner of sociology. Those who Charles Darwin looked up to the most were the main influences in his life.

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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

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Nature : The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought. and gradual comeback of Social Darwinism in American thought.

Degler, however, did not intend to fully document American crimes against humanity; he intended to offer the history of a certain theme in American intellectual life.

Categories: Other Social Sciences. Other readers will always be interested in your opinion of the books you've read

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Masters, Roger D. Somit, Albert. Bibliographic Citation. Politics and the Life Sciences 1992 August; 11(2): 279-284.

Social Darwinism in European and American Thought, 1860-1945: Nature as Model and Nature as Threat Reading Human Nature: Literary Darwinism i. .

An important accomplishment by one of the leading scholars in the field of evolutionary studies.

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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Charles Darwin is known particularly for his theory of evolution, developed in the mid 18th century. As a biologist he looked at society in theory as well. Darwin's written theories essentially became the beginning of sociobiology, a forerunner of sociology. [teacher wrote: it is a theory in sociology, but not its forerunner]

Those who Charles Darwin looked up to the most were the main influences in his life. For the most part he advocated those thoughts expressed by his own father and grandfather. Herbert Spencer supported Darwin's theories in his writings dueing the mid 1800's, Darwin's time. As a matter of fact, some historians feel it is more important to refer to "social Darwinism" as "Spencerism". He may have influenced Darwin. [teacher wrote: He did develop theory of evolution before Darwin and he did develop the phrase "survival of the fittest"]

In our life conflict with nature versus nurture concept, nature is proposed to cause moe influence on individual thoughts on society according to Darwin and his followers. [teacher marked this sentence up and wrote: sentence structure!] He described his concept on slow gradual (permanent) changes reflecting on continuity. This was certainly a conflicting point of view with many in his day due to the majority's christianic beliefs. Those beliefs reflect on catastrophic changes being the only form of change in society, referred to as causality. A few examples would be the creation of the world and the Flood in the Bible. Darwin explained the "root of morality" as social instincts which caused animals to cooperate with one another for what he called "the general good", a term he defined as the "rearing fo the greatest number of individuals in full vigour and health". Morality in his day was described by the majority as more of a looking out for mankind and "loving thy neighbor". One prinicple Darwin described in making conscious choices is referred to by sociologists as the "utalitarian principle of individual happiness". Darwin described this principle as "happiness and welfare usually coincide with an individual". This reflects survival as priority whereas many in his day claimed that "turning the other cheek" or "loving thy neighbor" caused true happiness.

An advocate of Darwin would include Herbert Spencer, who by controversy may have originally developed his own thoughts which are very similar. Spencer lived during the same time as Darwin. He publicly advocated that governments and other institutions keep their regulatory hands off what he liked to think of as the "natural processes of the social order...Let nature take its course...Survival of the fittest". [teacher wrote: apply ideas of evolution to social life] The Study of Sociology was written by Spencer in 1874. In it he said "To aid the bad in multiplying is, in effect, the same as maliciously providing for our descendants a multitude of enemies". He called this the "natural processs of elimination by which societycontinously purifies itself". Clearly so many of his ideas go hand-in-hand with Darwin's and that is why some historians feel it is rightful to refer to these concepts as "Spencerism".

There were many who considered themselves as Darwinists towards the turn of the 19th century. They also had some conflicting views with Darwin. J.W. Powell (1888) claimed that "man does not complete with plants and animals for existence for he emancipates himself from tht struggle by the invention of arts; and again man does not compete with his fellow man for existence for he emancipates himself from the brutal struggle by the invention of institutions." He referred to his concept as human evolution as apposed to Darwin's animal evolution. Charles H. Cooley (University of Michigan) and Edward Ross (University of Wisconsin) both infer that evolution was actually another word for progress. They attempted to master and channel the achievement of that goal. (Thus began the aspects of sociology). Charles Elwood (University of Missouri) believed that there is no correlation with "biologically fit" and "economically fit". Those who are perceived as the fittest in the economy certainly may not be fit biologically. Money and/or assets can be acquired or attained with great ease at times, which would cause someone to become rich.

The goal of these new social socientists was to show that evolution and Darwinism encouraged cooperation and cohesion in society rather than conflict between groups, as social Darwinism taught. They looked to the environment in shaping human behavior and social order. If someone changed the social environment, human behavior would adapt.

[teacher wrote: This is a nice examination of Darwin and Spencer, and an update including Cooley.
The debate is no longer between nature and nurture, it is how natural tendencies are channeled by culture.
Please pay attention to sentence structure.
Paper structure is better in this paper.]

My opinion: This teacher was a bigot. First of all, I found out later my brother Tom knew him personally. Tom took sociology and got an A with his kissing-up. I wanted to learn. Tom knew nothing more when he got out of that class. When I spoke to him about scientists, etc. he did not even know who Spencer was.

Just typical what I have gone through at school - being squished.

Maybe I am too defensive, so I seek your opinion. Let me know if I am wrong. But I have been in a culture of "ignorance is bliss" time and time again - wanting to serve the scandalous slander around me, for the most part, to my surprise and disappointment, was by my own family, and society only wanted to feed into it because I cannot have a brain. I am not worth anything. I need to 'realize' that my head injury from when the sander truck driver did not give me right of way has harmed me for life, crippled my IQ - so they can re-scavenge money through attorneys and reopen my case since I would have been rich if I had just gone to court and not settled out of court. Yeah, right. And have siblings constantly suck up to me because they figure I am getting rich? This same brother spread around town I was getting $750,000. Everybody was attracted to me because of it. I knew it was phoney. I wanted to be free. I wanted my independence. I wanted to live in truth. That was 1979 when I settled. The society never let me "get over it" because they wanted to serve the wants of beurocracy. They did not want to give me credit for anything.

My homework was excellent in that class. This teacher gave students "A's" and students bragged out of class that he obviously did not check references or quotes, etc., laughing about it. This teacher told us before he got that job he worked for industry as a psyche. Some kind of research psyche, I guess. He apparently had his contract terminated, got pissed off, and destroyed all company records involving his work. I consider that to be illegal. He bragged about it. What kind of ethics is that? And when I told my then live-in boyfriend, he just laughed, saying school is just a joke anyway.

That is NOT what I expect it to be! Albertus Magnus College is now charging me $20,000 for the so-called schooling I got there. The business teachers were lousy! My math teacher was great. Humanities teacher would have been even greater had he not been suppressed and considered the administration to be "sick", for better terms. And my humanities teacher was a young man, a father of two, though, and worked hard on his ph.d and also taught at Univ of Connecticut.

But the meat of my major - sucked! Another year of wasted time and money! I told them in April I had no other choice than to transfer. In May I made up my mind between two schools, applying to SCSU in New Haven. In June they tell me they want all my transcripts, not just from Albertus Magnus. So I scrambled and got them. I am still waiting to be matriculated and will address the problem I have with my financial aid and loans at that point. I would expect anyone I may have to speak to would first ask if I was matriculated.

School should have more accountability!

I did not spellcheck this document, nor am I taking time to edit it. What you see, is what you get. WYSIWIG - sounds like a Native American term, doesn't it? Should be, in my opinion. They speak plain language with logic. If they formed a group to review laws state-by-state, they could submit reviews on the illogical, self-serving laws that are out there and crippling this country. We needed the Whisperers in WWII. We need them now, in my opinion.

-anne bradley
In "In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought", Carl N. Degler tells the story of how social scientists “made the momentous shift from believing that biology explained some human actions to seeing culture or human experience – history, if you will – as the primary if not the sole source of the differential behavior of human beings” (pg. vii). His work draws upon various publications in the social sciences – psychology, sociology, political science – in the years following Darwin’s publication of "On the Origin of Species". Degler’s work responds directly to Stephen Jay Gould’s "Mismeasure of Man", disagreeing with Gould’s assessment of H.H. Goddard, though generally supporting his other conclusions (pg. 39, 267, etc.).
Degler writes, “Whether called social Darwinism, or social Spencerism, the defense of the social and economic hierarchy of nineteenth-century America that the doctrine was intended to accomplish held little appeal for the men and women who were shaping the emerging fields of sociology, psychology, economics, and anthropology at the end of the century. The aim of social Darwinism was frankly conservative; the rising social scientists were not” (pg. 13). He continues, “The point here is not that social scientists at the opening of the twentieth century were as hereditarian or racist as Americans in general. Instead, it is that they more or less viewed race as a contributory but not necessarily as the primary explanation for human behavior” (pg. 16). According to Degler, Franz Boas’ “introduction of history or culture as the cause of differences among peoples might be said to have been the sword that cut asunder evolution’s Gordian knot in which nurture was tightly tied to nature. It also constructed a single human nature in place of one divided by biology into superior and inferior peoples” (pg. 62-63). From there, “once the theory of acquired characters ceased to be acceptable, those reform-minded social scientists were confronted by a choice between biology – which no longer could be seen as experimentally cumulative – and culture, which was” (pg. 86).
In moving his discussion from race to gender, Degler recalls Foucault when he writes, “All human relations involve power to some degree” (pg. 106). According to Degler, “The ideological roots as well as the radical nature of the social or environmental explanation for sex differences become especially clear when we recognize that not all women social reformers subscribed to it” (pg. 123). Many women continued to use the separate spheres ideology as justification for their lobbying and reform work. Degler then examines class, writing, “Increasing numbers of [social scientists] were finding biology inadequate in helping them to understand or ameliorate social problems. Many, therefore, came to see biology as no longer relevant to social inquiry” (pg. 147). Social scientists were at first hesitant to examine class, to the effect that “few studies of the relation between class and intelligence appeared in scholarly journals during the 1920s. Class, after all, has never been a very live source of conflict among Americans, but race and ethnicity have a long history of controversy and conflict, and few periods of that history were more turbulent that [sic] the years between the First World War and the onset of the Great Depression” (pg. 172). This lead social scientists to examine how class differences could impact intellectual development for the better or worse. This also helped shift the outlook on race (pg. 202).
Darwinsim returned in other models. In 1968, Albert Somit of SUNY Buffalo used biological models to map political science. “Two years later, Thomas Thorson broadened the connection between biology and politics by suggesting that Darwinian evolutionary theory would be valuable in arriving at a theory of political and social change. Human affairs, he believed, were much more likely to be correctly understood from the perspective of evolutionary theory than from physics, which had long been the model, although a hardly appropriate one, for political science” (pg. 225). Finally, Darwinian models emphasized “the continuity between animals and human beings,” leading social scientists to examine the behaviors of animals for clues to human behavior (pg. 237).
Starting with Darwin and progressing until around 1975, the author describes the arguments put forward for nature vs nurture explanations of human behaviour. Individuals propagating certain viewpoints are driven by scientific evidence but also their own political viewpoints and in some cases academic narrow-mindedness. Written by a historian the book is eminently objective. He does not ridicule one side of the argument and he explains the origins of both perspectives.

Writing in 2012 this book is worth reading for people interested in the history of ideas. It is also a good case study of how knowledge growth is influenced by politics and social values. Naturally, the same mechanisms are at play today. The book was published in 1991 so I would suspect the target audience at the time would have been quite similar. Because the book has an historical focus, it is not very dated, and the author writes very well. Thus I can really recommend the book.

The book does not deal with the myriad of political and social consequences of the various views propagated by the scientists. That would be another book. This book is squarely about how the scientists came to hold the views they held. Another, slightly more serious, weakness is that the book deals almost exclusively with American scientists.

The only reason for giving the book four stars is that the target audience is very small. So this is probably not a 'must read' book. If you do pick it up, you are probably going to feel that you want the continuation of the story from 1995 to 2000. I wish another historian would pick up the thread.
In Search of Human Nature: The Decline and Revival of Darwinism in American Social Thought download epub
Performing Arts
Author: Carl N. Degler
ISBN: 0195077075
Category: Arts & Photography
Subcategory: Performing Arts
Language: English
Publisher: Oxford University Press; Reprint edition (November 5, 1992)
Pages: 416 pages