Skip to main content Skip to navigation

Week 8: Human Nature and the Enlightenment. Man.

Click here to download the slides for this week's lecture

‘Human nature’ and ‘the science of man’ were two buzzwords of the European Enlightenment. This lecture examines the philosophers and reformers who built a science of human nature on the model of the natural sciences. The science of man aimed to study humans with more rigour and accuracy than ever before. But it was shot through with assumptions about race, gender, and the nature of knowledge.

Seminar Questions

  • What was the 'Science of Man' and why did it become so important to Enlightenment thinkers?
  • 'The Enlightenment’s interest in the differences between Europeans and other ethnicities and was driven by a underlying racists and sexist agenda.’ Discuss.
  • ‘Women were constructed as inferior by Engligthened physicians and anatomists’. Discuss.

Essential Readings

Hundert, E.H., ‘European Enlightenment and the History of the Self’ in Roy Porter (ed.), Rewriting the Self: Histories from the Renaissance to the Present (London, 1997), pp. 72-83

Sebastiani, Silvia, ‘The Natural History of Humankind and the Natural History of Man’, in Silvia Sebastiani, Race, Gender and the Limits of Progress in the Scottish Enlightenment (Basingstoke, 2013), pp. 45-72.

Additional Readings

Moravia, Sergio, ‘The Enlightenment and the Science of Man’, History of Science 18 (1980): 247-268.
Olsen, Richard, ‘The Human Sciences’, in Roy Porter (ed.), Cambridge History of Science:Eighteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 436-462
Fox, R., Inventing Human Science: Eighteenth-Century Domains (Berkeley, 1995).
Porter, Roy,: 'The Goal: A Science of Man, in Roy Porter, The Enlightenment (London, 1990), pp. 11-21.
Reill, Peter H., ‘The Legacy of the “Scientific Revolution”: Science and the Enlightenment’, in Roy Porter (ed.), Cambridge History of Science: Eighteenth-Century Science (Cambridge, 2003), pp. 25-36.
Wolff, Larry, and Cipolino,Marco (eds), The Anthropology of the Enlightenment (Stanford, 2007).
Wood, Paul B., ‘The Natural History of Man in the Scottish Enlightenment’, History of Science 27 (1989)
Zammito, John H., Kant, Herder and the Birth of Anthropology (Chicago, 2002).