Between Facts and Myths: Anthropology and Anthropological Doubt in Eighteenth Century France

Between Facts and Myths: Anthropology and Anthropological Doubt in Eighteenth Century France

Emma Planinc, March 29 2016

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016 at 1:00PM

Emma Planinc, NFC Doctoral Fellow
Northrop Frye Centre (VC102), Old Victoria College Building
(91 Charles Street West)

Accounts of newly discovered animal species and human populations abounded in the 17th and 18th centuries, the results of explorations of uncharted waters and the New World. Because many philosophes in 18th century France did not have direct involvement with these discoveries, in their attempts to parse out the distinction between ape and man (and between ‘civilized’ and ‘uncivilized’ man) they primarily relied on descriptions found in travel literatures.  This lecture discusses the philosophes’ accounts of the distinctive nature of the human being, and accounts that question the distinction of humanity in relation to the animal kingdom – both positions arising out of new observations or taxonomies of the globe’s many species and communities, and their behaviours. While revolutionary theories about the nature of man undeniably arose from this new empirical evidence, ultimately the philosophies of human nature generated from these facts and discoveries were constructed as myths about what ought to be seen as true.

Emma Planinc is a doctoral candidate at the Department of Political Science and an NFC Doctoral Fellow for 2015-2016. Her research interests lie in early modern and enlightenment thought and contemporary political theory. Emma's current projects examine the scientific, political and philosophical treatises of eighteenth-century French thinkers, and the influence of natural science on emerging democratic ideals and assertions of the rights of man in the French Revolution.

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