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Dust Jacket in fair condition. Item added to your basket View basket. Proceed to Basket. View basket. Continue shopping. United Kingdom. Search Within These Results:. A Study in the Philosophy of Malebranche. Tocqueville's moral field, as it emerged in his chastising of Gobineau, was dominated by the traditional mind-body dualism that befitted him as a man who, while no longer a believer, retained a deep and abiding respect for Christianity. Or, in that same idiom, materialism, the reduction of human beings to their physical substratum, was equivalent to fatalism.

This bland, utterly commonplace doctrine might not seem an especially promising starting point for a stirring reprimand of Gobineau, but Tocqueville infused it with passion, both moral and political. From this pragmatic perspective, he concluded, Gobineau's position had to be rejected, for its negative consequences were legion. Cousin defined his mission as retooling philosophy for the peculiar circumstances of the nineteenth century, when it had to fend off the encroachments of science. As the moral field shaped itself in the immediate French reception of Gobineau's Essai , two mutually supportive lines of force—belief in the irreducibly dual nature of human beings and concern for the practical consequences of racial theory—shunted the claims of science aside.

O ur last case in this experiment is also the hardest. Ernest Renan's moral field as a theorist of race is the most difficult to map. It expanded over time, eventually including all four of the considerations I have catalogued without thereby freeing Renan's position from ambiguity or enabling it to satisfy the moral requirements that he, unlike Gobineau, claimed to honor. The puzzle of Renan's racial theory lends itself to a biographical approach precisely because all that we know about the young Renan sits so uncomfortably with the man later associated with fueling antisemitism through his invidious comparisons between the Aryan and Semitic races.

The son of a Breton mariner who died at sea, leaving his family in genteel poverty, Renan had a precocious intelligence that caught the eye of the local clergy. He won scholarships to the best church schools in Paris, and by the time he entered the prestigious seminary of Saint-Sulpice, his teachers believed him to possess a genuine religious vocation that would lead naturally to the priesthood. But in a painful last-minute crisis of conscience—he had always been introspective and given to recording his psychological states in minute detail—Renan changed course.

Let me summarize the relevant biographical factors. Renan exhibited a striking moral scrupulousness—an insistence on acting correctly and transparently—both during his religious phase and as he made the transition to secular life. His testimony to this effect is worth quoting.

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When Renan was scarcely more than a year into his own study of the language, his philologically trained mentor asked him to take over the Hebrew grammar class at the seminary. In addition, Renan moved comfortably in social circles that included more Jews than one would have predicted on the basis of his background. How, then, did a young man of delicate moral conscience, capable of appreciating cultures other than his own, participating in a social and intellectual network that included Jews—and capable even of being moved to tears by the embarrassed reluctance of a poor German scholar to identify himself as a Jew—turn out to be a theorist of race whose work provided fodder for antisemites?

In order to broach that question, we must first get a sense of the tenor of Renan's views, the kinds of scholarly statements he made that might qualify him, according to our contemporary categories, as racist and antisemitic. Renan made such statements in the context of his philological work in an era when philology had tremendous cachet in Europe. Not only the domain of specialists, it also gripped the general educated public. This discovery not only tied European culture more closely to that of the so-called Orient than had previously been assumed; it also established a fundamentally new system of categories by which to divide up the world.

The language family first identified by Jones was named, alternately, Indo-European, Indo-Germanic, or, with reference to the northern Indian nobility thought to be its original speakers, Aryan—a term, adopted by Renan, Gobineau, and Courtet de l'Isle, that harbored a dreadful future. In all three editions, it was followed by a footnote, containing not the qualification of the distasteful statement that today's reader expects, but instead Renan's remarks about a potential priority dispute; he wrote this paragraph before encountering similar ideas in a German work of on ancient India, he insists.

Expressing the common wisdom at this date, he declared it categorically different from the more geographically far-flung group of Indo-European or Aryan languages Renan treated those terms as synonyms , which occupied an area stretching from India to the extremities of Western and Northern Europe. It was Renan's self-imposed task to study the Semitic languages according to the methods of comparative philology that these languages had done so much to inspire but from which they had as yet, ironically, derived so little benefit. Why he felt the compulsion to hierarchize, which is certainly not inherent in the act of comparison, is a question to which I will turn later.

But it is worth pointing out now that Renan's hierarchy would transform the pair Aryan-Semite into a binary opposition, with potentially inflammatory consequences. It denied them the power to generate a mythology, since myths spring from a supple, pantheistic understanding of the world.

Some recent commentators have sought to save Renan from himself by pointing out that his philological writings consistently treat language, an immaterial entity, rather than the materiality of race. In addition to Renan's frustrating slipperiness about the relation of language to race, his concept of language is extraordinarily deterministic. To be imprisoned in one's grammar might not be an especially significant condition, even though Renan's choice of metaphor suggests otherwise. Where moral discomfort with the category of race was concerned, the spirit-matter divide seems to have been the most available tool in the nineteenth-century French moral arsenal.

In other contexts, for example, an appreciation of Cousin, Renan himself affirmed that dualism. He had, after all, another allegiance, one inimical to Cousin: to science, and science in a very nearly positivist, Comtean sense. It is this latter allegiance that can help us understand the impulse behind Renan the racial theorist—and, even more important here, the moral reasoning by which he justified that role.

Renan often said that he had left the seminary in in order to study philology. But the two others had spoken to me as philosophers about the conditions of certainty and the impossibility of reconciling miracles with rational principles. Monsieur Renan spoke only of philology. Jerome's faulty translation of the Hebrew. In a word, Renan saw philology as a science.

Renan chalked up the impoverishment of Comte's conception of human science—as well as his regrettable Eurocentrism—to his ignorance of philology. And the strength of his Comteanism grew over time. Against this background, we can speculate about why Renan felt himself called, in his role as comparative philologist in , not only to discern the fundamental differences between the Indo-European and Semitic language groups but also to hierarchize them.

Comtean positivism was all about hierarchization: the historical path from religious to metaphysical to positive explanation traced a hierarchy from the illusion of absolute knowledge to the more limited but more secure truth of science; that same path progressed from a child's mode of reasoning to that of an adult. Whatever the inspiration for these intellectual maneuvers, the moral hold of science on Renan explains why he could construe them as blameless.

To keep them both in play, Renan explicitly isolates them from one another. To his way of thinking, the utter separation of the a priori principle and the empirical project protects both. By that same token, it is essential that moral and religious belief be sheltered from the results to which science may be conducted by its deductions. Renan says nothing about how this double vision works in practice; he acts as if the invidious labeling featured in his empirical racial science, perhaps magically buffered by the egalitarianism of his a priori postulate, has no worldly consequences.

But his critics, including Adolphe Franck, were not so sanguine. But now Renan insisted on relegating the power of race to the past. To do so, he invoked the secular variant of the a priori postulate of human equality, adding it to the religious variant already prominent in his moral field. Here Renan seemed at pains to indicate his lack of anti-Jewish sentiment; as if displacing that sentiment, he hinted at an Islamophobia that he would develop elsewhere. At the same time, those changes protected from racial stigma the kinds of Jews with whom Renan routinely mingled; such people had ceased to be Semites.

Renan went further in the direction of minimizing the historical power of race as the practical implications of racial labels, including those he had nurtured, became the stuff of daily newspapers later in the century. Or, put differently, he seems to have realized that a moral field structured by an a priori belief in human equality and, sealed off from it, the demands of scientific research about race was hobbled without a third line of force: concern for the practical consequences of racial theory.


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In two public lectures of the early s, Renan deliberately reined in the concept of race, limiting its applicability and relevance. One of those lectures, delivered in January , concerned the Jews. Here Renan argued that, over the centuries, the tie connecting the Jewish religion to the racial group originally associated with it had been decisively severed. The Hebrew prophetic tradition begun by Isaiah eight centuries before the birth of Christ had fundamentally altered the potential audience of Jewish religious doctrine; initially intended only for the tribes of Israel, the worship of Yahweh became universal in scope.

The other lecture went farther. W hat, then, can we conclude from this experiment in the empirical history of moral thinking? What advantage accrues to the historian from specifying the moral field that structured the discussion of racial theory among a group of mid-nineteenth-century French intellectuals and then tracking some of their interventions to see that moral field in action? I would suggest that such a procedure has revealed the intellectuals in this study as simultaneously constrained and creative in their moral encounters with the new category of race.

The limited number of considerations available to them in the moral field of their day—as in the moral field of any day—constrained them. At the same time, they were free to plot their own pathways through the moral field, engaging with the considerations that arrested them. By approaching these intellectuals through the device of the moral field, we acquire a language to describe their moral choices from the inside out; we begin to grasp the particular logics of individuals' moral worlds, at least in relation to racial theory; and even if our descriptions betray, as they inevitably do, our own values, our account remains analytic: blanket moral judgment is ruled out.

The moral field also captures process. Its navigation by individual thinkers, their gravitation to certain lines of force and indifference to others, reveals the field's inherent dynamism and its continually changing shape. That dynamism derives as well from the way the lines of force affect one another when combined by the thinkers in the field. The line of force that animated most of the intellectuals in this study was the ethos of science; and hence the basic plot of the story I have told concerns the interactions between science and the other lines of force.

The ethos of science consistently provided an impetus to develop a theory of the races. As part of its larger project to promote human progress by subjecting the human world to scientific investigation, it goaded researchers to zero in on the differences within the human family and to collect data and systematize knowledge about them. The other three lines of force each offered potential resistance to the forward advance of racial theory; they typically counseled slowing down, thinking twice, exercising caution.

Given this imbalance of forces—three against one, to put it crudely—it is a testament to the attractive power of science at this date, as well as to its fluid meaning, that racial theory got off the ground and continued to thrive. But the three other lines of force were hardly intrinsically weak. It was only when intellectuals combined them with the brief for science that their power flagged. Thus the tool most ready at hand to express moral discomfort with racial theory was the traditional philosophical dualism of spirit and matter, refurbished by Victor Cousin for use in the nineteenth century.

Tocqueville employed it privately and with great rhetorical force to criticize Gobineau; Franck used it publicly to criticize Renan.

File:Revue des Deux Mondes - 1858 - tome 14.djvu

It came, however, with baggage: it was suspicious of, if not hostile to, science, and hence could be readily dismissed by the scientifically minded. Of the racial theorists considered here, only Renan seems to have lent it serious, if belated, credence and to have judged and revised his own work in its terms.

Another line of force, the a priori belief in human equality, figured in much theorizing about race. When adopted as a starting point for scientific research, as in the case of Schoelcher during the Ethnological Society debate, it struck contemporaries as flagrantly at odds with scientific inquiry.

Relegated to a realm of ideal values cordoned off from the realm of fact, it was incapable of influencing scientific work. Finally, speculating about practical consequences did not necessarily curb the excesses of racial theory for those who believed in the intrinsic good of scientific investigation. For both Courtet de l'Isle and d'Eichthal in , the racial inequality posited by their theories could be made tolerable through imagined forms of social engineering.


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  • Tocqueville, perhaps the only figure in this study who entertained doubts about the moral and epistemological worth of the positivist human sciences, offered a stark contrast in this regard. Tocqueville may seem like our contemporary because his hanging back from the idolatry of science so characteristic of his era approximates the moral ambivalence about science in our own day. To translate Tocqueville's position into the terms of the moral field, it was his detachment from the scientific ethos that permitted his full-bore engagement with consequentialist thinking about race.

    I called Renan the hardest case in this experiment, and perhaps he can now be seen as my best single argument for an empirical history of moral thinking. Renan emerges in this account as an interminably equivocal figure. He was a well-intentioned young man who probably exaggerated the certitude of science in proportion to his need to replace Catholicism with a value system of comparable authority.

    Having made an early choice to grant science dominant status in his moral field, he struggled throughout his life with the moral implications of his racial theory. He was neither incorrigible—he revised his position on race in response to criticism and to the pressure of events—nor quite corrigible, either. In his old age, he still believed in the inequality of the human races. Approaching Renan through the device of the moral field renders his moral itinerary as a racial theorist intelligible—which is to say replete with dilemmas, blindnesses, and structural constraints stemming from his own choices and from the limitations of the field itself.

    Such an approach helps us to understand, in moral terms, the unfortunate resilience of nineteenth-century racial theory while appropriately refraining from a blanket moral judgment of its proponents. Placing the moral life squarely within our purview, we nonetheless remain on the historian's terrain. My thanks to all of them. Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University's objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide.

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    Mayer, 18 vols. Paris, — [hereafter OC ], 15, pt. Buckle, Revue des Deux Mondes , November 1, , 5—44, quotations from The Essai was originally published by the highly respected publishing house Firmin-Didot in four volumes; the first two appeared in , the second two in ; ibid. A major conduit between Gobineau's ideas and Nazi ideology was Ludwig Schemann, who kept Gobineau's flame alive in both France and Germany, translated the Essai into German — , and was professor of literature at the University of Fribourg, one of the interwar centers of the development of what would become Nazi racial theory.

    Paris, Volume 1 begins with a long discussion of the Aryan-Semite dichotomy 5ff. After several years of snubbing Gobineau when the latter sought his help in publicizing the Essai , he relented by including a moderately positive comment about the book in his review of Buckle for Revue des Deux Mondes This was the last year that the Bulletin was published. In the society was formally composed of three sections—physical study of peoples, historical and linguistic study, and moral and political questions—though these divisions seem not to have been reflected in its mode of operation.

    See Martin S. On cherry-picking, see the accusations of Courtet de l'Isle against Schoelcher, , On the odd scientific career of this proponent of phrenology who had gathered skulls while accompanying an official voyage to the South Seas in the s, see Goldstein, The Post-Revolutionary Self , —, On the characteristics of Broca's anthropology, see also Alice L.