An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

An Intellectual History of Cannibalism

Cătălin Avramescu
translated by Alistair Ian Blyth
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    An Intellectual History of Cannibalism
    Book Description:

    The cannibal has played a surprisingly important role in the history of thought--perhaps the ultimate symbol of savagery and degradation-- haunting the Western imagination since before the Age of Discovery, when Europeans first encountered genuine cannibals and related horrible stories of shipwrecked travelers eating each other.An Intellectual History of Cannibalismis the first book to systematically examine the role of the cannibal in the arguments of philosophers, from the classical period to modern disputes about such wide-ranging issues as vegetarianism and the right to private property.

    Catalin Avramescu shows how the cannibal is, before anything else, a theoretical creature, one whose fate sheds light on the decline of theories of natural law, the emergence of modernity, and contemporary notions about good and evil. This provocative history of ideas traces the cannibal's appearance throughout Western thought, first as a creature springing from the menagerie of natural law, later as a diabolical retort to theological dogmas about the resurrection of the body, and finally to present-day social, ethical, and political debates in which the cannibal is viewed through the lens of anthropology or invoked in the service of moral relativism.

    Ultimately,An Intellectual History of Cannibalismis the story of the birth of modernity and of the philosophies of culture that arose in the wake of the Enlightenment. It is a book that lays bare the darker fears and impulses that course through the Western intellectual tradition

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3320-7
    Subjects: Philosophy, History, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. 1-3)

    A and b, the two philosophers whose dialogue opens Denis Diderot’s workSupplement to the Voyage of Bougainville. . . on the Inconvenience of Attaching Moral Ideas to certain Physical Actions which they do not Presuppose(1772), review the recent discoveries in the South Seas, on which occasion they find themselves confronted with a situation requiring special consideration. Will an island situated in the midst of natural abundance, with a limited surface area (a league in diameter, as the text specifies) and whose inhabitants have arrived there almost by miracle, be able to sustain population growth? What will happen, asks...

  6. CHAPTER ONE A Hobbesian Life Raft
    (pp. 4-40)

    In what is perhaps the most concise and most ignored characterization of his scientific method, Thomas Hobbes argues inLeviathan(1651) that “examples prove nothing.”¹ What Hobbes is signaling here is a profound difference, in nature rather than style, between the political science whose inventor he had declared himself to be inDe cive(1642) and the moral philosophy of his predecessors. As early as 1630, Hobbes had elaborated the idea of a human science understood as one that was universal and rational, modeled according to the principles of Euclidean geometry. This is a science of rational deductions, systematically and...

  7. CHAPTER TWO The Tortures and Fate of the Body
    (pp. 41-69)

    The nature of the right to punish those who break the law did not pose any fundamental problems for the ancient Greeks or Romans. In Plato’sLaws, we find an encyclopedic proposal for the reform of punishments, but the nature of the punitive right in itself is not placed under discussion.¹ It is probable that, in the ancient republics, the right to punish did not constitute an object of philosophical discussion because of the participatory and traditional nature of authority. In theCrito, Socrates accepts and upholds the legitimacy of the sentence handed down against him. According to him, a...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Creatures of Evil
    (pp. 70-104)

    The majority of political philosophers, ancient and modern, agree that natural man is a weak being. The nature and source of this weakness is a disputed question, but it is beyond any controversy for most of them that man in the state of nature is a vulnerable, incomplete being. It now matters very little whether this state is understood as a species of animality or whether it is painted in the attractive hues of a rustic utopia. However he might be designated, as man-animal, solitary castaway, or noble savage, natural man is imagined as having an essential lack in relation...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR The Conquest of the Savages
    (pp. 105-124)

    In 1492, on a beach in the antilles, Columbus asked a notary to read a proclamation in front of a group of Indians, whereby the latter were told they were to become subjects of the Spanish crown. It is highly unlikely that the Indians were able to grasp anything of what the official said;¹ from the European perspective, however, the scene was less bizarre than it seems to us today as Columbus was doing nothing more than formally observing the legal scruples without which his authority and that of his sovereign over the newly discovered territories might have been placed...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE The Predicaments of Identity
    (pp. 125-161)

    The cynic philosopher, who, in the year AD 180, had joined the crowd of curious onlookers at the trial of a Christian, reprimanded the latter: “Apollonius, reproach yourself; for all your subtle speech, you have wandered off the mark!”¹ What the accused had tried to do, seemingly without much success, was to convince his audience that the Christian idea of a martyr’s death is not unlike the death of Socrates. The argument between the two raises a problem about the nature of the early doctrines of the martyrs and the persecutions to which they were subjected. The question of martyrdom...

  11. CHAPTER SIX A Question of Taste
    (pp. 162-182)

    How suitable for consumption is human flesh? This is not only a question with gastronomic implications. In the case in which human flesh proves to be a nourishing and healthy foodstuff, then anthropophagy cannot be rejected on the basis of speculative or experimental physiology. Graver still: if man can thrive on human flesh, then we can glimpse the possibility of anthropophagy being integrated into the circuit of those nutritive substances sanctioned by the law of nature. This is why philosophers are interested in establishing to what extent human flesh is a foodstuff compatible with the human constitution.

    The formidable difficulty...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN The Anthropophagus in the City
    (pp. 183-232)

    Rather than solitary individuals, a traveler through the state of nature described by the philosophers would have encountered primitive families, dominated, each, by a despotic father. Although the natural condition is one in which humans live unassociated in any state, it is not, for a majority of classical and modern authors, a solitary condition. As Lord Bolingbroke stated, there was never a time when individuals led isolated lives, because “we are born to assist, and be assisted by one another.”¹ Even Hobbes, often considered to be the most extreme supporter of individualism in the state of nature, admitted, in his...

  13. CHAPTER EIGHT The Agent of Absolute Cruelty
    (pp. 233-262)

    In an anonymously published utopia of 1795, the hero, who finds himself abandoned on an island, observes smoke in the distance. “The first thought that occurred was, that it proceeded from the fire of some Indians, and perhaps Cannibals.”¹ For this reason, he quickens his pace to arrive amongst these other men. This passage shows us that the figure of the anthropophagus is on the way to losing his negative valences. At the beginning of the century, inRobinson Crusoe, the hero runs in the opposite direction as soon as he suspects the presence of cannibals on his island, a...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 263-316)
    (pp. 317-332)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 333-350)