The Enlightenment commitment to reason naturally gave rise to a
belief in the perfectibility of man. Influenced by John Locke and
Jean-Jacques Rousseau, many eighteenth-century writers argued that
the proper education and upbringing-breeding-could make any man a
member of the cultural elite.
Yet even in this egalitarian environment, the concept of
breeding remained tied to theories of blood lineage, caste
distinction, and biological difference. Turning to the works of
Locke, Rousseau, Swift, Defoe, and other giants of the British
Enlightenment, Jenny Davidson revives the debates that raged over
the husbandry of human nature and highlights their critical impact
on the development of eugenics, the emergence of fears about
biological determinism, and the history of the language itself.
Combining rich historical research with a keen sense of story, she
links explanations for the physical resemblance between parents and
children to larger arguments about culture and society and shows
how the threads of this compelling conversation reveal the
character of a century. A remarkable intellectual history,
Breeding not only recasts the fundamental concerns of the
Enlightenment but also uncovers the seeds of thought that bloomed
into contemporary notions of human perfectibility.
Subjects: History, Language & Literature, Philosophy
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