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Nature's Man

Nature's Man: Thomas Jefferson's Philosophical Anthropology

Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 216
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  • Book Info
    Nature's Man
    Book Description:

    Although scholars have adequately covered Thomas Jefferson's general ideas about human nature and race, this is the first book to examine what Maurizio Valsania terms Jefferson's "philosophical anthropology"-philosophical in the sense that he concerned himself not with describing how humans are, culturally or otherwise, but with the kind of human being Jefferson thought he was, wanted to become, and wished for citizens to be for the future of the United States. Valsania's exploration of this philosophical anthropology touches on Jefferson's concepts of nationalism, slavery, gender roles, modernity, affiliation, and community. More than that,Nature's Manshows how Jefferson could advocate equality and yet control and own other human beings.

    A humanist who asserted the right of all people to personal fulfillment, Jefferson nevertheless had a complex philosophy that also acknowledged the dynamism of nature and the limits of human imagination. Despite Jefferson's famous advocacy of apparently individualistic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Valsania argues that both Jefferson's yearning for the human individual to become something good and his fear that this hypothetical being would turn into something bad were rooted in a specific form of communitarianism. Absorbing and responding to certain moral-philosophical currents in Europe, Jefferson's nature-infused vision underscored the connection between the individual and the community.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3358-0
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Thomas Jefferson developed specific and personal notions about physical anthropology and races, as well as about cultural anthropology, ethnicity, and human nature. This book, however, does not expressly delve into human nature or races. It is rather a book about the way desires, fears, and historical circumstances qualify the idea of human nature. It is a book about Jefferson’s imagination: the man he thought he was; the man he wanted to become; the man he wished for the future of the United States, but also the kind of individual he feared; the man he was compelled to imagine; and the...

    (pp. 13-44)

    Everyone knows that Jefferson was modern; but do we know precisely what modernity meant to him?

    The new “man” Jefferson wanted to create, and the possible new men he resisted and feared, was undeniably shaped by new visions. The momentous historical, cultural, and intellectual transformations that eighteenth-century society underwent conditioned every anthropological vision, both in Europe and in the Unites States.

    Jefferson’s philosophical anthropology, too, was influenced by the new trends in politics, morality, and science. After setting forth those declarations of Jefferson’s that seem the most straightforward and the most memorable in their embrace of a modernity we might...

    (pp. 45-112)

    Jefferson’s idea that “men” should listen to nature entailed the notion of communitarianism. Unlike the experience of many other animals, for human beings, the voice of nature always spoke through the community. Stated otherwise, natural “men” needed the mediation offered by the social setting in which they live. Individuals had to be measured against a larger whole at once natural and social. Simple individuals, stripped of their membership in a community and relegated either to their solitary imagination or to their animal appetite, were not sufficiently and appropriately “natural.” Jefferson envisioned a “man” whose identity entailed an unequivocal bond to...

    (pp. 113-151)

    The individual identified by Jefferson’s philosophical anthropology had to submit to a superior necessity, the survival of the community. This perspective on the theme of communitarianism cum naturalism reveals the other side of the “community-man,” including what it meant, for Jefferson the philosophical anthropologist, to be a Virginian as well. Being a Virginian had a notable bearing on the options that his philosophical anthropology considered feasible.

    This perspective raises a special problem. More than in chapters 1 and 2, the individual described here seems to overlap with Jefferson himself. Jefferson the Virginian can be seen as having put to test...

    (pp. 152-154)

    This book should not be understood as a reiteration of the old complaint that Jefferson was a hypocrite who failed to live up to his own inspiring ideals. His contradictions were definitely not just between word and deed. Undeniably a great man, Jefferson was caught, instead, in still greater tensions and contradictions traceablewithinhis several ideals, statements, theories, and practices. The complex battle between the nature-inspired “community-man” and the imagination-driven humanist remains probably one of the most significant.

    Bearing this proviso in mind, let me venture a conclusion. The conclusion is that Jefferson’s effort to define a “class” reminds...

  9. NOTES
    (pp. 155-186)
    (pp. 187-198)
  11. INDEX
    (pp. 199-204)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 205-206)