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Moral Insanity: A Medical Theory of the Corruption of Human Nature

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Abstract:

The Bristol doctor James Cowles Prichard (1786-1848) has enjoyed a glowing reputation. Late Victorians regarded him as the founder of British anthropology and, in the twentieth century, he has been considered as a precursor of Darwin. Nowadays his name is cited mainly in context of inquiries into the rise of racial theories. Prichard's own theoretical goal was simple: the son of Quaker parents, he attempted to establish that the Bible provided a correct account of the earliest history of humankind; above all it was his aim to prove once and for all the doctrine of monogenesis: the unitary origins of mankind. He single-handedly charted the waters of the pre-Victorian human sciences. Philology, anthropology, mythology, Biblical criticism, the philosophy of the human mind, comparative anatomy, physiology, and practical medicine - Prichard mastered subjects so diverse that his learning may be called truly universal. His views have often been misrepresented, however, and his opposition to racial thinking in particular has been underestimated. This book, the first study dedicated exclusively to Prichard, explores his notions of man's place in nature and puts them in the context of contemporary European learning. H. F. Augstein is an honorary fellow at the Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine, London, where she completed her Ph. D. in 1996. Currently she is an editor at the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: May 1, 1999

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