The End of the Soul: Scientific Modernity, Atheism, and Anthropology in France
On October 19, 1876 a group of leading French citizens, both men and women included, joined together to form an unusual group, The Society of Mutual Autopsy, with the aim of proving that souls do not exist. The idea was that, after death, they would dissect one another and (hopefully) show a direct relationship between brain shapes and sizes and the character, abilities and intelligence of individuals. This strange scientific pact, and indeed what we have come to think of as anthropology, which the group's members helped to develop, had its genesis in aggressive, evangelical atheism.
With this group as its focus, The End of the Soul is a study of science and atheism in France in late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It shows that anthropology grew in the context of an impassioned struggle between the forces of tradition, especially the Catholic faith, and those of a more freethinking modernism, and moreover that it became for many a secular religion. Among the adherents of this new faith discussed here are the novelist Emile Zola, the great statesman Leon Gambetta, the American birth control advocate Margaret Sanger, and Arthur Conan Doyle, whose Sherlock Holmes embodied the triumph of ratiocination over credulity.
Boldly argued, full of colorful characters and often bizarre battles over science and faith, this book represents a major contribution to the history of science and European intellectual history.
List of Illustrations Acknowledgments Introduction: The End of the Soul 1. The Society of Mutual Autopsy and the Liturgy of Death 2. Evangelical Atheism and the Rise of French Anthropology 3. Scientific Materialism and the Public Response 4. Careers in Anthropology and the Bertillon Family 5. No Soul, No Morality: Vacher de Lapouge 6. Body and Soul: Léonce Manouvrier and the Disappearing Numbers 7. The Leftist Critique of Determinist Science 8. Coda Conclusion Notes Bibliography Index
What People are Saying About This
Edward J. Larson
In this smart intellectual history, Hecht traces the impact of a prior commitment to atheism, anti-clericalism, and materialism among nineteenth-century French anthropologists on developments in social scientific thought and public policy that still affect us today... Highly recommended.
A wonderful book.... In addition to being a first-rate monographa significant contribution to nineteenth-century French studiesit is also a delightful read and a page-turner.
Nancy Leys Stepan
This is a wonderful analysis of the passionate, exuberant and at times bombastic radical anthropologists whose views were central to political culture in late-nineteenth-century France. In lively prose, the author characterizes these combative scientists and their contributions to every conceivable topic of the day, from religion, to morality, to prehistory, to criminality, human equality, feminism, and socialism. It is full of striking insights into the politics of science, especially the ways in which an almost religious fervor for scientific materialism could lead either to radical scientific egalitarianism or it's opposite, scientific racism.