History of the Human Sciences 18 (1):55-76 (2005)

David A. Denby
Tufts University
The anthropological sensibility has often been seen as growing out of opposition to Enlightenment universalism. Johann Gottfried Herder is often cited as an ancestor of modern cultural relativism, in which cultures exist in the plural. This article argues that Herder’s anthropology, and anthropology generally, are more closely related to Enlightenment thought than is generally considered. Herder certainly attacks Enlightenment abstraction, the arrogance of its Eurocentric historical teleology, and argues the case for a proto-hermeneutical approach which emphasizes embeddedness, horizon, the usefulness of prejudice. His suspicion of the ideology of progress and of associated theories of stadial development leads to a critique of cosmopolitanism and, particularly, of colonialism. But a comparison with a central Enlightenment figure like the natural historian Buffon reveals shared anthropological assumptions: human beings are characterized by the flexibility of their relationship to their environment, and by their ability to transmit and receive social knowledge. Herder’s critique of progress is thus an unstable one: culture [Kultur] as the process through which humanity develops can also be called Enlightenment [Aufklärung]. Herder’s definition of culture is much closer to a unitary Enlightenment model of civilization than is frequently suggested. Herder’s relativism is thus open to question: he holds on to certain universal criteria for transcultural judgements. This reassessment of Herder’s place in Enlightenment anthropology raises questions of contemporary relevance regarding cultural relativism on the one hand, and modernization and globalization on the other
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DOI 10.1177/0952695105051126
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Culture and Cognitive Science.Andreas De Block & Daniel Kelly - 2022 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Culture and Cognitive Science.Jesse Prinz - forthcoming - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
Locke's State of Nature.Barry Hindess - 2007 - History of the Human Sciences 20 (3):1-20.

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