Ter Ellingson

in The Myth of the Noble Savage

Published by University of California Press

Published in print January 2001 | ISBN: 9780520222687
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520925922 | DOI:

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Jean-Jacques Rousseau is still widely cited as the inventor of the “Noble Savage”—a mythic personification of natural goodness by a romantic glorification of savage life in a call for the development of an anthropological Science of Man. This chapter suggests that not only is everything we have believed about the myth of the Noble Savage wrong, but it is so because the profession has been historically constructed in such a way as to require exactly this kind of obviously false belief. It notes that although belief in the Noble Savage never existed, the Noble Savage was indeed associated with both the conceptual and the institutional foundations of anthropology, and that there was indeed a single person who was the original source of both the Noble Savage concept and of the call for the foundation of a science of human diversity, but this person was not Rousseau.

Keywords: Jean-Jacques Rousseau; noble savage; anthropology; human diversity

Chapter.  3290 words. 

Subjects: Social and Cultural Anthropology

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