The Animated Statue and the Plasticity of Mankind

in The Wild Girl, Natural Man, and the Monster

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print June 2002 | ISBN: 9780226160559
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226160573 | DOI:
The Animated Statue and the Plasticity of Mankind

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  • Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)


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The questions of the aporia of mankind's origins and progress remained at the center of period debates and prompted a variety of investigatory methods drawn from “experimental philosophy” to see how the human mind responds to—and could potentially be improved by—its environment. This chapter analyzes how some eighteenth-century philosophers conceived the mind as a plastic entity responding to the senses, particularly through imagery of a new-born man or animated statue, and shows how such rhetoric created the illusion of performing science. It explains how contemporaries reacted to such tales in view of larger debates about experimentalism. The darker implications of this model of human development by suggesting its ramifications for women and the working poor, as well as its role in large-scale efforts at social engineering through education. The sequential presentation of sensory functioning also leads to some confusion regarding mankind's power to reason and think accurately.

Keywords: mankind; plasticity; human development; experimentalism; education

Chapter.  10001 words. 

Subjects: Early Modern History (1500 to 1700)

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