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Nature's Man

Thomas Jefferson's Philosophical Anthropology

Maurizio Valsania

Publication Year: 2013

Although scholars have adequately covered Thomas Jefferson’s general ideas about human nature and race, this is the first book to examine what Maurizio Valsania terms Jefferson’s "philosophical anthropology"—philosophical in the sense that he concerned himself not with describing how humans are, culturally or otherwise, but with the kind of human being Jefferson thought he was, wanted to become, and wished for citizens to be for the future of the United States. Valsania’s exploration of this philosophical anthropology touches on Jefferson’s concepts of nationalism, slavery, gender roles, modernity, affiliation, and community. More than that, Nature's Man shows how Jefferson could advocate equality and yet control and own other human beings.

A humanist who asserted the right of all people to personal fulfillment, Jefferson nevertheless had a complex philosophy that also acknowledged the dynamism of nature and the limits of human imagination. Despite Jefferson's famous advocacy of apparently individualistic rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, Valsania argues that both Jefferson's yearning for the human individual to become something good and his fear that this hypothetical being would turn into something bad were rooted in a specific form of communitarianism. Absorbing and responding to certain moral-philosophical currents in Europe, Jefferson’s nature-infused vision underscored the connection between the individual and the community.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-x

It is a relief to sit at the desk, at last, and write the acknowledgments. It is like looking back and remembering friends and companions who made an adventurous journey a little easier. ...

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pp. 1-12

Thomas Jefferson developed specific and personal notions about physical anthropology and races, as well as about cultural anthropology, ethnicity, and human nature. This book, however, does not expressly delve into human nature or races. It is rather a book about the way desires, fears, and historical circumstances qualify the idea of human nature. ...

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1. Dissolution of Tradition: The New Affiliation

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pp. 13-44

The new “man” Jefferson wanted to create, and the possible new men he resisted and feared, was undeniably shaped by new visions. The momentous historical, cultural, and intellectual transformations that eighteenth-century society underwent conditioned every anthropological vision, both in Europe and in the Unites States. ...

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2. Jefferson’s Communitarianism: In Search of the Affiliated Man

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pp. 45-112

Jefferson’s idea that “men” should listen to nature entailed the notion of communitarianism. Unlike the experience of many other animals, for human beings, the voice of nature always spoke through the community. Stated otherwise, natural “men” needed the mediation offered by the social setting in which they live. ...

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3. Consequences of Communitarianism: The Other Side of Love

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pp. 113-151

The individual identified by Jefferson’s philosophical anthropology had to submit to a superior necessity, the survival of the community. This perspective on the theme of communitarianism cum naturalism reveals the other side of the “community-man,” including what it meant, for Jefferson the philosophical anthropologist, to be a Virginian as well. ...

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pp. 152-154

This book should not be understood as a reiteration of the old complaint that Jefferson was a hypocrite who failed to live up to his own inspiring ideals. His contradictions were definitely not just between word and deed. Undeniably a great man, Jefferson was caught, instead, in still greater tensions and contradictions traceable within his several ideals, statements, theories, and practices. ...


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pp. 155-186


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pp. 187-198


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pp. 199-204

Further Reading

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pp. 217-218

E-ISBN-13: 9780813933580
E-ISBN-10: 0813933587
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813933573
Print-ISBN-10: 0813933579

Page Count: 216
Publication Year: 2013