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Reviews Gerald Sweeney. 'Fightingforthe Good Cause': Reflections on Francis Galton's Legacy toAmerican Hereditarian Psychology. Philadelphia: American Philosophical Society, 2001. ? + 136pp. Although Francis Galton coined "eugenics" in his Inquiries into Human Faculty andits Development's 1883 "to express the science of improving stock," his introduction of die idea of such a science dates back to the publication of a pair of short articles, "HereditaryTalent and Character," in Macmillan's Magazine inJune and August of 1865. In these articles, and in his subsequent 1869 book Hereditary Genius: An Inquiry into itsLaws andConsequences, Galton defended the claim that psychological abilities and tendencies were inherited along with physical characteristics, and were thus subject to natural selection. Galton begins HereditaryGeniuswith die very same topic that his cousin, Charles Darwin, discussed in die first chapter of On the Origin ofSpecies, that of domestic breeding, using it, like Darwin had, as die basis for an analogy. But whereas Darwin had focused on domestic breeding in order to introduce the idea of natural selection on analogy with die forms of artificial selection familiar from domestic breeding practices, Galton saw domestic breeding in farming communities as simply one form that artificial selection might take: "as it is easy ... to obtain by careful selection a permanent breed of dogs or horses gifted widi peculiar powers of running, or of doing anything else, so it would be quite practicable to produce a highly-gifted race of men by judicious marriages during several consecutive generations" (HereditaryGenius 45). Pointing out that diere were existing tendencies bodi to improve and to degrade human nature, Galton continues, "I conclude diat each generation has enormous power over the natural gifts of those diat follow, and maintain diat it is a duty we owe to humanity to investigate die range of that power, and to exercise it in a way that, widiout being unwise towards ourselves, shall be most advantageous to future inhabitants of the earth" (HG 45). This idea of consciously directing the reproductive choices that people make — both "positively" by encouraging "judicious marriages," and "negatively " dirough discouraging or prohibiting those not so deemed — Victorian Review95 Reviews has proved to be the most controversial idea associated with Galton. But, as Sweeney reminds us (33-35), the foundations of the idea were hardly Galton's own, going back at least to Plato's Republic. The idea that there are different, fixed kindsofpeople that make up a stratified polisis at the core of Plato's Utopian vision of social and political organization. It was also an idea very much current in the Victorian milieu in which Galton wrote. Sweeney's book aims to solve a puzzle: given that Galton's arguments for his views were weak, and his early defense of eugenics widely perceived to be a failure (ch.1-2), how are we to explain the influence that Galton exerted over many of the most influential figures within a certain sector of psychology in the first thirtyyears of the twentiethcentury ? Sweeney's answer to this question, in brief, is that Galton offered early hereditarian psychologists in America an anti-democratic political program masked as scientific inquiry. Drawing on Aristode's distinction between open-ended dialectics and conclusion-directed eristics, and appealing to the Noble Lie that Plato introduces in The Republic as a justification for the existing differences between kinds of people, Sweeney concludes: Owing to their special apprehension of his [Galton's] deeper concerns and the fields in which he worked, this particular body of American admirers was able to appreciate the renowned inventor of eugenics as secredy operating eristically , as surreptitiously subordinating his declared goal, the perfecting of mankind, to the justification and establishment of an unimpeachable oligarchy, through the development and application of a modern-day Noble Lie (104). Many of the issues raised in and by Sweeney's book are tantalizing, and there is much food for thought here. Yet I find not only little plausibility in Sweeney's chief conclusions, but see bis preoccupation with the puzzle around which the book is organized as itself a puzzle. First, who are the "American hereditarian psychologists" referred to in Sweeney's subtitle, or the "educational psychologists" he speaks of in his abstract to...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1923-3280
Print ISSN
0848-1512
Pages
pp. 95-104
Launched on MUSE
2015-10-07
Open Access
No
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