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The Enlightenment

Charles Louis Montesquieu (1689-1755) French political philosopher, early functionalist; studied laws, customs and morals from different parts of the world, in an effort to explain why societies differ; postulated factors like population density, geographical barriers, degree of isolation, technological development, subsistence patterns, commerce, climate and soil. Sought a basis within each society for cannibalism, slavery and idol worship (or lack of it?).

The 18th C Enlightenment in Europe, in which Montesquieu was a leading figure, encouraged belief in rationality and equality, and questioned the hold of religion and the aristocracy.

Auguste Comte (1778-1857) French philosopher, founder of positivism, sought to apply the methods of observation and experimentation (+ comparison and history) to the study of society. He believed that societies progressed towards civilisation; postulated three stages of human thought: theological, metaphysical and positive; also proposed a hierarchy of the theoretical sciences with mathematics at the top and sociology at the bottom.