Jun 30, 2008

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Today, the word "anthropology" means either the philosophical consideration of mankind and its special position in nature or the ethnological study of early cultures. These two definitions are only partly compatible with the way that this term was used during the Enlightenment and the Romantic period.

It is no coincidence that anthropology has its roots in the Renaissance - it is a discipline which is firmly grounded in the modern era, no longer drawing on metaphysics but instead looking to the here and now of human existence, combining philosophical ambitions with physiological and psychological questions. Thus, from its beginnings on, anthropology looked at issues which today would be considered medical, psychological, or philosophical as well as anthropological in the modern sense.

This interest in the "whole man" allowed anthropology to become a fundamental discipline in the late Enlightenment, a period which dedicated itself to the empirical study of man. Deductive reasoning, based on the universally applicable truths of reason (for example Christian Wolff's rationalistic philosophy which was so central to the early Enlightenment in Germany), was replaced by inductive thinking in which the relationship between "body" and "soul" was examined through self observation and the collection of case studies.

Thus, the last third of the 18th century saw the publication of numerous anthropological monographs – the first and most famous being Ernst Platner's Anthropologie für Ärzte und Weltweise (1772) – and periodicals – for example the Magazin zur Erfahrungsseelenkunde (1783-93, pub. Karl Phillip Moritz). Even the novelists of the period were interested in the study of the "whole man", and considered their literary work as a part of the anthropological project; Karl Phillip Moritz's Anton Reiser, Wieland's Agathon, Goethe's Werther and Schiller's Räuber can all be included here.

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