Mind and knowledge in the early thought of Franz Boas, 1887–1904

History of the Human Sciences 35 (5):157-184 (2022)
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Franz Boas’ articulation of a new historicist and relativistic framework for anthropology stands as the founding moment of the discipline. Accordingly, scholars have sought to trace its source and inspirations, often concluding that Boas’ thought was shaped almost exclusively by his German background and characterized by a foundational methodological tension. Here, I instead show that Boas’ most creative early work benefitted from close interaction with debates in psychology and that his methodological reflections were part of the much wider series of discussions in North America engendered by the importation of the German Geistes-/ Naturwissenschaft debate. Central to such debates, as well as to anthropological ones in these years, were the contested definitions of the human mind and of knowledge. Recovering this shared focus reveals the importance of such questions to Boas’ early writings, allowing us to better reconstruct his views on anthropology and to appreciate how he approached the question of how to justify the bounding of human knowledge into specific disciplines.



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The German historicist tradition.Frederick C. Beiser - 2011 - New York: Oxford University Press.
After Hegel: German Philosophy, 1840-1900.Frederick C. Beiser - 2014 - Princeton: Princeton University Press.
Pragmatism.Christopher Hookway - 2008 - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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