MD In defense of Franz Boas

From: Charles Williamson (
Date: Thu May 03 2001 - 20:51:35 BST

A little update from the research department:

I have been writing a paper on the history of the
eugenics movement, and while Pirsig's statements
attacking Boas in Lila were correct w/r/t objectivity,
the "Victorian" morality Boas was trying to halt was
much more detrimental to societal quality than his
impact on anthropology.

The following quote is taken from the excellent book
by Daniel J. Kevles, "In the Name of Eugenics." To
get a better picture of that Victorian style of
thought, I highly suggest reading it.

(Regarding Boas)
"Openly suspicious of I.Q. tests in general , he held
that a person passing a test was proficient in what
the test tested--the meaning of the score was
impossible to get at. Angered by the "Nordic
nonsense" advanced by theorists like Madison Grant, he
was certain that there was no proof of hereditary,
racially specific mental or behavioral traits in
blacks, immigrants, or any other group, and he
provided technical consultation on the issue to
Congressman Emanuel Celler in the latter's losing
battle to beat back teh immigration restrictions.
Boas also stimulated a good deal of academic research
into questions of race and intelligence. Among the
products was the master's thesis of Margaret Mead, who
studied the children of Italian immigrants and
demonstrated that thier performance on I.Q. tests
depended on their families' social status and length
or residence in the United States, and also on the
extent to which English was spoken in the home."
(Kevles, 135)

Hopes this gives a better idea of the "rise of
objectivity over subjectivity" that has implanted
itself in national culture.


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