State of Nature, Stages of Society

Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse

Frank Palmeri

Columbia University Press

State of Nature, Stages of Society

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Pub Date: March 2016

ISBN: 9780231175166

384 Pages

Format: Hardcover

List Price: $70.00£58.95

Pub Date: March 2016

ISBN: 9780231541282

384 Pages

Format: E-book

List Price: $69.99£58.95

State of Nature, Stages of Society

Enlightenment Conjectural History and Modern Social Discourse

Frank Palmeri

Columbia University Press

Frank Palmeri sees the conjectural histories of Rousseau, Hume, Herder, and other Enlightenment philosophers as a template for the development of the social sciences in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Without documents or memorials, these thinkers, he argues, employed conjecture to formulate a naturalistic account of society's commercial and secular progression.

Palmeri finds evidence of speculative frameworks in the political economy of Malthus, Martineau, Mill, and Marx. He traces the influence of speculative thought in the development of anthropology and ethnography in the 1860s, the foundational sociology of Comte and Spencer, and the sociology of religion pioneered by Weber, Durkheim, and Freud. Conjectural histories reveal a surprising ambivalence toward progress, modernity, and secularization among leading thinkers of the time, an attitude that affected texts as varied as Darwin's Descent of Man, Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality, and the novels of Walter Scott, George Eliot, and H.G. Wells. Establishing the critical value of conjectural thinking in the study of modern forms of knowledge, Palmeri concludes his investigation with its return in the work of Foucault and in recent histories on early religion, political organization, and material life.
Frank Palmeri tackles one of the most significant ideas of Enlightenment thought in this comprehensive and thoroughly researched book on conjectural history. Tracing the origin of the concept in French and Scottish writers, such as Rousseau, Hume, and Smith, in the mid-eighteenth century, he also shows how it was transmitted through nineteenth-century writers, such as Malthus and Marx, to form a fundamental building block of modernity. Nuanced and erudite, this book will serve as an important source for scholars and others interested in the intellectual origins of modern social and political theory. Sir Malcolm Jack, author of Corruption and Progress: The Eighteenth-Century Debate
State of Nature, Stages of Society is an original, timely, and deeply learned work that will serve a useful purpose for a wide range of readers. Frank Palmeri's erudition and his commitment to a longue durée for the genre put him in an excellent position to become the authority of record for scholars and students of both eighteenth- and nineteenth-century European culture who want a solid grounding in conjectural history. Noah Heringman, author of Sciences of Antiquity: Romantic Antiquarianism, Natural History, and Knowledge Work
Often the best books are those that teach you something that was staring you in the face all along. This is the case with Frank Palmeri's illuminating study of conjectural history. Thanks to this remarkable book what seemed like a contained feature of the Scottish Enlightenment now stands out as an influential form of historical thought right across eighteenth and nineteenth century Europe and beyond. An important contribution to intellectual history. Mark Salber Phillips, author of Society and Sentiment: The Genres of Historical Writing in Britain 1740-1820
Highly recommended. CHOICE
The most precise and the most wide-ranging conceptual anaylsis of eighteenth-century conjectural history available.... Required reading. Journal of Historical Geography
Foreword, by Dick Howard
Acknowledgments
Introduction: Conjectural History, the Form, and Its Afterlife
1. Conjectural History: The Enlightenment Form
2. Political Economy and the Question of Progress
3. Comte, Spencer, and the Science of Society
4. The Origins of Culture and of Anthropology
5. Darwin, Nietzsche, and the Prehistory of the Human
6. The Social Psychology of Religion
7. Novels as Conjectural Histories
Conclusion: Conjecturalism Now
Appendix 1. Enlightenment Conjectural Histories
Appendix 2. Hegel, History, and Conjecture
Appendix 3. Were Conjectural Histories Racist?
Notes
Index

About the Author

Frank Palmeri is a professor of English at the University of Miami. He is the author of Satire in Narrative: Petronius, Swift, Gibbon, Melville, Pynchon (1990) and Satire, History, Novel: Narrative Forms, 1665-1815 (2003), and the editor of Humans and Other Animals in Eighteenth-Century British Culture: Representation, Hybridity, Ethics (2006).