On World History: An Anthology

By Johann Gottfried Herder; Hans Adler et al. | Go to book overview
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14
The Human Being Is Predisposed to the Power of Reason

The following text contains Herder's basic anthropological assumption, which explains why human beings have been able to develop their specific type of culture. This foundation lies not in the fact that human beings developed language, but in the fact that they walk and stand upright* Thus Herder found the specific distinction in a criterion provided by a disposition of nature. The consequences of this natural human condition direct evolution to the development of what is deemed specifically human: culture. According to his general principle that history, like nature, must be based on laws, Herder finds the most fundamental conditions of human history in the realm of the human body, which he analyzes according to the principles of comparative anatomy as he found it in contemporary research.

Internally and externally, the orangutan resembles man. Its brain has the form of ours; it has a broad chest, flat shoulders, a similar face, and a similarly shaped skull; its heart, lungs, liver, spleen, stomach, and intestines are like those of man. Tyson** has pointed out forty-eight parts, in which it resembles our species more than the ape; and the accounts of its behavior, even its follies and vices, perhaps also its menstruation, suggest similarity to humankind.

Certainly, therefore, in its inner being, in the manifestation of its soul, it must have some resemblance to humankind; and those philosophers, who

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*
Let us note in passing that even most recent anthropological research tries to prove empirically what Herder discovered more than 200 years ago -- without being aware of him. As can be seen from the sources quoted or referred to by Herder, he is familiar with his contemporary research and formulates his own position by discussing the conclusions of other scholars of his time. -- Ed.
**
Tyson Anatomy of a Pygmy compared with that of a Monkey, an ape and a man ( London: 1751), pp. 92-94.1

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