Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 48.djvu/69

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69
THE AIMS OF ANTHROPOLOGY.
THE AIMS OF ANTHROPOLOGY.[1]

By DANIEL G. BRINTON.

A MODERN philosopher has advanced the maxim that what is first in thought is last in expression, illustrating it by the rules of grammar, which are present even in unwritten languages, whose speakers have no idea of syntax or parts of speech.

It may be that this is the reason why man, who has ever been the most important creature to himself in existence, has never seriously and to the best of his abilities made a study of his own nature, its wants and its weaknesses, and how best he could satisfy the one and amend the other.

The branch of human learning which undertakes to do this is one of the newest of the sciences; in fact, it has scarcely yet gained admission as a science at all, and is rather looked upon as a dilettante occupation, suited to persons of elegant leisure and retired old gentlemen, and without any very direct or visible practical applications or concern with the daily affairs of life.

It is with the intention of correcting this prevalent impression that I address you to-day. My endeavor will be to point out both the immediate and remote aims of the science of anthropology, and to illustrate by some examples the bearings they have, or surely soon will have, on the thoughts and acts of civilized communities and intelligent individuals.

It is well at the outset to say that I use the term anthropology in the sense in which it has been adopted by this association—that is, to include the study of the whole of man, his psychical as well as his physical nature, and the products of all his activities, whether in the past or in the present. By some writers, especially on the Continent of Europe, the term anthropology is restricted to what we call physical anthropology or somatology, a limitation of the generic term which we can not but deplore. Others again, and some of worthy note, would exclude from it the realm of history, confining it in time to the research of prehistoric epochs, and in extent, to the investigation of savage nations.

I can not too positively protest against such opinions. Thus "cabined, cribbed, confined," it could never soar to that lofty eminence whence it could survey the whole course of the life of the species, note the development of its inborn tendencies, and mark the lines along which it has been moving since the first

  1. Address of the retiring president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, delivered at Springfield, Mass., August 29, 1895.