How would a unified theory change humanity?

Georg Forster's draft of a "Science of Man"


The major focus of the article is on Georg Forster’s mode of elaborating a “science of man” in its theoretical and cultural contexts. The study aims at identifying Forster’s distinct interests in the specificity of mankind and his interpretation of both the reasons for its diversity and its different stages of development. Forster, the article argues, used a historicized version of Enlightenment natural history in order to analyze man as a natural as well as a cultural being. At the same time, put anachronistically, Forster constituted the reciprocity of physical and cultural anthropology. However, he differs from Enlightenment historical thinking in that he interprets history as a contingency. Finally, the article maintains that Forster deliberately conceived of the "science of man" as a multidisciplinary empirical science.

The well-traveled natural scientist Georg Forster has repeatedly formulated his research interests (see Uhlig 2004). In 1789 he succinctly summarizes the term:

It is undisputed that no object is closer to man than man himself in all its manifold relationships of form, development, constitution, time and place. The comparison of innumerable deviations from our way of life, the contemplation of what is applicable to our own condition in these various paintings, the expansion of a multitude of ideas, conceptions, concepts and inclinations that were already present in us, but by similar or even opposite ones Traits in the character of different nations are just as many powerful means of capturing the mind's attention. (AA, V: 278)Footnote 1

The focus of his thinking was less the individual human being than humanity in the multiplicity of its appearances. This interest in knowledge reflects the foreign experience that Forster made during his participation in James Cook's second voyage of discovery (1772–1775) (cf. Rennie 1995). As a central educational experience, it shaped his professional and intellectual existence.

In the preface to his Small fonts, in which he summarized the most important of his scattered essays in 1788, Forster exposes the essential areas of his research: "Ethnology and regional studies", "Natural history" and the "Philosophy of life" (AA, V: 345 f.). In the “Ethnography and Area Studies” he looks at the experienced diversity of the human race from a global perspective. The human being is not examined as an individual, but as a member of a spatially and temporally defined culture. This argument is based on the fact that the unity and difference of human culture can only be interpreted in recourse to geography. The different cultural forms of humanity, the geographical areas, specific resources and the degree of social organization of the different ethnic groups visited during the trip with James Cook are discussed. The constant perception of the "simultaneity of the non-simultaneous" (Hans Freyer)Footnote 2 raises the question of the causes of the differences in development of these peoples. Already in his travel description (see AA, II, III) Forster interpreted “ethnology and regional studies” as an integral part of the natural history form of knowledge and constituted a close theoretical link between the two modes of knowledge.

Forster, who taught this area in Kassel and Wilna, named “natural history” as one of the central, structurally changing forms of knowledge of the 18th century.Footnote 3 The traditional systematic-classificatory perspective of natural history in the sense of Carl von Linné is supplemented step by step by Buffon's genetic perspective and is partially superseded. In this understanding Forster once interpreted “real natural history” as the “history of origin, growth, changes and metamorphoses of every kind” (AA, XIV: 534).Footnote 4 The dynamization of natural history initiated by Buffon had a lasting effect on related fields of knowledge such as history, but above all on enlightening anthropological research and discussions (Dougherty 1996). In this context, the mechanistic model of thought was replaced by an organic one. Forster, for whom only a developmental approach could do justice to the subject of human research, combined natural history and anthropology in his writings from the beginning in order to constitute nature as a central component in the determination of human beings.

His enlightening “Philosophy of Life” represents the suppression of the traditional, philosophical-theologically shaped anthropological discourse of the homo duplex. Her topic is the cultural and material worldliness of the human being. In the “Philosophy of Life” Forster takes a look at everyday ways of thinking and acting and discovers the regionality of cultures. In the context of genetic natural history, “life” is thought of as a multiplicity of forces whose modes of action are to be demonstrated. With his “Philosophy of Life” approach, Forster opposes the separation of individual cognitive interests and can ultimately use “Philosophy of Life” as a synonym for the term “culture”, which encompasses “human nature” as well as its changes, i.e. human history . And, in turn, he equates history with the transformation of “physical culture” into “moral culture”. In this respect, the “philosophy of life” has its complement in “cultural history” (cf. Garber 1992, 1994, 1995).

The approaches of anthropological research mentioned by Forster correspond to an epistemological structural change in which the highly enlightened, rational systematic thinking was gradually replaced by an empirical orientation. A sensualistic epistemology was asserted as a prerequisite for a joint consideration of the individual and the species (Kondylis 1986), a separation of individual cognitive interests was rejected in favor of an integrative study of the human being. Forster, for example, tries to combine his authentic experiences with critically penetrating theory when he formulates: "With the living impressions that only a direct view of the object, and nothing else, can give, I went to the sources of geography and ethnology, drew there and tested at the same time. ”(AA, V: 345) And the perspective of the“ Philosophy of Life ”represents the turn to a genetic, biologically inspired form of thinking, assuming self-referential systems of cultural genesis in analogy to natural processes.

Forster never systematically conceptualized his anthropological research interests (cf. van Hoorn 2004), he was not a systematic.Footnote 5 His conscious mediation of an ethnological-cultural-anthropological and anatomical-physiological anthropology represents a variant of the late Enlightenment "anthropological unitarianism" (Sergio Moravia). Even if Forster never explicitly spoke of a concept of a “science of man”, his interest in knowledge nevertheless became part of the debates about the form of knowledge of a “science of man”, a structural element of the late Enlightenment (cf. Moravia 1970, 1982; Chappey 2002; Bödeker / Büttgen / Espagne 2008). This discourse, the subject of which was never institutionalized as a scientific discipline, was a constellation of different disciplines with fluid boundaries.

Forster's scattered approaches to the conceptualization of a “science of man” are analyzed below in three, partially overlapping runs.Footnote 6 First of all, the central epistemological prerequisites of Forster's anthropological argument must be explored. These include the naturalization and historicization of man and, correspondingly, the historicization of nature and the naturalization of history. Then, in two sections, some of the ideas about Forster's anthropology, what he called “physical” anthropology and - its complement - “moral” anthropology are examined. They cannot be adequately understood without their mutual references. Then the epistemological and methodological positions of Forster's eclectic epistemology are analyzed: a combination of experience and construction and a connection between natural and cultural sciences.

"Anthropological turning point"

In the context of the reconstitution of the sciences around 1750, Forster, like his contemporaries, expanded the concept of nature. Summarizing the entirety of the structures and processes, “nature” can become a comprehensive system term at Forster. One of the far-reaching consequences of this revaluation is that Forster was no longer able to oppose “nature” to the “physical and moral determination” (AA, V: 194) of human beings. Two prerequisites were required for this: firstly, the abolition of the boundaries between the body - viewed as a mere physiological substrate - and mental life, and secondly, the view of the totality of human beings and the relationships between instinctual attachment and environmental perception that are effective in them. Forster countered the traditional notion of "homo duplex" with the concept of organizational forces. This is to be understood as the forces that enable a differentiation and further development of the human being as a complexly organized living being, and which organize the human being as a unit of body and mind. Forster's inaugural lecture in Kassel from 1781, “A look at the whole of nature” (AA, VIII: 77–97), shows that this concept was constituted within the framework of a new concept of cosmos.

The naturalization of man that this implied was in the context of a discussion of European dimensions. Alongside Johann Gottfried Herder, Forster can be seen as a determined and prudent German theorist of this idea. It presupposes the thesis of a constant physiological structure of the human being. With this justification, Forster made humans the subject of research in natural history in order to be able to examine them with their methodological arsenal. At the same time, according to Forster, all those approaches, hypotheses and assumptions about human nature and gender that were developed independently of empirical data should be rejected and excluded (cf. van Hoorn 2006). The thesis of the uniformity and constancy of human nature has an axiomatic character for Forster's theory formation and is at the same time also methodical corrective. Forster consistently relates the assumed constant characteristics of human nature to the diversity of human nature and culture. According to this, the diversity of mankind is based on a bundle of causes of physical determinations that act in a certain way on the instincts, feelings or the mind of people. For the world traveler Forster, “[T] he nature of man” is “climatically different everywhere, but on the whole, both in terms of organization and in relation to the instincts and the course of their development, it is specifically the same” (AA, II: 253 ).

Since Forster - to put it bluntly - asserted the unity of “man” and “nature”, man cannot be viewed independently of his cultural development, there cannot be a “culture” of man that does not also depend on his relationship to “ external nature ”. According to Forster, the training of the “physical” person is due to the use of the senses. This in turn is itself the condition for the possibility of human cultural genesis. Logically, the relationship between nature and reason no longer forms a mutually exclusive opposition: the development of reason in history is interpreted as a natural process. Last but not least, Forster's decision to deliberately keep the difference between the forms of knowledge nature and man low was based on his ethnological interest in knowledge.

In terms of a genetically arguing natural history, Forster understands humans as an “unfinished being”. He sees the prerequisite for his development precisely in the “indeterminacy” of human characteristics. The less determined the disposition of human beings, the greater, according to Forster, the amplification potential of their “faculties” (cf. Nowitzki 2006).

Forster also thinks of the “indeterminacy” of human basic equipment in terms of perfectibility, a fundamental assumption of the European Enlightenment based on the philosophy of history. By this he understands man's ability to perfect in principle, which he understands as relative, because “from man down to the dust, every form in nature is perfect in its kind, and this great law certainly suffers no exception in the various shades of the human race "(AA, V: 330). With this, perfectibility is determined as a principle inherent in nature. Forster, however, by no means conceives of the path of perfection as a continuously ascending line, and he certainly does not consider it to be something that takes place by itself, as it were, without active human effort. Forster's defense of perfectibility is directed against Rousseau's fundamental distinction between “natural man” and “civilized man”. He declares the "natural man" to be "an absurd absurdity" (ibid .: 262)Footnote 7 and, as it were, lifts man out of the natural context from the outset, since for him there is no opposition between nature and culture. At Forster, people have always been endowed with the “consciousness of an abstract self” or, better, “given” (ibid .: 195).

The “indeterminacy” of human nature ultimately corresponds to Forster's self-preservation (cf. Mulsow 1995). The enlightenment concept differs fundamentally from the traditional doctrine of keeping people alien. According to Forster, self-preservation is conditioned by “growth” and “movement” (AA, VIII: 209). He shared with many of his contemporaries the basic conviction that man is principally a creature that is open to development and not determined by nature, which in turn is the prerequisite for man to be historical through and through (cf. Dreitzel 1981). According to Forster, people change to the extent that they assimilate to external nature or a foreign culture. In this respect, Forster constructed the historicization of man as a sequence of stages of socialization, which in turn mean qualitative cultural differences. Strictly speaking, the historicization of man is then a genetically constructed theory of the difference between human development stages in the area of ​​tension between - traditionally formulated - the state of nature and civilization society.

Forster by no means conceives of human development as a continuously ascending line. And he does not regard the perfection of man as something that takes place by itself without active effort and decisive action by man. Rather, he calls on the individual to “work incessantly on himself” (AA, VIII: 213). Perfection, like any development in general, is the “result of a conflict between opposing forces” (Uhlig 1965: 72). For Forster, without “contrast, there is neither greatness nor virtue nor perfection” (AA, VIII: 183). Without this antagonism, the “rest of death” (AA, V: 195) would prevail in the world.

Not only humans were historicized during the Enlightenment, but also nature (Toulmin / Goodfield 1985: 157 f.). The historicization of nature, which began in the middle of the 18th century, brought Forster succinctly to the phrase: "[I] n the entire system of this world everything is geared towards mobility, variability, not permanent and indestructibility." (AA, VIII: 87 ) The realm of nature - with it the earth, plants, animals but also humans - changes continuously afterwards. That is why Forster also criticized the restrictions that natural history had experienced under the epigones of Carl von Linnés: They limited natural history to the "external shapes of the body" (ibid .: 78) and classified them solely according to external characteristics. So for Forster they could only design an artificial, unhistorical system of nature in the manner of a tableau. Under the influence of Buffon, on the other hand, he called for a view of nature that, in addition to the current state, in addition to the structural and synchronous relationships between the individual elements of the entire cosmos, should also take into account its historical dimensions, the diachronic development (AA, XIV: 534, 600 ).From this speaks the view of a permanent becoming and passing away, whereby every growth in turn presupposes destruction.

Forster's view that nature has history as well as constituting history corresponds to the temporalized model of thought of the “chain of living beings” (cf. Wyder 1998) in the form of a continuous sequence, or rather a ladder, within which the individual living beings are based on the measure of their “perfection “Be classified. Such a linear ordering scheme only allowed classifications, but also marks the starting point at which a representation of the history of nature can begin.

Forster goes beyond Buffon's historicization and already points to the 19th century, in which the comprehensive historicization of nature took place when he claims the acquisition of new assets through the use of organs and the inheritance of acquired assets:

But a consequence of the general growth is the formation of the organs and the secretion of matter, which is indispensable for the production of the same form of existence in other individuals. Man becomes capable of reproduction before he reaches a certain length and strength, before he is fully developed, before the cartilage is all gone. (AA, VIII: 187)

This dynamization of natural history made a decisive contribution to replacing the mechanistic model of thought with the model of the organism.

It is characteristic of parts of the Enlightenment discourse that the paradigm of temporal natural history formed the structure for the knowledge of human history (cf. Roger 1989). Buffon's variant of natural history opened up tradition-building the possibility of interpreting human history as part of natural history (cf. especially Garber 1992, 1994, 1995). In Germany, not only Herder represented this naturalization of history broadly (cf. Proß 1999), also Forster conceived human history as natural history (cf. Garber 1999). The fact that natural and human history were able to follow a unified approach is due in turn to the fact that Forster interwoven both. Nature and history thus form an objective connection: culture emerges from nature without leaving its foundation; it is changed nature, and people change their own nature in the process. Forster once stated apodictically:

But there is no easier error for Grübeley than to distinguish where nothing is to be separated; and so she fabricates a contradiction between nature and culture, which lies at most in an arbitrary use of the words. The ability to think, with all its consequences, is so essentially inherent in our nature as the urge to nourish and reproduce, even if it is not developed in every individual as far as possible. What belongs to the species does not necessarily develop in each individual. (AA, V: 162)

As a consequence of his premise of the unity of nature and culture, Forster developed a natural history of the cultural genesis of mankind. He depicts history as the unfolding of heterogeneous dispositions that gradually develop in the transition from physical anthropology to moral anthropology, that is, from sensuality to human reason.

Anyone who considers the advantages of decent life in this context without prejudice will not deny that in this state man actually begins to satisfy nature [...] and true man, that is, becomes a thinking being. (AA, V: 161)

The spatially distinguishable cultures, which the ethnologist and cultural geographer Forster researched comparatively using a synchronistic method, are thought of in the perspective of his history of mankind as a series of stages in the development of culture.

"Physical Anthropology"

In the model of a temporal natural history, Forster developed a comprehensive “unitarian anthropology” (Moravia), whereby for theoretical reasons he did not fundamentally separate the “physical” and the “moral anthropology”, but only analytically. Forster therefore considered an abstraction of the moral from the physical man to be theoretically sterile. His anthropological reflections then consistently begin with “physical anthropology” (cf. van Hoorn 2004). He concentrates on two subject areas: the difference between humans and animals and the relationship between the unity and diversity of the human race. The questions about the distinction between humans and animals - a central aspect of the contemporary anthropological discussion, which was primarily discussed as the difference between humans and apes (cf. Corbey / Theunissen 1995) - as well as the relationship between unity and diversity of the human race - which was debated at the time not least under the title “Race”Footnote 8 - Forster had forced themselves on the world tour.

Before landing on the island of Malekula, Forster had come into contact almost exclusively with the predominantly light-skinned Polynesians and came to the conclusion that the members of a single, albeit widely dispersed, climatically differentiated tribe live in the South Pacific, whose common origin, however, is through physical- anthropological, linguistic and cultural characteristics can be proven. This view was radically called into question by the dark-skinned Melanesians living on Malekula, who were still largely unknown at the time. Because of their external appearance - long arms and legs, deep black skin color, ugliness - they appeared to Forster for a moment “almost as a monkey sex” (AA, III: 163). Forster was confronted with the then highly topical problem of defining the clear demarcation between humans and monkeys. Nonetheless, he wanted the "orang-outang system" and "the shallow minds that pray for him" (ibid .: 167) - particularly Lord Monboddo, for whom language was not sufficient to define humans as different from animals - with him Admission does not provide evidence. Therefore he concludes in his description that the inhabitants of Malekula are in the "state of nature" (ibid .: 181).Footnote 9 At this stage, however, according to Forster, contrary to Rousseau's view, they are perfectible and also have a language. For Forster, it was precisely language that made people recognizable as human beings.

When developing criteria for the difference between humans and apes, Forster aimed to distinguish humans from animals as a natural being in principle (cf. van Hoorn: 2004) and to distinguish the spiritual, cultural possibilities and characteristics of humans from their physicality to work out. In contrast to Herder, the concept of the “upright gait” played no role for him. Forster, Herder, who emphatically attributed the dominant position of humans in the animal world to the upright posture of humans, remains stuck in anthropomorphic imagery for Forster:

[Herder] lets me B. allegorize nature too much in a human way in their works. I cannot imagine that the upright position of a person should be a picture of his perfections and virtues. The upright man certainly has advantages; but who can guarantee us that in the eyes of nature it is nobler and more spiritual to carry your head high than low? I call this allegorized from human terms. [...] Not all birds carry their heads up high; most of the very stupidest, the penguins? (AA, XIV: 327)

Referring to the research results of Campers and Soemmering, according to which monkeys lack the ability for anatomical reasons to produce articulate sounds and to develop a language as an expression of reason and soul, for Forster - arguing against the background of the ladder - the boundary line between humans and animal clearly drawn. In a letter to Soemmering on July 5, 1785, he expressly emphasizes the importance of the boundary drawn between the two genres by language ability:

At most you could make it understandable that the Moor, who is so far behind the white man, mainly because he has the organs of speech like the white man, can consequently speak, and consequently is capable of a degree of reason, must be counted among men; since it seemed as if nature had to distinguish the nuance well, cut off the language of the most human-like apes through the two little bags or failed, so that from their otherwise somewhat displaced organization, not a speaking creature with a crooked, false reason would come out. (AA, XIV: 293)

For Forster, since man's ability to speak and his or her ability to think are mutually related, it is true for him that “there is no people without language and no language without reason” (AA, V: 195).

Last but not least, the ability of humans to live in any climate proves for Forster the difference between humans and animals (cf. AA, VI, Vol. 2: 1045 f.). In order to substantiate his thesis, he initially limited himself expressly to the physical properties of humans and only at the end of his argument refers to the fact that reason as the cause of civilization with clothing, housing, fire and weapons successfully protects humans against the rigors of the climate ( ibid .: 1056). In doing so, he alludes to the mutual relationship between “physical” and “moral” anthropology that is central to him, because of which he also consistently protests against Rousseau's conception of an animal natural man in his argumentation.

Since the confrontation with the diversity of ethnic groups during his world tour, Forster's thinking pervaded the question of the interpretation and weighting of this diversity. His reflections were part of the interdisciplinary debates about the classification and - directly linked to it - the mono or. Polygenesis of the human race (van Hoorn 2004: 85 f.): As a rejection of the current models of classification of the human race (cf. AA, VIII: 193 f.). The traditional theological interpretation, according to which the human race descends from the three sons of Noah Sem, Ham and Jafet, had become obsolete for the theoretically reflective natural historian Forster. The same applies to the geographical differentiation of the human race into the four "parts of the world" initiated by Linnaeus Afer - to be constituted. The classification of the human race according to skin color - here Forster obviously had Kant's definition of the concept of a human race (Kant 1785) in mind - appears epistemologically inadequate and, moreover, impractical (cf. Bernasconi 2006). After all, he played on Christoph Meiners ’" bold "attempt in that Outline of the history of mankind (1785) suggest dividing the human race into two main tribes. Meiners' classification for Forster amounts to "letting all the peoples of the earth descend from a good and an evil principle" and thus defame half of the human race as "born devils". Meiners ’attempt to divide into two unequal main tribes, which, in Forster's conviction, goes against common sense, Forster lacks“ nothing but - a proof ”(AA, VIII: 193).Footnote 10

From the criticism of contemporary attempts to interpret the diversity of the human race, he draws the conclusion: “So I, too, do not shy away from the confession that I have to take a rest elsewhere in order to measure the distances between different nuances in the human race. “(Ibid.) Forster deliberately did not attempt to classify it himself; rather, in order to cope with the theoretical problem, he conceived a dynamic outline of the stages of development of the human race.

Forster was critical of the two models of thought about the diversity of mankind - climate theory (Fink 1987; van Hoorn 2003) and the theory of a uniform descent - that were common at the time. Already during his world tour he was forced step by step to break away from the prevailing doctrine, according to which the climate was the only explanation for the different appearance of people, for their different behaviors and for their asymmetrical cultural developments. If the “ape-like” inhabitants of Malekula were humans - as Forster expressly stated - then, in his opinion, climate theory as an explanatory model for the diversity of the human race had to be fundamentally questioned. Forster recorded his increasing skepticism in 1774: "I, for my part, do not allow the climate to have such a general and all-effective influence." (AA, III: 179) In the further course of his journey, the climate theory lost more and more plausibility for Forster, for example to New Caledonia, where he saw the behavior and physiognomy of the inhabitants in contradiction to climate theory:

The more sparingly nature has distributed its kindness here, the more it is to be admired that the inhabitants were less wild, suspicious and warlike than on Tanna, and rather so peaceful and benign! It is just as strange that, despite the drought in the country, and with their meager supply of vegetable food, they are still of a larger and more muscular build than the Tannesians. (Ibid .: 326)

His travel experience forced Forster to view the relationship between humans and the environment as far more complex than contemporary climate theories could.Footnote 11

The differences between the two races resident in the Pacific region, the Polynesians and Melanesians, seemed to Forster to be based on an original difference in the indigenous indigenous population, who had inherited each of these tribes "their own indestructible and, as it were, impressed shape recognizable by characteristic signs" (AA, VI , Vol. 1: 93-137, esp. 96 f., 101 f.). He explicitly exposed the thesis of the two “main divisions” of the people in the South Seas in his essay “Something About the Human Races” (AA, VIII: 130–156) published in 1786. The apparent differences had brought him to the theoretical possibility of a polyphyletic origin of the human race. Following Soemmering's anatomical research, who had come to the conclusion that the physical constitution of the African is “closer to the ape than to the European” (Soemmering 1785: XX), Forster also discusses the essential physical differences in the human race. Of course, Soemmering emphasized that the “negroes” were nonetheless “real people, as good as we”, and stated expressly that they had “arisen from a common progenitor with all human beings, according to the most probable reasons presented to us by natural history, philosophy and written messages “(Ibid .: XXII). These differences between the human races were important enough to Forster to believe that their separate ancestry was possible. In theory, he used the climate-independent physical differences in the human race more consistently and more courageously than Soemmering. In accordance with the contemporary essentialist concept of species and against Kant's hypothetical and developmentally arguing interpretation of the term race, Forster formulated the thesis of a possible polygenetic origin of the human race. For him, both from a natural history and a moral-philosophical point of view, polygenesis can be justified just as plausibly as monogenesis (cf. Stumman-Bower 2004).

However, Forster's reflections on the question of a monogenetic or polygenetic origin of the human race are not very coherent. Since he did not consider the question to be solvable in the current state of research, he drew attention to the fact that "everything in creation is connected through nuances" (ibid .: 187). And based on the recognition of alterity, he raised the following politically explosive question:

[…] By separating the negroes as an originally different tribe from white people, aren't we cutting the last thread by which this abused people connected with us and found some protection and some grace from European cruelty? Let me rather ask whether the thought that blacks are our brothers has ever once lowered the slave driver's whip that has been picked up? (AA, VIII: 154)

"Moral Anthropology"

Forster's ligature of physical and moral anthropology finds its complement in his conception of a cultural history of humanity, which has its paradigm in temporal natural history. In his human history, Forster asks "how man 'naturally' has become what defines him as a cultural being" (Garber: 1999: 32).He can relate natural history and human history to one another because for him, on the one hand, the transformation of physical nature into moral culture is identical with history. On the other hand and at the same time, in his view, nature and history form a metaphorical connection, because Forster thinks of human history in terms of the natural growth of an individual (cf. Rohbeck 2006).

Forster saw the connection between man and nature as a relationship of domination: it is man who constitutes order and beauty in nature. His interventions in nature create a "second nature", the culture in which the disorder of the first nature is abolished. Forster once stated apodictically:

How beautiful it is, this built nature! How has the care of man adorned them so brilliantly and splendidly! He himself, the human being, is her most noble ornament; he is the noblest creature on earth; he propagates their most precious germs; by multiplying himself. They too, the earth seems to multiply with him. Through his art he brings to light everything that she hid in her lap. (AA, VIII: 95 f.)

In his history of humanity, Forster not only analyzes the synchronous diversity of human nature and culture, but also expands this spatial perspective through his diachronic questioning. The objects of investigation of human history as cultural history are the contemporary as well as the historical manifestations of socialized people. In Forster's argumentation, the mechanistic metaphor of Buffon's “world machine” or the “mechanism of the whole” (cf. AA, VIII: 92 f.), Which constitutes the connection between all parts of nature that is so important to him, is gradually being replaced by the concept of Organism (cf. ibid.). Forster conceived its development dynamics in analogy to the “vis essentialis” of Caspar Friedrich Wolff and the “educational instinct” of Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (cf. ibid.).Footnote 12 Another indication that Forster's model of human history driven by dynamic forces emerged in the context of natural history.

For Forster, human nature was fulfilled in its history, just as, conversely, its nature can be inferred from its history. He synchronized, as it were, the historical development of the sensual and the spiritual. The abolition of the antithesis between nature and culture excludes the polarization of a natural prehistory of man and a developed civilized world, which has been handed down since antiquity. Forster consequently rejected the assumption of a natural state. For him there could be no “merely animal class of nature” (AA, VI: 150). This distinct demarcation also marks the starting point for historical thinking within the framework of natural history. Forster shared it with the representatives of the Scottish moral philosophy, it can be interpreted as a historicization of the natural state (cf. Medick 1973).

Forster's renunciation of the dualistic contrast between “wildness” and “civilization” corresponds to the abolition of the thesis of the “noble savage” (cf. Kohl 1981). During his trip around the world, he was no longer able to interpret the South Sea islanders as glorified “noble savages”, but only analyze them as ethnic groups, each with a peculiar culture. He interpreted the apparently “primitive” cultures as forms of society which, from a historical perspective, could well correspond to their own European past.

Like the rejection of the doctrine of the “noble savage”, Forster's polemic against the state of nature is largely clothed in the form of a criticism of Rousseau. On April 24, 1784, he wrote to his friend Soemmering that he by no means "wanted to become a forest man with the grumpy Geneva [...] and renounce reason"; he doubts the luck "which the inconsistent theorist ascribed to the savage without wanting to taste it himself" (AA, V: 363).

In the context of his “Philosophy of the Organic” based on natural history, Forster analogizes the history of the individual with the history of mankind. Forster, who wanted to infer the development of the genus from actual, observable developments in the individual human being, was clearly on Herder's side in the dispute between Kant and Herder.Footnote 13 And its development of the relationship between the individual and the species is more due to the Scottish debates than to the enlightening historical-philosophical conception (cf. Meyer 2008; Uhlig 2003). Forster thought the history of mankind in the model of the natural development of the individual and assigned the successive stages of the development of the individual, which are biologically predetermined, to the cultural development of mankind. For him, the descriptions of the four-phase development of the individual functioned as a prelude to the description of the various historical cultural levels of humanity, because "whole peoples seem to climb those different levels of education which are mapped out for the individual" (AA, VII: 190). However, Forster's argument goes beyond a mere analogy to the history of individual development insofar as he sees the emergence of a cultural system through the perfectibility of "external activity and the power of thought" (Garber 1999: 36).Footnote 14

In the paradigm of a temporal natural history, Forster developed the model of a ladder of cultural development, a diachronic theory of human history in which all previously developed forms of material and ideal culture are related to one another. With this design, which was intended to counteract a “metaphysical division” (AA, VIII: 190 f.) Of human history, Forster resorted to the traditional metaphor of age for the sequence of historical periods. He assigns a “main purpose” to each of the four phases of individual development “growth, puberty, standstill” and “hardening of the brain”, namely “self-preservation, reproduction, external effectiveness and feedback within oneself” (AA, VIII, 189), and transfers it they refer to the economic, social, political and cultural structures of human socialization from a historical perspective (cf. Meyer: 2008).

At the first level, people are therefore forced to devote themselves exclusively to self-preservation; the people who are primarily concerned with the search for food to maintain their own life live in unorganized "heaps" without social or political structures. Forster, the contemporary “savages” stand at this level of mere self-preservation. According to Forster, the second stage of development is characterized by a fundamental improvement in the material livelihoods of people, so that the “heaps” can not only multiply, but also organize. With this “period of reproduction”, which corresponds to the stage of puberty determined by the sexual instinct, Forster corresponds to the emergence of bondage and despotism. China, India and Africa are considered to be representative of the stage of development. The struggle for social power and for wealth then constitutes the third stage of human development. The "barbarians" of Greek and Roman antiquity serve Forster as examples of this level, which is characterized by the "violent pursuit of domination and enjoyment". Only on the fourth level, according to Forster, does "reason [...] ascend its throne." (AA, VIII: 188). According to Forster, this level of refined sensation and understanding was only reached three times, both in Athens and Rome of antiquity and in contemporary Enlightenment Europe.

Forster also defined his four cultural levels as "muscular, spermatic, heroic and sensitive culture" (AA, VII: 191 f.). Since he subordinates the individual stages of development to socio-political structures, he interlinks the organic perspective with the “four stages theory” of the Scottish school. It stands to reason that, following Adam Ferguson, Forster interpreted the four levels as a hunting, cattle breeding, arable farming and owner society (cf. Meyer: 2008). In doing so, he constituted connecting lines between anthropomorphic and social classifications of human development, which, as it were, takes place in the human organism itself:

Only those peoples who in their earlier period happily escaped lust and grew up in the arms of freedom to male strength; can and must finally climb the highest peak of culture, where the whole energy of our being is most active in finer instruments of sensation and understanding. (AA, VIII: 189)

However, it remains unclear how Forster links the anthropomorphic and socio-political perspectives.

Its linear, but not teleological, sequence of stages of development is designed in such a way that at the end the development of all human beings can be recognized. However, Forster differs from his contemporaries in that for him each of the stages of development fully unfolds a certain anthropological specificity, which then loses its central position in the further course of history (cf. AA, VII: 15–28). At the beginning of human history, to put it more pointedly, physical anthropology dominates, while at the end the reflective culture predominates (cf. ibid.). From the perspective of Forster's history of mankind, cultural progress in the present seems to be accelerating at the expense of the “sensual man”, whose “physical” possibilities are more and more restricted by the reflexive superiority of the Enlightenment.

In order to be able to theoretically cope with the various forms and speeds of development experienced during the world tour, Forster designed a flexible tiered model. The ability to explain discontinuous, non-simultaneous and uneven progress, but also stagnations, slowdowns and regressions as well as specific regional cultural characteristics, can already be found in Forster's description of his world tour. In the 1780s he further developed this complex concept of progress, in which linear and cyclical moments interpenetrate: "The century, like the human race in general, does not advance in a regular step, but in an incessant rotation." (AA, XV : 231) The goal of the development cannot be determined: "The limit point of the advancing enlightenment lies outside our field of vision" (AA, V: 199).

Forster did not only want to sketch the stages of development of the human race, he also asked himself the question of the principles of these development processes. Against the theory of the “balance of forces” he emphatically defended the thesis that a one-sided formation of the parts is the condition for the possibility of perfecting the whole. For him, difference and conflict constitute the historical process. Forster, civilizational progress can only come about through eccentricity, that is, through the development of partial human forces: "Eccentricity is [...] a condition without which the highest point of education [...] cannot be achieved." (AA, IX : 167) According to Forster, however, people can only ever achieve partial perfection, which in turn excludes certain properties, so that the totality of human potential can never be realized (cf. ibid .: 306-320). At the same time, the eccentricity of the individual is the condition for the dynamization of the general. Forster refers to “eccentricity” as “antagonism”. He described its human historical dimension as follows:

The change of circumstances, the clash of conflicting forces, the contrast of opposing events - this tide flowing to and fro in the ocean of mankind purifies and determines the concepts everywhere, and also gives them an influence on actions; virtue and vice are therefore everywhere simultaneous phenomena; for virtue also becomes possible through resistance; where there is neither enemy nor danger there is neither battle nor victory. (AA, V: 196 6f.)

Forster's interpretation of historical processes as the consequences of a chaotic clash of human interests draws on positions of ancient atomism such as the Scottish Enlightenment. His view that selfishness and egoism constitute a dynamic of history in which the negative driving forces on the one hand cancel each other and on the other hand enable the new to prevail over the old, he succinctly summed up: "Luxury, art and science, the children of one birth, marry each other and give birth to a new breed - monsters and geniuses. "(AA, IX: 326) Forster not only made passions, war and violence, but also trade and" industry "as the driving forces of the History, as causes of progress (cf. van Hoorn 2004: 229 f.). He even declared the accumulation of material wealth to be the prerequisite for the transition from physical culture to moral one (AA, VIII: 47).

Forster's sense of reality soberly allowed him to establish a “cycle of events”, an “incessant change” in the historical process (AA, V: 197). Nonetheless, there are conjectures about “the common advancement of our entire species towards a certain goal of perfection” (ibid .: 292). However, such prognoses are constantly being called into question, as Forster sees the conflict of forces not only as a means to an end, but as the condition of the possibility of life in general, as the "pulse of nature":

In a world where the greatest diversity of forms is brought about only by the ability to displace one another, it would in fact be necessary to abolish the only condition of their existence if one wanted to have this perpetual war and this apparent disorder put an end to. (AA, V: 193)

Forster's argument leads to the insight that people are neither able to plan nor make their story. His conception differs from traditional human histories in that the last stage of human history, the universalistic cultural formation in the Age of Enlightenment as the result of a contingency process, by no means follows a linear form. His history of mankind is not the history of the human species either. Like his contemporaries, Forster proceeded from the natural historical axiom of the constancy of species. Forster’s history of mankind is a history of the unfolding of the possibilities of civilizational and cultural developments inherent in man, the “whole” of which, however, is fundamentally recognizable.

"Enlightenment empirical science"

At the center of Forster's discussions of the methodological foundations of his research is the discussion of speculation and empiricism. It already determined the portrayal of his world tour. On the one hand, he criticizes the scientist who only “hunts for facts” and as a result can only show “a mixed bunch of loose individual links” from which “no art can produce a whole” (AA, III: 13). On the other hand, he rejects the mere theorist who, without “sufficient knowledge […], considers certain sentences to be true” and “builds on this type of system that catches the eye from afar, but, on closer examination, looks like one to us Cheating a dream with false appearances ”(AA, VIII: 132). Linnaeus' natural history taxonomy, who simplified the phenomena of reality and reduced them to terms on the basis of this reduction, marks the limit for Forster to capture reality based on fixed terms (ibid .: 132 f.). Forster, Kant's “speculative philosophy” is “subject to this general fate [also, H. E. B]” (ibid .: 132). According to Forster, inferring from a conceptually derived systematics that the reality is adequately captured cannot work:

In a word, the order of nature does not follow our divisions, and as soon as one tries to impose the same on it, one falls into inconsistencies. Every system is supposed to be a guide for memory, indicating sections which nature seems to make; But since one can and must not assert all the same-named sections, such as gender, genus, variety, are everywhere at the same distance from one another. (AA, XIII: 146)

Forster thus expressed fundamental skepticism towards a deductive definition of the term, which for him always runs the risk of avoiding empirical phenomena and arriving at abstract statements that do not correspond to reality:

So if the sentence: that one can only find what one needs in experience if one knows beforehand what to look for [... ..] also had its undisputed correctness: then a certain caution would nevertheless be necessary when applying it in order to avoid the most common of all illusions, namely, that when one searches for what one needs in a certain way, one often believes to find the same thing where it really is not. (AA, VIII: 132)

Forster counted among the prerequisites for a reflected natural history, in addition to impartiality and freedom from prejudice (cf. AA, V: 285), the abstinence from speculatively obtained “predetermined concepts” or “artificial hypotheses” (ibid .: 185, 397). It was precisely this demand that he defended emphatically in his dispute with Kant on the classification of the human race (van Hoorn 2004: 124 f.). Forster advocates a self-reflective and thus sharpened perception and judgment. In principle, he pulls the "open eyes" of the "reliable empiricist" from the "made up [observations, H.-E. B.] of a partheyic systematist ”(AA, VII: 133), because they let“ some things appear arbitrarily in a predetermined light ”(ibid .: 134) and thus produce illusions of reality. Despite the emphasis on an emphatic concept of experience, Forster did not opt ​​for the inductive, empirical method, as is almost always assumed by research. He himself admitted that "these opposites ... perhaps stand too sharply next to each other" and that both the "empyric as well as the systematic head [...] can provide the best observations under certain circumstances" (ibid .: 133). Thus, his conception of science is consciously in the middle between the two extremes of the pure description of facts and the formation of a system that he rejected. He rejected both the theory formation of the High Enlightenment, including Kantian system forms, as well as the empirical sciences developing and establishing themselves in the early 19th century in their positivist self-image. In contrast, he was particularly interested in contemporary proposals for the synthesis of deductive and inductive approaches. In the spirit of Adam Fergusons Principles of moral philosophy (Ferguson 1772; Oz-Salzberger 1995) in his lecture “Looking into the whole of nature” in 1781, he described the natural scientist's method “as a pendulum movement from the empirical individual phenomena to the insights into the overall context of nature, in order to derive regularities from it "(Garber 1999: 36).

Forster endeavored to combine the loose links of empirical knowledge into a comprehensive whole, or, as he expressed to Heyne, to trace it back to the context of the whole in natural history (AA, XVIII: 132). Its procedure cannot be viewed merely in terms of the usual inductive idea of ​​progression. Rather, the thesis - mainly based on Buffon - of the whole of nature is elevated to the heuristic starting point of the investigations and implemented in a concrete research program.

This argumentation presupposes the temporal late Enlightenment natural history, according to which each individual element can be a building block of a system formation. In natural history, part and whole follow a common structural principle. By introducing a theory of strength and vitalism, natural history can be used to interpret the self-organization of part and whole as an organized process.

In his late epistemological reflections Forster supplemented “experience” and “judgment” with “imagination” as the third knowledge-forming faculty. He places it next to the “ability to judge” and described it as that which “grasps and notices the relationships of things quickly and correctly” (AA, V: 299). This third faculty obviously mediates between the mere perception of individual objects and the intellectual assessment of their connections. Forster's specific concept of the imagination resembles the determinations which Kant defines of the imagination as a synthesizing faculty Critique of Pure Reason there (cf. Kant 1957 [1790]: 237–622). Forster saw the origin of this concept in 1792 in close connection with his training and his journey with James Cook, as he did in his Lectures on general knowledge of nature noted:

I owe this shipping to the development of a system which determined my direction from childhood, namely an effort to bring my concepts back to a certain generality, to bind them together to form a unity and thereby create more life and consistent reality in myself to the understanding of the whole (Forster [1792] quoted from Jahn 1994: 171)

Insisting on the researcher's design achievement, Forster largely leveled the contrast between subject and object. Since for him the observer is part of the cognitive process, subject and object change in the act of cognition. Forster already postulated this process of reflexive cognition in the preface to “Journey around the world” (AA, II: 7–17). Forster used the term “unphilosophical way of philosophizing” (AA, XV: 233) for his scientific practice, constituted by the methodical operations of observation, comparison and analogy.

Forster called for the natural historian to have his “own observation spirit” (AA, V: 242, cf. Bödeker 2006), which is conceptually based on the tradition of Buffon's natural history method of description. The “careful observation of human life” (AA, II: 297) is a first step for Forster towards not only recognizing foreign cultures. However, it is not a spontaneous act of perception that takes place without preconditions. Forster explicitly emphasized that a “schema in the head” (AA, V: 393), which is constituted from “previous knowledge”, is observed. Therefore, he challenged the self-observing observer, assuming that only such an observer knows from which perspective he is fixing an object, which own prejudices have flowed into the observation. Therefore only he alone can make controllable statements about his factual knowledge. Prejudices when observing cannot be avoided, says Forster, because they are, as it were, the cultural default of every experience, since every act of knowledge and every object of knowledge are mediated by culture and history. And he asked the observer not only to reflect on this perspective, but also to explain it in the later description of his observations. The reader must know, as Forster stated in the introduction to his world tour, “how the glass is colored through which I have seen” (AA, II: 13). In a methodically consistent manner, he not only reflected on his subjective perspectives on the objects, cultural forms and people observed, but also problematized his sometimes sensitive, subjective writing style (cf. ibid.).

Forster not only formulated this insight into distortions of perception programmatically; in his publications he endeavored to implement them. Of course, they too are not free from distorting perspectives; the limits of Forster's freedom from prejudice become manifest in his descriptions of sexuality. His performance as a reflective observer becomes apparent when he breaks his own prejudice structures through his direct perceptions.

Until his later days, Forster described his natural history research method as based on “experience and reason” (AA, VIII: 159): “Everything depends [...] on the accuracy and correctness of the observations, as well as on the undeniable evidence and infallible certainty of the Conclusions from what has been noticed. ”(Ibid .: 161) The reflected observation consequently combines sensory impression and reasoning. Speculation, generalization, and inference stand for Forster's attempts to think this connection. It is always the concrete experience that served as the starting point for his considerations and was put into a larger context. For him speculation is the weakest, the most cautious of these forms of reflection. Forster tried to formulate it in the subjunctive in order to present it as a perspective idea. On the other hand, he argued more confidently when he generalized individual observations, which usually happens in recourse to previous experiences or reading experiences (AA, III: 344).

For Forster, the observation must be followed by the interpretation, the "conclusions from what has been noticed" must be in place, a methodical approach that was already mentioned in his preface to Trip around the world echoes when he mocked the scholars who only collected “facts” (cf. AA II: 12 f.). In the summary of his observations of the Amsterdam harbor, he summed up the constructive character on which his observational practice is based:

This is to me the total impression of all these infinitely varied objects united into a whole, which appear so small and insignificant when isolated and broken up. […] The whole is only for this the imagination, which observes it from a certain distance without prejudice and endows the larger results with artistic unity; the all too close proximity of the particular object on which the soul of each individual concentrates, as on its purpose, also guarantees it the coherence and shape of the whole. (AA, IX: 300)

Forster owes the whole thing solely to the imagination, the "thinking eye" of the observer: "So, not with the eye alone, but also with the mind, Amsterdam appears in its highest splendor from the waterfront." (AA, IX: 304)

Comparative analysis is becoming an accepted methodological procedure at Forster. The constancy of human nature is the central premise of the fundamental comparability of peoples in space and time. Forster developed a method of cultural comparison within the literary genre travel report (cf. Garber 2003). The traveling natural historian then compares the “stations” of his travel route with one another and ascribes type-forming properties to certain areas. The criteria for such comparisons are the geographical nature of the different parts of the world, the physiognomy of its inhabitants, their temperament, abilities, customs, languages ​​and the like in their mutual contexts. Forster's approach is designed in such a way that these criteria are conveyed as coherent and therefore comparable moments. The observation that Forster made on the island of "Oster-Eyland" in March 1774 can be used as a revealing example:

Judging from the few words we had heard from them, their language seemed to us to be a dialect of the Tahisti. So there is one language spoken at both ends of the South Seas. Their whole reputation led us to suspect that they must be a branch of the same tribe. They were of medium size, but thin, and faced similar to the Tahitians, but not so beautiful. (AA, II: 435)

In his comparisons between the different peoples he emphasized their peculiarities as well as their similarities. Forster sharply differentiated the political relationships, so the usual terms such as monarchy and feudalism were not sufficient for him to characterize the specific relationships of rule. He paid special attention to the role of women in the respective society, seeing in their appreciation and treatment a yardstick for the cultural level on which a people stands (cf. AA I: 276, 447 f.). Forster finally succeeds in unfolding the advantages and disadvantages of societies of savagery and civilization through his comparative procedure. This comparison between civilization and human “nature” was a constant topic of discussion in the European Enlightenment.