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The Metaphysics of Apes: Negotiating the Animal-Human Boundary

The application of ethnological pollution theory to the history of the anthropological sciences is new, as is the application of ideas of Hilary Putnam (a leading American philosopher) to the history of the anthropological sciences

By: Raymond HA Corbey (Author)

238 pages, 8 b/w illustrations

Cambridge University Press

Paperback | May 2005 | #208972 | ISBN: 0521545331
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £24.99 $31/€28 approx
Hardback | May 2005 | #208973 | ISBN: 0521836832
Availability: Usually dispatched within 6 days Details
NHBS Price: £57.99 $71/€65 approx

About this book

The Metaphysics of Apes traces the discovery and interpretation of the human-like great apes and the ape-like earliest ancestors of present-day humans. It shows how, from the days of Linnaeus to recent research, the sacred and taboo-ridden animal-human boundary was time and again challenged and adjusted. The unique dignity of humans, a central idea and value in the West, was, and to some extent still is, centrally on the minds of taxonomists, ethnologists, primatologists, and archaeologists. It has guided their research to a considerable extent. The basic presupposition was that humans are not entirely part of nature but, as symbolizing minds and as moral persons, transcend nature. This 2005 book was the first to offer an anthropological analysis of the burgeoning anthropological disciplines in terms of their own cultural taboos and philosophical preconceptions.

"The book is interesting for anthropologists in general as well as primatologists who want to know more about the history of views of great apes."
- Gorilla Journal

"This book can be highly recommended to primatologists, palaeontologists, archaeologists and anthropologists interested in how usually theoretical presuppositions influence their interpretations of empirical data. It is well well written and informative [...]"
- Antiquity

"The Metaphysics of Apes, contains a wealth of information and ideas, reflecting Raymond Corbey's extensive knowledge of anthropology, archaeology and philosophy. The connections he draws between on-going debates regarding human identity and those of the seventeenth century are fascinating. [...] very well written [...] extremely rewarding. It should be essential reading for anyone working in the field of human evolution, especially for those bold enough to declare a view on the relationship between human and other animals."
- Cambridge Archaeological Journal

"Raymond Corbey, a philosopher of primatology (for lack of a better term), ventures into these treacherous waters with a book that is thoughtful and approachable."
- International Journal of Primatology

"The text is clearly written, [...] and has useful summaries at the end of each chapter. [...] a fascinating, informative and intriguing must for all those interested in the arguments humans have found to place themselves, their alike and their ancestors in nature or, alternatively, above or beside it."
- Sabine Eggers, Department of Genetics and Evolutionary Biology, University of São Paulo, Brazil



Part I. Ambiguous Apes
1. Traditional views of apes
2. The discovery of apes and early hominids
3. Citizens and animals

Part II. Crafting the Primate Order
4. Homo sylvestris
5. The primate order
6. Separate again
7. Speaking apes

Part III. Up From the Ape
8. 'A grim and grotesque procession'
9. The monstrous other within
10. Narrative and paradox

Part IV. Homo's Humanness
11. The earliest homo
12. 'Ancients' and 'Moderns'

Part V. 'Symbolic Man' in Ethnology
13. A discipline's identity
14. Biological approaches rejected

Part VI. Pan Sapiens?
15. Fierce or gentle
16. Tools, mirrors, symbols
17. Ape and human rights

Part VII. Beyond Dualism
18. An epistemological reminder
19. Rethinking dichotomies


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Raymond Corbey is Professor of Epistemology and Anthropology at Leiden University and Lecturer in philosophy at Tilburg University, both in the Netherlands. He has published extensively on the history of philosophical, scientific, and colloquial views of humans, animals, evolution, culture and cultural others, as well as on the history and epistemology of anthropology and the formation of ethnographic museums and collections. He is co-director of the research program Thoughtful Hunters? Neanderthal Behavioural and Cognitive Socioecology. He is the co-editor with Wil Roebroeks of Studying Human Animals: Disciplinary History and Epistemology (2001).

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