Discussions of eugenic policy of the nineteenth century are too often isolated from the larger debates in political economy over human capacity. These debates centered on two questions. First, do all people have roughly the same capabilities, or do some groups have a lower capacity than others? Second, capacity for what? In the nineteenth century political economists in the tradition of Adam Smith through John Stuart Mill argued that, as Gordon Tullock would later put it, “people are people” and there are no racial or other distinctions to be made about our capabilities for labor market, family formation, or other decisions. Late in the century, however, a coalition formed between progressives led by Thomas Carlyle and John Ruskin, and anthropologists and other so-called “scientists” who “demonstrated” the “inferior” capabilities of groups such as the Irish in Great Britain and former West African slaves, in Jamaica. This was the first, necessary “scientific” step towards the rise of eugenic policy-making.
Copyright © 2018 Palgrave MacMillan. This book chapter first appeared in The Ethics of Ability and Enhancement, edited by Jessica Flanigan and Terry L. Price, 9-24. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018.
The definitive version is available at: Palgrave MacMillan.
Peart, Sandra J. and David M. Levy. "Theorizing About Human Capacity: A View from the Nineteenth Century." In The Ethics of Ability and Enhancement, edited by Jessica Flanigan and Terry L. Price, 9-24. New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2018.
Peart, Sandra J. and Levy, David M., "Theorizing About Human Capacity: A View from the Nineteenth Century" (2018). Jepson School of Leadership Studies articles, book chapters and other publications. 261.