Reason as Race: Enlightenment Voyages of Discovery and their Effect on 18th Century Racial Discourse Public Deposited


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  • The proper way to order knowledge and find truth about the natural world in the eighteenth century lay in one’s ability to correctly learn and employ the quality of reason. While all had the right to seek reason, only a privileged few achieved its proper use, creating an intellectual elite of white, educated males. Many groups were not considered to possess reason, with each group’s exclusion explained differently. In conjunction with the supremacy of reason, voyages of discovery were setting out to discover new knowledge. They brought back news and accounts of indigenous Americans that presented these peoples as one such unreasonable group. Such travel accounts, especially those of the 1735 geodesic expedition to Peru, would become sources for a broader racial discourse that took place within the reading public and among philosophes in the eighteenth century. This racial discourse of recycled ideas and preconceptions of indigenous peoples reveals a reflexive loop of information that portrayed indigenous peoples as unreasonable due to climatic effect and a lower level of development.
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