Now there is no denying that, given the trajectory of his later career, Neurath’s translation (with his first wife Anna Schapire-Neurath) of the second edition of Francis Galton’s Hereditary genius as Genie und Vererbung (1910) stands in need of explanation—indeed: contextualisation.17 Once that is provided, however, it becomes clear that his seeming ‘enthusiasm’ for eugenics was in fact considerably tempered. What prompted this tempering was, first of all, the complex influence of his father Wilhelm Neurath’s early arguments against Social Darwinism, albeit from an idealist perspective.18 In addition it must be noted that even the left of the day was by no means unanimously opposed to all eugenicist programmes and that the ideology of German eugenics before World War 1 was ‘less racialist than nationalist or meritocratic’, though unsavoury tendencies were already in evidence (Proctor, 1988, p. 20). Characteristically, Karl Kautsky dedicated the last chapter of a book of socialist reflections on Darwinism to the issue of ‘building a social consciousness in the spirit of racial hygiene’ (Kautsky, 1921, p. 265), explicitly in opposition to proponents of state-directed eugenic interventions like Wilhelm Schallmeyer. Finally, note must be taken of the protracted polemic against ‘the natural–scientific theory of society’ that Neurath’s mentor Ferdinand Tönnies conducted against Social Darwinists like Schallmeyer during the first decade of the past century in the journal of one of Neurath’s Berlin professors and dissertation examiners, Gustav Schmoller (Tönnies, 1925).
In light of this, the translation of Galton’s early work on eugenics may be regarded as an attempt to induce a certain sobriety into a highly topical public debate, especially since the translator’s ‘Preface’ draws the reader’s attention to what is significant about the second edition. Galton’s ‘Preface the second edition’—translated in full—not only stresses that the inheritance of acquired characteristics plays a still more minor part than originally thought, but also that in the meantime he had discovered the phenomenon of regression to the mean and the need to distinguish between genetic variations and so called sports. Galton concluded that ‘it is in consequence impossible that the natural qualities of a race may be permanently changed through the action of selection upon mere variations. The selection of the most serviceable variations cannot even produce any great degree of artificial and temporary improvement, because an equilibrium between deviation and regression will soon be reached, whereby the best of the offspring will cease to be better than their own sires and dams’ (Galton, 1892, p. xviii). That this radically reduces the scope for eugenics and reduces ‘the speed of the progress’ thereby promoted—as Galton put it in a passage from his Memories also reproduced in the translators’ ‘Introduction’ (Neurath & Schapire-Neurath, 1910a, p. vi)—is evident. It is surely not far-fetched to conclude that readers were meant to notice these consequences by the translators.
By 1913, in any case, Neurath observed: ‘One should clearly realise that instinct must fail with regard to the complex rational relationships created by the consciously shaped institutions of the social order and modern technology’ (Neurath, 1983, p. 5). So it is misleading to say that Neurath ‘in the years before the First World War became interested in eugenics’ (Proctor, 1991, p. 168) and wholly false to claim (as already noted) that it served as a ‘model and metaphor for social engineering’ (Richardson, 2009a, p. 19).19 Rather, by the time of World War 1, Neurath had lost interest in it because he realised that it was of no use for the transformation of society that he had begun to believe was required to alleviate the misery of the largest part of the population.--Thomas Uebel (2010) "What’s right about Carnap, Neurath and the Left Vienna Circle thesis: a refutation," Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A
Yesterday, while discussing LK Bright's work on the logical empiricist's taboo on (biological) racial explanation in human affairs, I alluded to an existing debate over the significance or meaning of the Neuraths's translation with his wife (a "professional translator") of Galton's Hereditery Genius. (As Galton makes clear in the preface to the second edition, by 'genius' he means 'natural ability,' although this does not rule out the impact of education and cultivation.) For even if one is friendly to the Vienna Circle it is a bit troubling to see one of its leading intellectual lights implicated in the active spread of eugenic ideas. (And one can imagine that at least some of those who are hostile will use it as critical ammunition.) Bright (and I) cite/link to a piece by one of the leading scholars of the Circle, Uebel (which I have quoted above). My own inclinations are with Richardson's position,* but what follows is agnostic about the relevance of early Neurath's views on eugenics to our interpretation of (a branch) of the later Vienna Circle.
First, I fully agree with Uebel that "even the left of the day was by no means unanimously opposed to all eugenicist programmes." In fact, as I remarked yesterday, many progressives, who want to improve society, after all, were invested in all kinds of scientific eugenics. (As regular readers know, I became aware of the significance of this by working on the overlapping history of philosophy and economics prompted by David Levy's scholarship.) Not all of these eugenic improvers were invested in racial hierarchy. But it is equally true that racial hierarchy is rarely fully absent from eugenic programs. As I remarked yesterday, Galton's book has a full chapter in which he presents his racialized hierarchy of peoples. The Neuraths's introduction does not challenge this classification. (It provides biographical background to his interest in the subject.) So, even if Uebel is right that the second edition of Galton's book does not promote eugenics, it does promote a racial hierarchy.
Second Uebel is right to call attention to the significance of the regression of the mean. The Neuraths's also call attention to Galton's comments (which he had added to the preface of the second edition) in their introduction. I want to make three comments about this. (a) The purported findings of racial hierarchy are not undermined by Galton's awareness of regression to the mean (which is a quality of a race); he repeats his views on the inferiority of "Negroes" in the introduction to the second edition (xxv-xxvi). In fact, (b) while Galton does not say this, one may even suspect that he thought this entrenches the hierarchy -- if one can maintain racial purity from the lower races -- because one can't breed up.
Now, it's true that Galton expresses (a lot more) pessimism about breeding for increasing existing characteristics in a population due to thinking through the implications of regressions to the mean (see, second edition p. xviii). But (c) he is explicit that it leaves open possibility for breeding for novelty or new characteristics (or what he calls "spots") which can then be passed on to the next generation. This can ultimately lead to a new "species" (race/kind). Galton goes on to call for the establishment of an experimental research lab in which breeding experiments on animals are performed alongside demographic study of human populations. So, a eugenic program that breeds new, desirable characteristics into a new kind of man may well be possible (and that's what, in fact, he calls for research into). Galton's remarks reveal the (evidential) research potential of drastic social engineering:
The great problem of the future betterment of the human race is confessedly, at the present time, hardly advanced beyond the stage of academic interest, but thought and action move swiftly nowadays, and it is by no means impossible that a generation which has witnessed the exclusion of the Chinese race from the customary privileges of settlers in two continents, and the deportation of a Hebrew population from a large portion of a third, may live to see other analogous acts performed under sudden socialistic pressure. (xx)
Galton here does not advocate massive social engineering. But it's clear that if the evidence supports its utility, he would embrace it. ("They compel us to face the question as to what races should be politicall the chief occupiers of that [African] continent." (xxv))
The Neuraths do not comment much on Galton's vision. So, Uebel may be right that they wished to introduce "certain sobriety" into the discussion. (As I speculated yesterday, while Galton endorses a racial hierarchy his book is not antisemitic (even philosemitic), something they may have found attractive in a Germanic context.) Perhaps they did not endorse his racial hierarchy and other eugenic projects. (But why not say so in the introduction?) But it does not follow that they rejected everything in the book. In fact, there is clear evidence that the Neuraths explicitly accept Galton's idea of the inherited characteristic of intelligence. For, in their 'preface" (Vorwort) they explicitly call attention to a (modest) mistake by Galton. Galton had presented Fichte as an isolated genius; but they note that he had a son who was a philosophy professor. The point is echoed in the biographical sketch of Galton in their "introduction," where they explicitly note, as an illustrative example of Galton's theory, the above average likely presence of other smart people in the families of exemplary men (iii-iv).**