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Perfection, progress and evolution: a study in the history of ideas

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posted on 2023-01-19, 10:09 authored by Marja E. Berclouw
Abstract: The study of perfection, progress and evolution is a central theme in the history of ideas. This thesis explores this theme seen and understood as part of a discourse in the new fields of anthropology, sociology and psychology in the nineteenth century. A particular focus is on the stance taken by philosophers, scientists and writers in the discussion of theories of human physical and mental evolution, as well as on their views concerning the nature of social progress and historical change. The wisdom and feasibility of improving the human species is discussed alongside an analysis of new methods of investigating and measuring physical and mental attributes of the human organism.The instruments used to assess the development of mind, body and society are described, and are viewed as part of an increased emphasis on the use of technology as an integral part of modern life, and as a means toward the ordered gathering of information in social-scientific practice. An international perspective is taken by observing the way in which ideas about the physical and mental development of humankind was discussed in light and consequence of English and European scientific exploration in the Southern Hemisphere. Further, an evaluation is made of the manner of the spread of new thought in the social sciences from the intellectual and cultural 'centre' of England and Europe to the Anglo-European community located at the 'periphery' in Australia in the late nineteenth century. In particular the educative role played by the non-professional enthusiast as a pivotal conduit for the dissemination of these ideas is highlighted and linked back to a significant tradition of amateur scholarship as a central phenomenon in the study of the history of ideas.

Submission note: A thesis submitted in total fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Institute for Education (Bundoora Campus).

Originally part of the Australasian Digital Theses (ADT) database.


Center or Department

Institute for Education.

Thesis type

  • Ph. D.

Awarding institution

La Trobe University

Year Awarded


Rights Statement

This thesis contained third party copyright material which has been removed. The thesis author retains all proprietory rights (such as copyright and patent rights) over all other content of this thesis, and has granted La Trobe University permission to reproduce and communicate this version of the thesis.

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