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The naturalist and the nuances: Sentimentalism, moral values, and emotional expression in Darwin and the anatomists

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  • This article won the 2009 John C. Burnham Early Career Award from the Forum of the History of Human Science.

Abstract

Comparing Charles Darwin's account of emotional expression to previous nineteenth-century scientific studies on the same subject, this article intends to locate the exact nature of Darwin's break in his 1872 book (as well as in his earlier notebooks). In contrast to a standard view that approaches this question in the framework of the creationism/evolutionism dichotomy, I argue that Darwin's account distinguishes itself primarily by its distance toward the sentimentalist values and moral hierarchies that were traditionally linked with the study of expression—an attitude that is not an inevitable ingredient of the theory of evolution. However, Darwin's approach also reintroduces another kind of hierarchy in human expression, but one based on attenuation and self-restraint in the exhibition of expressive signs. © 2011 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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