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Eugenics By Gardett, M. Isabel

DOI: 10.4324/9781135000356-REM365-1
Published: 09/05/2016
Retrieved: 19 June 2024, from


Eugenics is the attempt to improve human traits through intervention in genetic lines, generally for the stated purpose of increasing the proportion of so-called positive human traits and decreasing the proportion of (or eliminating) so-called negative traits. The term “eugenic” was originally coined by Francis Galton (half-cousin to Charles Darwin) in his book Inquiries into Human Faculty and its Development (1883). Galton also laid out the approaches to eugenic manipulation that would become common, focusing on them especially in the last chapter of his autobiography, “Race Improvement.” In particular, he advocated that those “afflicted by lunacy, feeble-mindedness, habitual criminality, and pauperism” should not be allowed to propagate freely. Eugenicists generally embraced Galton’s belief that human beings have a “duty” to improve the human race by genetically promoting the “higher” human qualities such as beauty, intelligence, and morality, although how to do so has always been a matter of debate, even among advocates—as has the perhaps more consequential debate over who has the right to determine which are “higher” and “lower” qualities, or “desirable” and “undesirable” traits.

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Gardett, M. Isabel. Eugenics. Routledge Encyclopedia of Modernism, Taylor and Francis,

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