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DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC129-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 2022
Retrieved May 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Degeneration (French: dégénérescence; German: Entartung) was an influential theory of biological and cultural decline that, once associated with Darwinism, attained wide currency in the later nineteenth century. Originating in natural history and racial science, it subsequently found employment in psychiatry, criminology, anthropology and the humanities, serving to define an otherwise inchoate sense of crisis: a conviction that the moral and material advancement of industrial society was threatened and that the Hegelian, Comtean and Spencerian narratives of progress seemed increasingly implausible. Degeneration furnished a medicalized vocabulary of deviance and difference that was used to diagnose poverty, insanity, delinquency, sexual perversion and the decadent artists of the avant-garde as hereditary pathologies, the response to which was either fatalistic despair or eugenic intervention in the evolutionary process. Degeneration thus provided Friedrich Nietzsche with an appropriate rhetorical device for his pervasive critique of modernity.

Citing this article:
Moore, Gregory. Degeneration, 2022, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC129-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
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