Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Francis Galton and 'Genophilia'   posted by DavidB @ 10/24/2007 11:53:00 AM

I recently came across the term 'genophilia', meaning something like 'instinctive attachment to family and tribe'. It appears to be quite a buzz-word among the usual suspects.

I was interested to see that the origin of the term was ascribed to Francis Galton. I am reasonably familiar with Galton's works, but I did not recall him using this term. I therefore set out to find if he really invented it. To cut a long story short, he didn't. For the long story, see below the fold.

On searching the internet for 'genophilia' I came across a Wiktionary entry for that term, which states (as of 24 October 2007), that the term was 'apparently coined by Sir Francis Galton', and contains the following alleged quotation:

1883: We would include among our standards of eugenic value sound physical health and good physique, intelligence, and moral qualities which make for social cohesion. The latter would comprise courage (but not aggressiveness), serenity or contentment, and cooperativeness. We would also here include the quality described above as genophilia (love of children). - Sir Francis Galton, Inquiries into Human Faculty and Development (Macmillan 1883)

I have been unable to find this passage in Galton's 'Inquiries into Human Faculty and its [sic] Development' or any other of Galton's works. The substance and style of the passage are vaguely Galtonian, but there are three points of difficulty:

- it is unlikely that Galton would use the word 'serenity' in this way

- Galton usually referred to 'ability' rather than 'intelligence'

- Galton usually put much emphasis on 'energy' as a desirable quality, but energy is not mentioned in this passage.

Galton's own best-known listing of desirable eugenic qualities is 'health, energy, ability, manliness and courteous disposition' (Essays on Eugenics, 1909, p.37).

Having failed to find the passage in Galton's works I searched the internet again, and was rewarded by finding a reference here to a use of the term 'genophilia' by C. P. Blacker, a mid-20th century British eugenic writer, in his book 'Eugenics: Galton and After' (Gerald Duckworth & Co., London, 1952). To confirm this I tracked down a library copy. The book's Index has references to 'genophilia' on pages 284 and 289. I find that the passage quoted in the Wiktionary entry is on page 289 of Blacker's book. It is clearly expressing Blacker's own views, and is not a quotation from Galton. I can only speculate that someone along the line has seen the quotation in conjunction with Blacker's title, which includes Galton's name, and jumped to the wrong conclusion. It did cross my mind to wonder whether the misattribution was a deliberate attempt to give the term a longer and more distinguished pedigree, but it is more likely to be a careless misreading of some secondary source.

Blacker himself does not claim to have invented the term 'genophilia'. On page 284 he refers to 'genophilic instincts' and in a footnote says: 'The word "genophilia" is used by Dr. A. Spencer Patterson to denote the sentiments conveyed by the term philoprogenitiveness plus something more concrete in the shape of fondness of and delight in children'.

I do not know anything about Dr. A. Spencer Patterson and do not intend to pursue the origin of the term any further. I could not find Patterson's name in the online British Library Catalogue. It should be noted that the original meaning of the term, as used by Blacker and apparently also Patterson, has little to do with 'instinctive attachment to family and tribe'.

I have asked the Wiktionary administrators to amend the entry. It will be interesting to see how long it takes. I will also be interested to see whether the false attribution continues to be used elsewhere. I'm not holding my breath.