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Julien-Joseph Virey grew up in Hortes village in southern high Marne, France, where he had access to a library. He educated himself and became an apprentice to his uncle, a pharmacist. Arriving in Paris, he attended the League of Ideologues and Human Observers.
He later studied medicine and became a medical doctor. After becoming a protégé of Antoine Parmentier (1737-1813), he wrote a major work quickly in the field of anthropology, in which he promoted the theory of polygeny. Virey was interested in the origin of the human races. He wrote the Natural History of Man (1801), which was reprinted in a new edition in 1824. Virey addressed these issues for a long time. The 20th-century scientists Paul Broca and Armand de Quatrefages rank him among the precursors of a style of anthropological questioning, without agreeing with all his ideas.
He was a polygenist minimalist, proposing two human species (the "White" and "Black"). He was part of one of the central controversies in science in 1820-1830, related to the origin and age of man. Georges Cuvier, Jean Baptiste Bory de Saint-Vincent, Louis Antoine Desmoulins and Virey all struggled to determine the origin and age of man.
Most of Virey's work and personal contributions relate to pharmaceutical science and technology. He participated in the reissue of the works of Georges-Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon (1707-1788 ) with Charles-Nicolas-Sigisbert Sonnini de Manoncourt (1751-1812).
In 1821 he published a book entitled History of Morals and the Interests of Animals, in which, far from Étienne Bonnot de Condillac and especially in opposition to Descartes, he passed from discussing the "animal soul" to proposing "intelligence in animals". He studied in libraries and wrote a quantity of books and impressive articles.
- Histoire naturelle des Médicamens, des Alimens et des Poisons . Rémont, Paris 1820 Digital edition by the University and State Library Düsseldorf
- Histoire naturelle du genre humain, ou, recherches sur ses principaux fondements physiques et moraux, précédées d'un discours sur la nature des êtres organiques (Paris: Dufart, an 9 )
- Histoire naturelle du genre humain (new edition - Paris: Crochard, 1824)
- "Homme" in Nouveau dictionnaire d'histoire naturelle appliquée aux arts (new edition - Paris: Deterville, 1817)
- Natural History of the Negro Race translated by J.H. Geunebault (Charleston, South Caroline: D.J. Dowling, 1837)
- Claude Benichou, Claude Blanckaert. Julien Joseph Virey, naturalist and anthropologist, Paris: VRIN, 1988
- Pietro Corsi, "Julien-Joseph Virey, the first critic of Lamarck," History of the Species Concept in the Life Sciences, Paris: Fondation Singer Polignac, No. Atran, S. (Ed.), 1987, p. 176-187
- "J.J.Virey, Observateur de l'homme (1800-1825)" in Julien-Joseph Virey: Naturaliste et Anthropologue edited by C. Benichou and C. Blanckaert (Paris: Vrin, 1988)
- "French Anthropology in 1800" by George W. Stocking, Jr. (Isis: Volume 55, Number 2, June 1964)