The term “Caucasian race” was coined by the German philosopher Christoph Meiners in his The Outline of History of Mankind (1785). Meiners’ term was given wider circulation in the 1790s by Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a German professor of medicine and member of the British Royal Society, who is considered one of the founders of the discipline of anthropology.
Meiners’ treatise was widely read in the German intellectual circles of its day, despite muted criticism of its scholarship. Meiners proposed a taxonomy of human beings which involved only two races (Rassen): Caucasians and Mongolians. He considered Caucasians to be more physically attractive than Mongolians, notably because they had paler skin; Caucasians were also more sensitive and more morally virtuous than Mongolians. Later he would make similar distinctions within the Caucasian group, concluding that the Germans were the most attractive and virtuous people on earth. The name “Caucasian” derived from the Southern Caucasus region (or what is now the countries of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia), because he considered the people of this region to be the archetype for the grouping.
Meiners’ classification was not grounded on any scientific criteria. It was Blumenbach who gave it scientific credibility and a wider audience, by grounding it in the new quantitative method of craniology. Blumenbach did not credit Meiners with his taxonomy, however, claiming to have developed it himself — although his justification clearly points to Meiners’ aesthetic viewpoint:
Caucasian variety—I have taken the name of this variety from Mount Caucasus, both because its neighborhood, and especially its southern slope, produces the most beautiful race of men, I mean the Georgian; and because all physiological reasons converge to this, that in that region, if anywhere, it seems we ought with the greatest probability to place the autochthones (original members) of mankind.