THE BIOLOGIZING OF PHILOSOPHY
The publication of Charles Darwin Origin of Species, in 1859, and The Descent of Man, in 1871, called forth a great deal of controversy in American intellectual life. In some respects it is correct to say that the controversy has not yet subsided entirely. Our purpose here is to examine the effects of the introduction of Darwinian ideas and the cognate ideas of Herbert Spencer upon the course of philosophic thought in America. We shall find that even among those philosophers who accepted the Darwinian hypothesis as warranted there was little uniformity about the inferences which were drawn from Darwin's work in the fields of ethics, social philosophy, or metaphysics. But before we look at the effects of the stimulus that Darwin gave to American philosophy, we must recognize that evolutionary ideas of various sorts had been current in America for about a century before Darwin's time.
Some of these pre-Darwinian ideas of evolution were, like Darwin's own theory, developed in the context of biology. Thus, in the middle of the eighteenth century, the French naturalist Buffon ( Georges Louis Leclerc, Comte de Buffon, 1707-1788) had maintained the theory that animal species were not fixed, but varied according to the influence of the physical environment upon their external forms. He asserted without adequate evidence that the New World environment led to the development of animals smaller than those which developed in the Old World. Thomas Jefferson was so aggrieved that he engaged men to hunt bison to send to Buffon as visible proof that the American climate had no such dwarfing influence as Buffon had claimed. Another French naturalist, Jean Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet de Lamarck ( 1744-1829), suggested the biological theory, known after him as Lamarckism, that evolutionary changes in animal
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Publication information: Book title: Men and Movements in American Philosophy. Contributors: Arthur E. Murphy - Editor. Publisher: Prentice Hall. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1952. Page number: 151.
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