Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Evolution Concept: The Concept Evolution

Academic journal article Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy

The Evolution Concept: The Concept Evolution

Article excerpt


There were some attempts in the past to trace the concept of evolution back in history. May be one of the first of these attempts was the one made by Thomas Huxley in 1878 (Huxley, 1893). More recent studies include those of Bowler (1975) and Richards (1992). All those studies, of undeniable intrinsic and fundamental value, were focused on tracing and reconstructing the changing meanings of the concept of evolution through history. This work will follow a different approach, a different methodology. It will not follow the sequence of the different transmutations of the concept, but, starting from the same point of departure, it will follow the path took by the concept itself. In other words, given the origin and context of appearance of the concept, it will allow it to evolve by its own, following its immanent possibilities and potentialities. In this manner, it will be given the concept the opportunity to be expressed, to be explicated, to be unfolded.

In consequence, this is an epistemologically-driven history of the concept of evolution. With this, we do not only want to indicate that this history is going to be reconstructed leaning on concepts, passively, but, above all, that we will use epistemology as an active tool for constructing history, even potential and alternative histories. The most dramatic consequence of this new methodology, which it will be evident almost from the beginning, is that it considers a totally different path the one followed by the concept of transmutation. This fact establishes a clear difference with previous works on this matter.

The underlying thesis of the present work is, therefore, that the path that leads to the development of the concept of evolution is the path that studies the possibilities of the evolution of concepts, and that the historical reconstruction of its conceptual trajectory will shed light into potential and unexploited possibilities of this concept.


Linguistic analysis: morphological analysis of corpora (1)

Evolution comes from the Latin word evolutio. The word literally means unrolling, unfolding. One of the first persons in recorded history to use the word evolutio was Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-63 BBC). Cicero was a consul of the Roman Republic, a politician and philosopher considered one of Rome's greatest orators. Cicero's rediscovery in the 14th-century played a major role on the origin and development of the Renaissance.

Cicero used the verb evolvere six times in his writings. In those six times, Cicero used the word with different, but interrelated and complementary meanings. In the first place, he used it in the most literal meaning of opening a book, at a time when a book was a scroll, and opening it implied actually unrolling it. In the second place, he used it as a figurative extension of its literal meaning of unrolling a scroll, in order to put forth or explain an idea, an argument, that is, to explicate. He also used it in order to explain the course of the stars. Finally, Cicero used the verb evolvere as a metaphoric equivalent to guess or divine. On the other hand, Cicero used the corresponding noun evolutio just once, in a very interesting context:

"Quid tibi, Torquate, quid huic Triario litterae, quid historiae cognitioque rerum, quid poetarum evolutio, quid tanta tot versuum memoria voluptatis affert?" (Cicero, 1931, p. 26).

"What actual pleasure do you, Torquatus, or does Triarius here, derive from literature, from learning history, from reciting the poets and committing vast quantities of verse to memory?".

What did Cicero mean by evolution then? We could state that with evolutio Cicero meant reciting a text that was previously memorized. For this, it was necessary to unroll the book and read it. In a way, the book was already written, but otherwise, its content was unknown. In this sense, its unrolling, its evolution, carried a prophetic sign. …

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