Darwinism and the Study of Society: A Centenary Symposium

By Michael Banton | Go to book overview

C. H. WADDINGTON


The Human Evolutionary System

Very soon after the publication of Darwin's work attempts were made to show how the development of human societies and civilisations could be explained in terms of processes similar to those which Darwin had shown to be operative in the sub-human world. Unfortunately, the discussion of the early social Darwinists did not prove very enlightening. Their influence was perhaps strongest in America. The school which flourished there around the turn of the century has recently been critically evaluated by Hofstadter.1 The inadequacy of their account of social processes arose essentially from an attempt to apply to human societies a rather crude interpretation of the hypotheses which Darwin had advanced concerning the animal world. In particular an unhappy role was played by that most misleading slogan, 'the survival of the fittest'. It seemed to follow from this that the doctrine of natural selection implied that those who were most successful in society were necessarily more important for the furtherance of evolutionary progress than their fellows. The multiple imprecision which the phrase actually contains was only gradually realised.


THE CRITERION OF NATURAL SELECTION: HEREDITARY TRANSMISSION

We are all fully aware now that natural selection is not primarily concerned with survival, in the sense of the persistence of any single lifetime, or indeed in any sense in which it can be validly equated with success. Evolution is a matter not of single life-times but of the passage of generations. What is important for it is not survival but transmission of qualities to offspring. This is, indeed, of absolutely overriding importance; so much so that when we speak of those which survive, or, better, transmit, as being the fittest, we are really adding nothing to the statement that they transmit. Fitness in this context must be defined in terms of transmission. The doctrine of

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Darwinism and the Study of Society: A Centenary Symposium
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Editor's Preface vii
  • Introduction ix
  • Darwin's Place in the History of Thought 1
  • References 16
  • The Intellectual Background of Charles Darwin's Student Years at Edinburgh 17
  • Darwinism and Human Society in Retrospect 37
  • Natural and Social Selection 49
  • The Human Evolutionary System 63
  • Evolution and History 83
  • Social Evolution 95
  • Conclusions 125
  • Social Mind and Animal Brain 129
  • Communication in Animal and Human Societies 139
  • Social Norms and Social Evolution the Analogy of Animal Behaviour 153
  • The Autonomy of Post-Darwinian Sociology 167
  • Notes on Contributors 181
  • Index 185
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