Darwinism and the Study of Society: A Centenary Symposium

By Michael Banton | Go to book overview

MORRIS GINSBERG


Social Evolution

INTRODUCTION

It is difficult now to realise the strength of the impact of evolutionary ideas on social theory in the period following the publication of the Origin of Species. There is hardly a branch of social inquiry which remained unaffected. As the historian Heitland said in 1924, 'We are all evolutionists of sorts nowadays, though we differ widely in the use we make of evolutionary principles'.1 This remains true today even of the critics of the theories of social evolution and of progress, so deeply have ideas of growth and development come to pervade the public mind.

To disentangle the various ways in which this influence has been felt is a difficult task. The main directions, however, can be fairly clearly distinguished.

In the first place the doctrine of the mutability of species, replacing the earlier view of their origin in specific acts of creation, fundamentally altered the approach to society and culture. Religion, law, morals which had generally been taken as fixed and given once for all, came now to be looked upon as organs of society, serving human needs and changing with them. No doubt notions of development had been and were being advanced by philosophers and historians before the advent of Darwinism, but they came to be seen in a fresh light and were given scientific warrant by the growing acceptance of Darwinian ideas.

Secondly, the evolutionary approach and its instrument the comparative method brought out the unity of the human mind, that is, the similarity of its structure in all its manifestations. The analysis made by Tylor and Frazer of the cognitive structure of magical beliefs and practices all over the world depended on the assumption that the modes of judgment and belief were everywhere the same

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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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