“And if it be a pretty woman all the better”
Darwin and Sexual Selection
In the long argument of this book, my primary objective is to demonstrate, through the example of Darwin and of his writing, the compatibility between an enchantment that has the power to stimulate ethical engagement and a naturalistic vision of the world. Using Darwin as a model, I tried in the last chapter to begin that demonstration, noting in particular Darwin's remarkable attention to minutiae, in both his science and his life. The science and the life are entwined in a way that—in spite of the strong tradition that self-consciously splits science off from ordinary life, purifies it, objectifies it—is fairly common among scientists. Of course, it is characteristic of Darwin, and I want in this chapter to come in another way at a sense of the integration of his life and his science so important to my argument. Having focused on details of Darwin's life to demonstrate how it is integral with his science, in this chapter, I want to look at the way he formulated one of his most important theories, the theory of sexual selection, in order to suggest how integral to its construction were the conditions of his life and of his culture. That is, I want to work against the prejudice that assumes that a scientist's cultural assumptions must be kept entirely out of his work and that sees evidence of their presence in scientific thinking as reason to regard the science as suspect. Feeling and valuing are never far from objective and disinterested science, and feeling and valuing are inevitably tied closely to the culture in which the scientist, willy nilly, is immersed.
Certainly, the distance between Darwin's nonscientific life and his science was very small. The two, in fact, overlapped at almost every juncture. We have seen that part of the way he dealt with the nightmare of his daughter's death was to find a way to record it (and then her life) with the kind of detail that at least