Leaving the Cave: Evolutionary Naturalism in Social-Scientific Thought

By Pat Duffy Hutcheon | Go to book overview

Seven
Charles Darwin The Reluctant Revolutionary

There is grandeur in this view of life...
From so simple a beginning
Endless forms most beautiful
And most wonderful
Have been and are being
Evolved.

-- Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species

Karl Marx was not the only revolutionary of his generation. Nor was the tidal wave of political upheaval that he inspired the only current of change to challenge the conservative bulwarks of the age. There was another man and another idea: an idea so radical and momentous that it would alter irrevocably the culture's most cherished beliefs about what it means to be human. And in that process, it would totally undercut the empirical and rational grounding of the a priori premises required for Kant's transcendentalism. The man was Charles Darwin and the idea was the theory of the evolution of life by means of natural selection.


The making of a scientist

Darwin (born nine years before Marx, in 1809) was almost the polar opposite of his German contemporary. A product of upper-class Victorian England, there was little in his upbringing to inspire rebellion. Like Martineau, he came from a Unitarian background. He seems to have imbibed the cautiously liberal religious values of his family like the oxygen of the air he breathed -- without questioning or even conscious examination. His heritage had ensured him a safe place to grow and a firm identity, a far cry from the cultural conflicts and insecurities of Marx's childhood. Charles' maternal grandfather was Josiah Wedgewood, the famous British pottery maker. On the paternal side, he was the grandson of Erasmus Darwin, a well-known natural historian and physi

References for this chapter are on p. 126-27.

-114-

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