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Sunday, March 17, 2019

Questions on The Philosophical Impact of Darwinism

Charles Darwin
I am reading Gertrude Himmelfarb’s Darwin and the Darwinian Revolution. In her Introduction to the book, she asks a set questions which by themselves are quite thought provoking. Here are the two paragraphs from Introduction in which the questions are asked:

Why was it given to Darwin, less ambitious, less imaginative, and less learned than many of his colleagues, to discover the theory sought after by others so assiduously? How did it come about that one so limited intellectually and insensitive culturally should have devised a theory so massive in structure and sweeping in significance? What were the logic and history of his discovery? Was the new theory inspired by new facts? How did Darwin rise above the antecedents and influences that had shaped him? At what point in his dialectic of discovery did quantity change into quality, the pupil transcend his masters, the past give way to the future? Was Darwin a great revolutionary, and, if so, what was the nature of his revolution?

And what was the later history of the discovery? What happened when the old heresy became the new orthodoxy? Was Darwinism a legitimate heir of Darwin? By what metamorphosis did a scientific treatise, largely devoted to such abstruse matters as the anatomical variations among different breeds of pigeons, become a metaphysics, politics, and economics? How did it come about that a study of the origin of  species could inspire a member of the Austrian Parliament to open a debate on the reconsolidating of the Empire with the words: “The question we have first to consider is whether Charles Darwin is right or no”?

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