The Development Of Social Darwinism Essay

2231 words - 9 pages

The theory developed by Charles Darwin in 1859 in his book The Origin of Species is considered not only one of the greatest scientific discoveries ever but, also a system of knowledge that revolutionized the fundamental patterns of thought. This discovery was the theory of evolution. The theory of evolution shattered old beliefs and philosophies and imposed the necessity for building new ones. Two of the great ideologies that developed from Charles Darwin's theory of evolution are Darwinism and Social Darwinism. These two ideologies are often linked to each other and to some extent are intertwined in each other.

Charles Darwin was born in 1809 to a wealthy English family(Darwin, 2004). He began a journey after his graduation from Cambridge that would lead him and eventually the world to a new way of thinking. This journey began in 1831, when Darwin set sail on the HMS Beagle as an unpaid naturalist on a scientific expedition around the world (Darwin). On this journey Darwin made many observations, including those on the Galapagos Islands, where he discovered that each island supported its own form of animals each closely related but, different in structure and eating habits from island to island (Darwin). These observations led Darwin to question the possible links between distinct but similar species. Darwin had through his observations came to a possible explanation for evolution.

Darwin had also, been influenced by T.R. Malthus's book An Essay on the Principle of Population (1798), which suggested to him the idea that "on the whole the best fitted live" (Claeys, 2000). Darwin's application of his observations on the HMS Beagle and his insight into Malthus's writings led him to write The Origin of Species in 1859. This event was hailed on occasion as "the greatest event of Queen Victoria's reign" and "even by far the most important . . . in the history of the modern West" (Claeys). It is obvious that at the time Darwin published The Origin of Species it was a ground breaking event, but one must remember that the theory of evolution based on descent was nothing new.

The theory of descent had already been advocated by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck and by Geoffrey St. Hilaire (Pannekoek, 1912). It did not meet with general approval because these men could not prove the correctness of this theory and, therefore, it remained only a mere assumption (Pannekoek). Darwin though had a theory on evolution that was accepted because of scientific truth. Darwin had discovered the mechanism of animal development and in doing so he showed that under certain conditions some animal kinds will necessarily develop into other animal kinds (Pannekoek). Thus, one sees that Darwin was not the first advocate of evolution and descent but he became forever linked to it because he was able to back his theory scientifically. Before Darwin evolution at best was a pseudoscience. After Darwin evolution was a respectable scientific doctrine (Ruse, 1999).

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