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Confusion and cohesion in emerging sciences: Darwin, Wallace, and Social Darwinism

Edward S Rayner, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The thesis of this dissertation is that not only was Darwin the first Social Darwinist, but that only through appreciation of the roles of confusion, metaphysics, the social and political context, and the work of Alfred Russel Wallace can a better understanding of Darwin's achievement be accomplished. By revealing and then analyzing the Social Darwinist aspects of Darwin's science of transmutation the position of most critics--who hold that Darwin's Social Darwinist followers perverted his "pure" science--is debunked. Darwin's development of a race war theory was done for scientific reasons which cannot be stripped away to reveal a non-political "core" without utterly transforming his ideas. For instance, Darwin developed a biological ranking of indigenous peoples which helped fill in evidential gaps for the theory of evolution as well as provide confirmation for his radical form of reductive materialism. Darwin's Social Darwinism has been noticed by a few critics, but is usually dismissed as either ephemeral or indicative of commonly-held "backround" political biases. The first view is shown to be inadequate by revelation of the deep relation of his metaphysics to his science. The second is exploded through an examination of the work of Alfred Russel Wallace. He opposed Darwin's concept of race war, and his opposition was rooted in his commitment to an emergentist metaphysics. Once the juxtaposition of the social and political aspects of Wallace's work to that of Darwin is provided, the wider context of their work is revealed by an examination of Darwin's use of Malthus, the politics of emerging professional classes, Victorian birth control, and the work of T. H. Huxley. Revelation of the intimate social and political details of the scientific work of Darwin and Wallace helps to create an understanding of how nineteenth century science was constituted and demonstrates that the particular historical relations of science and ideology make the concept of "pure science" an oxymoron.

Subject Area

Science history|Philosophy|Biology

Recommended Citation

Rayner, Edward S, "Confusion and cohesion in emerging sciences: Darwin, Wallace, and Social Darwinism" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9709643.