Darwinism entry revised at SEP

Jim Lennox, who is, among other things, the go-to guy on Aristotle’s biology (at least I went to him whenever I needed to grok some aspect of The Philosopher), is also a well-respected general historian of biological ideas. He has revised his “Darwinism” entry at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and it is, of course, measured and up to date (and I don’t say that simply because he cites my book, no sir).

6 thoughts on “Darwinism entry revised at SEP

    1. I sent this to Jim, and he responded saying he would correct the article. So, Richard, you have contributed to academe!


  1. Still reading it, rather late at night now, points so far:

    “This interest in marine invertebrates was to be a life long obsession” rather overstates it, don’t think he did much with them after 1854, though he does refer back to that work in the ”Origin”.

    “enrolled to take a degree in Divinity” is simply wrong – it was an ordinary BA, and the intention was that he would do divinity training after graduation, but of course the Beagle voyage intervened.

    “his official course of study had very little impact on him” is inaccurate, as he was greatly impressed by Paley’s logic.

    “Sedgwick on two occasions took Darwin on extended geological tours of England and Wales” is wrong – the geological tour was for a fortnight in Wales, one occasion only. The beetle collecting (not bugs, as far as I know – they’re a specific kind of insect in UK English) predated the geology, but is shown out of order for some reason

    The “gentleman companion” to FitzRoy is a bit misleading: he was to be a gentleman naturalist, more as a companion than a mere collector.

    It’s rather incorrect to say “Henslow’s note to Darwin… arrived… while Charles Darwin was on a geological survey of Northern Wales with Adam Sedgwick” – the note was dated 24 Aug 1831, a day after Darwin arrived at Barmouth and four days after he parted with Sedwick. The letter from Peacock offering the post arrived before Darwin got home on 29 August, he then had to overcome his father’s objections before accepting it, not the order stated.


  2. Ok, have finished reading it through, the main points of the article are very interesting and informative – at the very least, it opens a bit further the question of essentialism as something for me to learn about. It raises questions rather than providing full explanations, which is reasonable in such a short piece – it would have been nice to see more about the debate over the nature of science in Darwin’s time. A few minor points or grammatical problems –

    Minor point, the three volumes by Lyell were published during the voyage, and 2 & 3 were sent out to Darwin, the phrasing “newly published” doesn’t make that clear.

    Grammatically “likely a visit to Cape Town, South Africa on the Beagle’s return to England” doesn’t really make sense. The rest of that section is pretty good, a quibble – “published in 1837 while Darwin was struggling to develop just such a theory” gives the impression that he read it then: the entry on p. 59 of the E notebook is dated 2 December [1838] at Darwin Online, so that was just after the critical inspiration from Malthus and Darwin’s note on p. 71 about “a beautiful part of my theory”. The theory had a long way to develop, but he had something “by which to work”.

    “Herschel’s decisive (if polite) rejection of its key elements” may overstate it: the article rightly describes the alleged “Law of higgledy-piggledy” remark, but Herschel’s 1861 ”Physical Geography” included a note that “with some demur as to the genesis of man, we are far from disposed to repudiate the view taken of this mysterious subject in Mr. Darwin’s work”, by no means agreement but not decisive rejection. See Letter 3154 — Darwin to Herschel, 23 May [1861].

    “2. Species have a tendency to increase in size over generations at an exponential rate.” is a bit confusing, we don’t all tend to be elephantine! Perhaps “Populations have a tendency to increase in number…” Also, in 8., “cause the character of species to change” might be better as “cause the character of population to change” .

    Typo in 2.3.2 – “limited it scope” should be “limited its scope”

    On 2.3.5 Tempo and Mode of Evolutionary Change, “slow and gradual” for Darwin did not mean always at the same rate, and his views may have been closer to Eldridge and Gould’s ‘punctuated equilibrium model’ than the text implies. See Eldredge’s 2006 VQR article, “Confessions of a Darwinist”, Rhodes 1987 doi:10.1007/BF00138435 and Wes Elsberry http://www.talkorigins.org/faqs/punc-eq.html#pe-vs-pg


  3. Just a note to say thanks to David Sousa for picking up a number of errors and infelicities in the brief biographical section of my SEP entry on Darwinism–those that are errors will, thanks to the ease with which the Internet allows for such things, be easily corrected.
    A number of his comments simply reflect our different views about how to understand Darwinism and its development, and I will simply leave such matters aside for people to reach their own conclusions. With the biographical material, however, I thought it would be worth a remark or two, and I will follow the order in which the come up in David’s comments.
    1. ‘life long obsession’. True that after the Origin, Darwin moved on, especially in to Botany (well, earthworms aside). What I wanted to capture in a few words was that the serious study of insects and marine invertebrates began when he was very young and continued through the publication of the Origin.
    2. True again that ‘degree in Divinity’ is, I would say, strictly wrong. What Darwin says in the Autobiography is “so he [Robert Darwin] proposed that I should become a clergyman…” and “As it was decided I should be a clergyman, it was necessary that I should go to one of the English universities and take a degree.”
    True, the Beagle changed the original plan, but the plan all along was for a life in the clergy.
    3. I will stand by what I said about his ‘official’ curriculum having little impact. I would call being delighted by the logic of one work of Paley’s ‘little impact’, in comparison with the impact of the reading and studying he was doing not related to the degree.
    4. Quite right about only one of the two geology trips being with Sedgwick. The early trip in July, about which he corresponded with Henslow, was on his own.
    5. Both the point about ‘gentleman naturalist’ vs. ‘gentleman companion’ and the details about the arrival of the letter regarding the Beagle possibility are matters of judgment–I would not put in a brief biographical section at the beginning of an essentially philosophical paper the sort of detail about exactly where on the tour Darwin was, etc., that Sousa discusses.
    6. Re Lyell. Strictly, Sousa is wrong about this. Lyell Principles Volume 1 was published before the Beagle sailed, and in fact Darwin had a copy with him, given to him by Fitzroy, judging by the inscription. See Sandra Herbert, Charles Darwin Geologist, p. 63. He receives vols. 2 and 3 during the voyage.
    7. The remaining points are, indeed, either quibbles (to use Sousa’s word) or things about which we could have a nice conversation some day.
    Again, I appreciate the care with which he read the piece.
    By the way, on an earlier matter, John Wilkins had already noted my slip of substituting Shropshire for Staffordshire in characterizing the residencies of Charles’ grandfathers–it is, of course, where he grew up.


    1. Actually, Richard Carter noted that – I merely passed it on. I love it that the internet permits this sort of process. Thanks to all.

      I also note that the edition of Lyell’s that Darwin eventually annotated is a later edition, I think the third.


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