On the Influence of
Darwin's Origin of Species
The Origin of Species appeared in the year 1859. Charles Darwin had been occupied with the hypothesis which he presented under this title for twenty years. The hypothesis of natural selection as the cause of the origin of species had occurred to him after reading Malthus studies and speculations concerning population. The mass of data which had presented the problem of the origin of species had been gathered during the voyage of the Beagle upon which he was one of the scientific students and observers. In all there lay thirty years of patient observation and study behind the treatise on the part of the author. It was study that lay entirely within the field of biology. It dealt with a problem with which the biologists of the time had been occupied in definite form for more than half a century. But while the problem itself was distinctly biological, its development had been dependent upon the advance of other sciences. I have already indicated that the suggestion of his hypothesis came to Darwin after reading the discussion of an Economist of the law of growth of human populations. The recent development of Geology under the influence of the great Lyell unquestionably gave the problem of the origin of species a different form and one which was much more favorable for its scientific solution than earlier conceptions of the students of earth's crust had made possible. Thus even in the statement of the doctrine of evolution as the result of natural selection Darwin was profoundly influenced by lines of thought which lay outside that within his investigation lay. As we all recognize today the conception of evolution which Darwin's work made current has had an influence that is indefinitely greater upon other sciences than that which they exercised directly upon him. Probably no book since Newton's Principia has influenced human thought so immediately and so profoundly as have the Origin of Species and the following works from Darwin's pen. If he many times repaid to other sciences what he borrowed from them in suggestion and material, if the conception of evolution which he has made current has become perhaps the most important development of the
(2) recent thought the ground for this must be found in the conditions which obtained at the time at which the Origin of Species appeared. It is to the conditions that I desire to direction your attention this afternoon.
It is first of all appropriate that we consider the situation of the physical sciences, which had achieved so much, and which presented the ideal of secure results and accepted method toward which the biological and social sciences turned envious eyes.
The achievements of Newton and those who had prepared the way for his generalization, belong to the end of the seventeenth and the beginning of the eighteenth century. The generalization gave to man a system of bodies whose masses were determined, whose laws of motion were ascertained. The simple law of attraction which Newton formulated operated with uniformity and universally within the system. Its law was the same for the falling body upon the surface of the earth and for the revolution of the planets about the sun or for the revolution of their satellites about the planets. This had been achieved not only the observation of many astronomers and the careful study of their findings in the heavens, but the development of a new mathematical technique by which measurement was carried on in terms of motion, in which the units were accelerations of velocity. It was through this technique that it became possible to analyse processes in nature which had heretofore lain far beyond the control of the scientist, and for a long period the physicists were occupied in applying this method analysis, increasing its power and conquering new field in the physical world.
The increase in the power of telescopes brought new fields of the heavens within the ken of the astronomers. The possibility of nice measurement of the positions of the fixed stars and the determination of parallaxes of certain stars, the recognition that there were systems among the stars, and that the ordering of the stars in the heavens suggested a system of the whole heavens, and especially the study of the nebulae brought the solar system into relation with the rest of the heavens. The question of the history of the solar system and later of the whole physical universe presented
(3) itself to men's minds where before they had studied only the motions of the bodies in the congery of bodies whose laws the genius of Galileo, of Kepler, and of Newton had deciphered. The change was of profound import. The solar system, as it came to the western world from the mind and calculations of Isaac Newton, was perfectly balanced. The very law which expressed all its motions had no infancy and looked forward to no old age. It was the law of the incorruptible heavens, and until some force majeur, the touch of the hand that had created it was laid upon it, until the heavens should roll up and vanish as a scroll, there could [be] no change in the movements which we could see and study. What the world was to mens' minds it always had been since the days of its creation, and always must remain till its last days doomed it to extinction. When first of all Immanuel Kant published his Natural History and Theory of the Heavens in the middle of the eighteenth century, the publication served to indicate the change of attitude which was coming in science. His brilliant theory, which in many ways anticipates the hypothesis of La Place, attempted to show the same law which defines the movements of the bodies in the solar system would have given rise to such a system if the scientific speculator be allowed to begin with a chaos in which matter is distruted [distributed?] through space in finely divided particles. Kant was not able to appeal to the nebulae as examples of the early stages of developing worlds, nor could he give to his doctrine the mathematical statement which later physical theory could use in developing the hypothesis of La Place. None the less the historical standpoint appears to eventually supersede the point of view of a science that saw only an eternal present. But Kant's treatise fell dead from the press. It was forgotten and had to be resurrected later by men who were admirers of his philosophical achievements. La Place knew nothing of this theory. La Place himself presents his nebular hypothesis only as a suggestion at the end of his Mechanique Celeste. For him also fifty years after Kant's book was written the eternal heavens that are ever young are of inteest [interest]
(4) mainly for the mechanical precision that never varies than their history. But his hypothesis presented at the end of his volume attracted in his day instant attention. The interest of mankind was turning from the present to the history of the past from which it came.
In geology there arose the problem of accounting not only for continental forms, but for the evident succession of continents, which rose above and sank beneath the sea. There appeared the problems of the fossil forms with novel species constantly appearing. These forms became identified with certain strata, and indicated earlier conditions which differed materially from what men saw about them. Geologists fought over the causes which were responsible for these changes. Had there been catastrophes in nature, or could the scientist find present causes whose operation would account for these mutations in the earth's surface, and in the types of the fauna and flora that had inhabited it? Sir Charles Lyell state[d] that he saw indication neither of a beginning nor an end, that there was no ground to assume that there had been other forces than those which were to be found at work at his time, still he and those who immediately preceded him were at work upon a history of the earth's surface and led men to see in the forms that they found about them the results of operations which persisted while the forms changed.
In the meantime there was developing in physics and chemistry a new world, the molecular and atomic world, whose laws were being discovered and whose changes were being studied by the indirect methods of mathematical analysis and the combinations of analyses of chemistry. In the early years of the nineteenth century Dalton established the atomic doctrine in chemistry, and the studies of heat, electricity and magnetism first conceived of as subtle fluid and later recognized as forms of motion carried thought into realms of the infinitely small as astronomy and the geologic ages had carried it back and out into the indefinitely great. The field to be covered here was enormous. The harvest of data to be collated was too great even for the infinite industry of the research scientist of the German university, and
(5) even the great physicists and chemists of this period, men such as Cavenish, Davy, Dalton, Young, Joule, Faraday, Rumford, Clerk Maxwell, the Thompsons, in England; Lambert, Leibig, Berzelius, Mayer, Weber, Mach, Helmholtz, in the Teutonic world; Lavoisier, Fresnel, Berthollet, Carnot, in France, have not been able by their hypotheses to organize and control the whole body of their material.
One great conception has indeed arisen during this epoch that promised [to] accomplish this result, the conception of Energy. It has been one of the grandiose conceptions of modern science. It is curiously connected with economic history of Europe in its origin, but the degree of its abstraction and the extent of its generalization gave it at the time of its dominance an importance which places it on a pare with that of evolution. It has seemed the most commanding conception of modern physical science because from its height it could overlook and formulate the phenomena of different sciences which could not be translated into terms of each other.
The conception can be traced to the study of the steam engine, the problem of economics, that of the transfer of the heat of fuel into steam and from steam to the operation of machines,, is capable of becoming the formulation of the scientist. If the counting house can state these different elements which seemingly have no common denominator in common term of cost of production, cannot science take as its common denominator the work which is accomplished by the different changes and conceive of a common energy which appears in these different changes and conceive of a common energy which appears in these different forms, now as latent heat, now as the elastic power of steam, now as the accelerations in velocity of the parts of the machine, indeed the conception being once presented it is evident that wherever one physical change follows upon and depends upon another preceding change we can conceive of a common energy which finds its expression in each, that is if we have some result in terms of which this so-called energy can be measured. This common unit in which energy is measured is work done, the foot-pound, or the erg, a conception which as indicated before came into use in this relation in the economic statement of
(6) the steam engine. It was Carnot who first propounded the problem in the form which led to the formation of the conception of energy. In his attempt to conceive the effectiveness of the steam engine in its simplest form, he conceived of the steam as something that like a water fall poured down from one level to another doing work in the process. This conception of work done does not require an analysis of the molecular processes of the particles of vapor, nor such a theory of their changes that the motion of the piston rod [and] the machinery it drives are stated in the same terms. They can both be stated in terms of the work done, in terms of results rather than in terms of the changes actually going on [in] nature. Energy is the something that is assumed to exist in nature that answers to the work done.
The effectiveness of the idea is beyond al question. And there was great need of such a conception, for there were no common denominators between the objects, the magnitudes of physics and those of chemistry. The atom in one was a different thing from the atom of the other and the molecule in the one domain was different from the molecule of the other. And yet the two fields conjoined no only but overlapped so largely that it was impossible to keep their facts separate. In each electricity was not only present and responsible for the most important changes with which the scientists were occupied but its phenomena in each field were the crucial phenomena in the development of the doctrines of physics and chemistry. Thus a common conception such as energy which could state a change in terms of results and pass over the problem of what was actually taking place was most welcome and important.
As the value of the money which buys coal can be presented also in power of the steam and the effectiveness of the machinery which is set in motion by the steam and as this value which is a common denominator of all these different stages in economic process is stated in terms of the product, so the energy which appears in all these different stages of the physical process is
(7) stated in terms of the work done, its product, and becomes the common denominator of all these different physical changes.
It remains for Mayer to state the generalization that none of this energy is lost in the process. Not that it can call be recovered for use by the engineer, or even that is available for nature, but that it is discoverable as existing in active or latent form. Thus appears the doctrine of the conservation of energy, by means of which the human mind is able to conceive all the multitudinous changes that are going on in nature, changes which we may be unable to state one [in?] terms of the other, as the expression of the single store of energy of the universe, which remains eternally unchanged though appearing in a thousand forms.
The conception is so tremendous, it affords so wonderful a sweep of the whole universe of physics and chemistry, that it is no wonder that men were almost intoxicated with it. As one dominates from an alpine peak horizons whose distances are hopelessly beyond the power of the human traverse, so the scientific mind seemed to suddenly dominate the infinite horizons of a nature whose intricacies laughed at its power of analysis and statement. But longer study of the fields of nature, thus brought within a single landscape revealed the fact that there was a depressing phase of this view. This energy was never lost, it was continually becoming more unavailable. The universe of energy was running down. The old analogy of Carnot was still true, and the old proverb that the mill could never use the water that is passed holds for this grandoise conception of energy. Nature energy is continually running down hill, and promises eventually to be all of it unavailable. The energetic physicist covers up this disagreeable and depressing implication by the term entropy.
However the real test of the conception of energy is not found in the availability of the energy in nature but in the availability of the idea as a working and productive idea in scientific discovery. Has energy justified itself as the common denominator between processes in nature which could otherwise be translated the one into term of the other? Has
(8) the research scientist, the men of the frontier of our knowledge of nature found the conception one which has been an effective weapon in taking possession of new country? Have, for example, the new discoveries in the field of electricity, in those of radio-activity, been mediated by the common conception of energy? A moments review of this literature, with its constant use of the ion, the electron, and the various bits of the older physical atom reveals the fact that the physicist and the chemist in latest discoveries made no use of the vision given in the mountains of the philosophy of energy. On the contrary the scientist is seeking for conception which will enable him to translate directly what he conceives to be going on in one physical operation into terms of the other. He is not satisfied with the measurement of the quantities of both in terms of the work done, he must see the actual process go on, and until he has conceptions which reveal the process of molecular nature in operation, he will never be satisfied with his statements. If I may revert to the analogy which has been already used, the energetic physicist answers the captain of industry whose control of his industry is a financial control. He sees nothing but the cost of production and everything in the operation of his manufactury must be translated into terms of cost of production before he considers it. The physicist who has made the discoveries of the last half century in the field of light, of electricity, of radio-activity, has answered to the superintendent and engineer who sees machines at work, and can therefore invent better and more effective machines, who sees the process in terms of the very factors which go over the one into the other not simply in terms of results.
I have insisted upon this phase of the theory of energy because it presents it in its proper relation to the movement toward the historical point of view which we have seen had emerged in astronomy and geology. Energy has not given science the tools for discovery because it has not been able to so state the changes that are going one in nature that we can view the changes as actual processes. In order that this may be possible it must be possible for example that we should see the ion and the electron, by the
(9) mind's eye, in the process of electrolysis, or in the expression of radio-activity. In a historical statement one must see the change as it is going on, and a statement which is confined to results will not reveal the process. It is not the theory of energy that the suggestions toward a history of chemical elements has come, nor the hypothesis of an ether in terms of which the atom could be stated. I would not imply that our physical sciences are far enough advanced so that we can present a history of physical processes, that we can for example see the physical universe arise out of ether and the different elements from combinations of one primitive substance, I would not imply that we have reached the point where we can speak of an evolution of physical and chemical substances, but I wish to insist that the doctrine of energy has not given us a possible historical point of view in the physical sciences, but that the first indications of the dawning of a historical day upon the universe of molecular physics and chemistry is to be found in conception which take into account the actual process that we conceive to be going on, and does not confine our view of the process to a balance sheet stated in terms of results of the process.
It was very much at the same time that the conception of evolution and that of energy appeared in European thought. There could be no sharper contrast than that between the effectivenenss of these conceptions as means of advance in science. Evolution has been the working tool not only of the biological sciences, but has given new vigor to the historical treatment of astronomy and geology. It has practically revolutionized the social sciences and has appeared in psychology and philosopy in new forms after it had been worked out as a conception in the Logic of Hegel and in Schelling's unfolding of the World spirit in nature, a conception of which we are most familiar in its wonderful poetical presentation in Goethe's Faust.
As I have stated earlier, Darwin's Origin of Species deals with a specific problem, that indicated by its title, whence to the forms of animals and
(10) plants come? As each animal and plant arise in an individual in nature it carries within its structure they type so determined that whatever may be its individual peculiarities it still belongs to some species, and our knowledge of it is a knowledge of that species. Its very peculiarities have significance to us because they are variations from the common type that is found in the unlimited number of the other animals or plants which the same species. What is the origin of this type? The problem is therefore narrowly a biological problem and the answer has definite reference to the biological conditions which any solution, to present a vera causa, must recognize. And yet Darwin's statement of his hypothesis has been so effective outside biological field just because it has been so definitely confined in its statement to this biological field. This seems the more remarkable when we look to Europe, to both Germany and France. There we find speculations upon this problem which are much broader in their application, and have a much more definitely philosophical aspect that the hypothesis of natural selection which Darwin propounded. A glance at the development of this phase of the thought of the last century is necessary to comprehend this.
We must go back to Kant again. We found him making the first historical statement of the theory of the heavens. We find him somewhat later with his eyes turned from the skies to the inner world of the human spirit promulgating another doctrine which did not fall without response upon the ears of Europe. This doctrine was that the source of the necessary laws of nature can be found only in human intelligence itself. Man is himself the lawgiver to the physical universe, not an arbitrary lawgiver who may decree what his whim suggests, but one whose intelligence has such a structure that this structure is necessarily impressed upon his experience. It is the nature of our thought that gives the laws to the world. It is the way in which we sense and think the world that enables use to find
(11) those ways embodied in the world that we perceive and conceive. Kant called this a transcendental position, and meant by this term, that one had to go beyond the experience itself, to transcend it to find out the reason for our experience having such forms. His doctrine has been called also transcendental idealism, because it implies that the ideas, the meaning of the world is to be accounted for not by the world itself as it presents itself immediately to our senses and thought, but by running those forms of thought, those ideas and meanings back to the nature that knows them. There are many subtleties in this doctrine of Kant's, and many more subtleties than are necessary because of the obscure manner in which Kant expressed himself, but one phase of the doctrine is perfectly clear from its simplest statement, and that is that it turned attention from the object of thought to the thinker and the manner of this thinking and experiencing, from the world that is perceived to the nature that perceives it, that it directed attention to the individual instead of the world and to his inner nature. It is readily to be seen that this doctrine had its natural place just in advance of the French Revolution. It was because men turned from outward given institutions to their own natures and found the rule of right and justice in their manner of thinking and experiencing the world that they were able to put their ideas of right, especially their individual rights over against the hoary institutions that went back to feudal antiquity. It was an abstract statement of the philosophy of an age that judged the world and its institutions and its rulers by the feelings and standards which lay in man's inner consciousness. Another characteristic which we can recognize in this philosophical doctrine is that it ushers in the modern individual, who has dominated the world during the nineteenth century, at least up to its last decades.
It may seem curious at first, but it is certainly a fact that this individualistic point of view in judging and feeling, was responsible in no small part for the interest which sprang up almost immediately in history and for the modern historical school and its method. It was responsible also for the Romantic school and that wild orgy of sentiment and emotion which characterized
(12) the revolutionary period. This may help to understand why an individualistic attitude should be responsible for a historical revival. Turning one's attention to the recesses of the human spirit, especially setting up one's own standards against the world, and searching religiously for the fundamental realities of the universe in one's interior is surely the proper method to lead to romanticism and its outburst of uncontrolled emotion. We can also recognize at once that there is nothing that makes history so interesting as the ability to put oneself in the place of the characters whose experiences we are trying to comprehend, and also that there is nothing that is so essential to gaining this power of putting oneself in the place of others as the power of going into one's own self becoming at home with one's own spirit. It is the man who has taken his own point of view consciously and critically who can take the point of view of others. In any case one of the first of Kant's followes - Herder - was the inaugurator of the modern historical movement. Europe suddenly waked up to the wonderful content of medieval Europe. The Waverly Novels are the readiest illustration of that time and that attitude for us. And to many of us the Waverly novels have been the introduction to an interest in history. With the fall of Napoleon the historical movement was inaugurated in Europe and it meant more than a dry gathering of dates and recording of events, this movement meant finally passing vividly into the experiences of those people whose experiences they were studying. The accomplishments of that movement are common knowledge of us all. The old world fell before the new historical school as the governments and political institutions of medieval Europe fell before the new individual consciousness ushered in by Rousseau and Kant. Neibuhr and Wolff meant a new Rome and a new Greece. The dry rod of the Roman Law blossomed anew in the hands of Savigny. Historical Criticism is still with us to attest the power with which this historical appeal to the judgment of the individual passed upon the dogmas and monuments of the past no matter how sacred they have been.
As Kant had applied the individual point of view to the criticism of know-
(13) -ledge and the world as known so the new historical school applied the individual point of view with the appeal to the rational nature of man, to the institutions and literature, and monuments of the past. The immediate followers of Kant in the German philosophical schools were the so-called romantic philosophers, Fichte, Schelling and Hegel. The peculiarity of this school was that they carried Kant's position beyond even Kant himself. Kant had stated that the forms of the world both those of the sensibility and of the judgment were in the texture of human nature. The philosophers who followed Kant strove to find in the inner spirit not only the forms of things but the thing-in-themselves there also. Fichte centered the human will in the divine will and boldly assered that our wills create the very world with which we live. Schelling saw in nature but the Odyssey of the spirit which each one of use is. It remained for Hegel finally to give a logical statement to the implications of this school. He found that the ideas or meanings which constitute the things as we know them rise through the operation of thought. If Fichte centred the individual in the divine will Hegel centered him in the divine reason. In any case they found the nature of our experience to be constructive and creative. Hegel completed the movement because he presented the process which out of which the forms, the types of things arise. I shall not undertake to enter the subtleties of this doctrine, but I want to present its identity with the position of Darwin. Darwin presented a natural process which he showed could be responsible for the forms of animals and plants. Species arose under the influence of natural selection because there was a natural process within which there must [be] adjustment of form and environment and it was the process of this adjustment that was responsible for the form which the animal and the plant took. The decisive character of Darwin's work lay in the fact that he proved that there [are] causes in nature which could lead to such a fashioning of the form the type in this process of adjustment. The statement of Hegel is from within form the analysis of the process of reason. The statement of Darwin is from without from the study of
(14/15) animal and vegetable nature and the struggle for existence that he saw so dominant but so creative. In a word both recognized that the process of experience could create the form, or the type, or the species. Now this position is a step in advance of Kant and of the Revolution. For Kant and for the apostles of the French Revolution the laws the forms of thought and conduct were in man's nature, and man could judge nature and society by appealing to these forms within him, but they conceived of the laws and forms as being stereotyped in that nature. So the biologists of this period still believed in great part that the form, the species, must have been created. Not otherwise could it exist even in nature, created in the mind of man or created in the natural world. It remained for Darwin to demonstrate the possibility of the form, the species being the product of the very process of life, a creation of the process of adjustment of life to its environment and of environment to the life process. Hegel presented the same doctrine by an analysis of the process of judging, but he was dealing with highly subtle abstractions. Darwin gave the statement in the living characters of the forest, the sea, the prairies and pampas, the mountains and the air. The doctrine was the same, though it must be confessed that Hegel's philosophy was an affair of thought for its own sake and failed to come out of the philosophical chamber into the living world where it should give man the method of living.
I have presented this contrast between the historical position which simply presents the past from the point of view of one's own experience, that simply opens the door to the past through the gates of one's own spirit and inner life, the history of the romantic and critical schools, and the historical position which contemplates the institution arising out of human experience, which can see the family, the church, the state, society in all its forms as the product of human living, the historical spirit which sees the experience which goes on within himself create out of its adjustments the very forms of society whose nature he is studying in the past. I have presented this contrast because it shows the limitations
(15/16) of one great movement in Darwin's time, the last I am able to refer to. This movement we know in Bentham and the two Mills, in England and in Comte in France. At once these names suggest to us the social sciences in their earlier stages. John Stuart Mill presented in its most modern garb the traditional political economy. The school of Bentham stood for reform in politics for the beginnings of modern political science. Comte and Mill together represent phases of what today we consider sociology. I might bring within this movement the Socialist doctrine in Germany and the communistic outbursts in France.
The achievements of these men have been great. It is perhaps difficult for us today to reproduce the enthusiasm with which the reform movement welcomed such dry doctrines as the greatest good of the greatest number, or the conception of a human nature which was moved solely by motives of pleasure and pain. But the actual reforms which took place in the English criminal law and procedure, in the English constitution, are evidence of the importance and value of these battle cries which today sound but hollow. Again when we turn to Comte and his positive philosophy we find what seem but dry husks, in the place of living human experience, and we wonder again how out of such material Comte could imagine that a religion could be built up around humanity.
It has seemed strange to many that John Stuart Mill who could enter into sympathetic relation with the Romantic movement in England, who was able to understand Coleridge and Carlyle could not sympathize with Darwin's work or appreciate the import of the doctrine of which he had given so convincing an illustration. The ground for this inability to comprehend evolution is to be found in the fact that this school if we may refer to it as such, came back to certain ultimate elements in human nature, and certain ultimate springs of conduct, and sought to explain all by these elements and motives. They put forms, the things before the process. In contrast with this attitude I may again refer to the attitude of our social sciences in so far as they have been brought under evolutionary theory. Human living
(16/17) is found to be earlier and more primitive than any form of society or any idea or motive. The institutions and the ideas and motives are found to be products of the experience of man, the social animal. This positivistic or so-called empirical school were critical, using the point of view of the revolution, the point of view of the individual who could stand in judgment upon the forms of society, because he had within him the ideas of those forms. But they had not yet reached the position which Darwin occupied in his doctrine, and this is that experience of the living form has given it its own structure. We must understand the process of living before we can understand the forms of life.
Thus we see that the western world was ready for Darwin's presentation of an effective and convincing illustration of a consistent historical method. Men had turned in upon themselves and had stood upon their shoulders to look back at the past, and from this vantage point the past had become new and important where before it was dry and meaningless. But still they found reflected in themselves the forms of the past, the species of ideas, of human and religious institutions and dogmas, and these forms they could not understand until they could see them arising within the very life process of which they are expressions. It was demonstration of the possibility of such a comprehension of the form in the process by Darwin that lay the tremendous import of his treatise for his time, and gave it such a reforming and vivifying influence in Europe and America.