Access to the full content is only available to members of institutions that have purchased access. If you belong to such an institution, please log in or find out more about how to order.




Darwin, Charles Robert (1809–82)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-Q022-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2015
Retrieved June 13, 2024, from

Article Summary

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859) popularized the theory that all living things have evolved by natural processes from preexisting forms. This displaced the traditional belief that species were designed by a wise and benevolent God. Darwin showed how many biological phenomena could be explained on the assumption that related species are descended from a common ancestor. Furthermore, he proposed a radical mechanism to explain how the transformations came about, namely, natural selection. This harsh and apparently purposeless mechanism was seen as a major threat to the claim that the universe has a transcendent goal.

Because Darwin openly extended his evolutionism to include the human race, it was necessary to re-examine the foundations of psychology, ethics and social theory. Moral values might be merely the rationalization of instinctive behaviour patterns. Since the process which produced these patterns was driven by struggle, it could be argued that society must inevitably reflect the harshness of nature (‘social Darwinism’). Darwin’s book has been seen as the trigger for a ’scientific revolution’. It took many decades for both science and Western culture to assimilate the more radical aspects of Darwin’s theory. But since the mid-twentieth century Darwin’s selection mechanism has become the basis for a highly successful theory of evolution, the human consequences of which are still being debated.

Citing this article:
Bowler, Peter J.. Darwin, Charles Robert (1809–82), 2015, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-Q022-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Searches



Related Articles