Article ID: CBB581465929

Pluralizing Darwin: Making Counter-Factual History of Science Significant (2021)


In the wake of recent attempts at alternate history (Bowler 2013), this paper suggests several avenues for a pluralistic approach to Charles Darwin and his role in the history of evolutionary theory. We examine in what sense Darwin could be described as a major driver of theoretical change in the history of biology. First, this paper examines how Darwin influenced the future of biological science: not merely by stating the fact of evolution or by bringing evidence for it; but by discovering natural selection, and giving it pre-eminence over any other mechanism for evolution; and also by proposing a masterful and quite unique synthesis of many scientific fields. Contrasting Darwin’s views with those of A.R. Wallace, I conclude that “natural selection” is clearly an original contribution, that it had no forerunners or co-discoverers, and could barely have appeared after Darwin conceived of it. This specificity of Darwin’s contribution is an invitation to be strongly presentist (Loison 2016) and to adopt only weak counter-factuals. In contrast, there are possible ways to use strong counter-factuals as attempts to “pluralize” the history of biological theory: i.e. imagine new possible avenues for the development of evolutionary biology. The idea that evolution was a theory “in the air” suggests that evolutionary theory could have developed in a world without Darwin, especially if we accept to delete not only “Darwin” but “England”. France and Germany are examined as possible countries where evolutionary ideas would have thrived even with no contribution from the English scientists. Finally, the paper suggests another counter-factual hypothesis: deleting not Darwin and his Origin but the Darwin Industry itself. This may allow us to read the Origin of Species with fresh eyes and to discover Darwin’s life-long interest in variation and its laws, as many of his early readers did.

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Authors & Contributors
Maienschein, Jane A.
Creath, Richard
Ruse, Michael
Richards, Robert John
Browne, E. Janet
Hodge, Jon
Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
Victorian Studies
Endeavour: Review of the Progress of Science
Journal for General Philosophy of Science
Biology and Philosophy
Annals of the History and Philosophy of Biology
Cambridge University Press
W. W. Norton & Co.
University of Chicago Press
Linnean Society of London
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press
Atlantic Monthly Press
Natural selection
Philosophy of biology
Metaphors; analogies
Darwin, Charles Robert
Mill, John Stuart
Herschel, John Frederick William
Wallace, Alfred Russel
Mendel, Gregor Johann
Kessler, Karl Fedorovich (1815-1881)
Time Periods
19th century
20th century
18th century
Great Britain

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