What did Darwin
One way is to look at Darwin’s definitions of the term “species” and to use a comparative method analogous to the comparative method in biology, comparing and contrasting Darwin’s definitions with those of his contemporaries, with his predecessors, and with definitions today. This is the method favoured typically by philosophers of biology and biologists who are concerned with history, and it might be called the
One problem with this approach is that it assumes that Darwin meant what he said in his definitions. But why would one assume that? Darwin was a great scientist, to be sure, as well as a wonderful husband and father and an upstanding member of society, but he was also a human being and human beings do not always mean what they say, either intentionally or unintentionally. Why should a scientist be exempt from this general truth about humans, especially when there already exist examples of dissimulation, even radical dissimulation, among leading intellectuals? (I shall turn to some famous cases at the end of this chapter.) To think otherwise of Darwin, to place him on a pedestal above human nature, is to descend to the level of religious iconography.
Another way to approach what Darwin really meant by “species” is to deal with Darwin’s writings in the context of his time, not just the scientific context but the personal, social, cultural, economic, and political contexts as well. As Bernard Lightman  puts it in his Introduction to an anthology devoted to contextualist analyses of Victorian science, “The hallmark of contextualist studies is their emphasis on the way scientific ideas are embedded in material culture such that there are no insides or outsides of science.” This, he says, “allowed historians to avoid the false analytical distinction between science and society (or base and superstructure), dissolve the categories external and internal, and begin to transcend the science/society dualism” (p. 7). For at least the past two decades now, this is the method of doing history of science that seems most favored by professional historians of science, epitomized by the books by Desmond and Moore [2, 3], and may be called the
This approach suffers from a number of difficulties, however, not the least of which is that, as Lightman  points out, these historians need not always agree on the same matter because “there are many different kinds of contexts” (p. 7). A much greater difficulty, arguably the biggest, concerns the background assumptions of the approach, such as what Lightman calls “the false analytical distinction between science and society.” That the distinction is a false one might be the conclusion of a massive process of induction, and hence synthetic, even an inference to the best explanation. But if historians of this persuasion are not open to the possibility that a scientist can have an idea or theory that is not the product of his or her time, then the approach is dogmatic and this way of doing history takes on the character of an ideology. There is also the problem of a self-referential paradox, in that one has to wonder how these historians have managed to transcend their cultural milieu and arrive at objective, accurate causal explanations but not natural scientists. Surely a more balanced approach would be to allow that many scientific ideas and practices are to some extent products of their environment but not necessarily all. So then we are back to what Darwin really meant by “species,” and whether what he meant was a product of his time or something unique, something that one would not have been able to predict (let alone retrodict).
What I have called the
But this approach is not necessarily preferable when it comes to Darwin on “species.” Darwin was the head of a scientific revolution, to be sure, which today goes by his name, but one cannot assume that he wrote in a specific manner that only his followers would have fully understood. He might have, but the parallel with Locke is highly strained at best. In the case of Darwin, unlike with Locke, we have to be open to the possibility that he sometimes wrote in a manner that was aimed at manipulating his followers along with the rest of his readers in ways they might not have recognized. But how could one ever hope to find that out if true?
This brings us to the method of doing history that seems to me perfectly suited to the present purpose. It is taken from philosophy of language, from Ludwig Wittgenstein to be specific, and is employed in a manner which he might not have agreed with or even imagined but which follows from his theory of meaning. In short (and I shall have more to say about his theory in the third section), what I shall do in this chapter is go beyond Darwin’s
2. Survey of the current state of scholarship
Before we begin by applying a Wittgensteinian approach to Darwin on “species,” it is important to take a brief survey of the current state of scholarship on Darwin’s species concept. What is utterly remarkable is the near total state of confusion. After all the years since Darwin first published
What is perhaps most surprising is the paucity of attention that contextualist historians of science have given to Darwin’s species concept, in stark contrast to the amount of effort they have given to other key concepts and theories of his, notably natural selection, divergence, adaptation, and the Tree of Life. For example, in his book devoted to the development of Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection from 1838–1859, Dov Ospovat  makes much of the influence of British natural theology and biological theories of progress, including the influence of particular naturalists such as Owen and von Baer, but he nowhere deals with Darwin’s species concept. Granted, the work was seminal, and this important young historian could not be expected to do everything in his book (especially since he did not live long enough to see it in print). As Adrian Desmond points out in his Foreword to the book, Ospovat “wanted to make Darwin less of a seer, standing out of time, and more a man of his day” (p. ix), with the consequence that “Dov set many hares running, and we all chased them” (p. xi). It is therefore all the more surprising that none of the contextualists seem to have bothered to chase Darwin’s “species” hare, or to even have noticed that it needed (or was worth) catching. Desmond and Moore’s
When we turn to philosophers of biology and biologists devoted to a historical understanding of Darwin, we find an entirely opposite situation, marked by lots of publications on Darwin’s species concept and lots of different answers. In order to indicate the current state of scholarship on this topic, what may be called
We begin with a book by the philosopher John Wilkins , which is devoted entirely to a detailed examination of the history of the concept of biological species. His book explicitly is not an example of contextualist history of science but instead is written in the tradition of history of ideas, and hence is “a conceptual history” (p. ix). His purpose, moreover, is not simply to do history for the sake of history but to make a contribution to the present debate on “species” in biology and philosophy of biology. In the very least, he says, “Knowing the past may also help scientists to avoid repeating it unnecessarily” (p. 7). He recognizes that “Darwin acts as a focal point” (p. 5) in the history of the debate, not only because Darwin did have something to say about the nature of species but because the
Second in our list is a chapter on Darwin on “species” by the philosopher Phillip Sloan . In his chapter Sloan is mainly concerned with historical influences which he believes impacted on Darwin’s species concept. Linnaeus crystallized what Sloan calls the “speciesL” approach to species, which was logical and classificatory, based on necessary and sufficient criteria for class membership, while Buffon crystallized the “speciesH” approach, which was historical and ontological. Immanuel Kant attempted to systematize the distinction, Charles Lyell framed the question about the reality of species in terms of speciesL, whereas Johann Jacob Bernhardi framed the question about the reality of species in terms of speciesH. Darwin, it is then argued by Sloan, employed and “synthesized” both traditions in
Third on our list is a paper by the biologists Mark Ellis and Paul Wolf . The paper is devoted to the proper teaching of the concept of species to biology students, which they consider fundamental to the understanding of evolution. Much of their paper is devoted to the history of the concept of species, with Darwin as the hero of the story: “Charles Darwin would finally provide the keys to understanding and accepting the reality of evolving species, breaking the millennial stranglehold” (p. 92). But no actual species concept is explicitly attributed to Darwin. The species concept that they themselves subscribe to, however, and which they imply Darwin would have accepted had he known of it, is the ecumenical species concept developed by the biologist R.L. Mayden , his “overarching nonoperational species concept” as they  put it (p. 94), which takes most modern competing species concepts as operational only and incorporates them into a hierarchical concept. The proper concept of species, in short, according to these two authors, is that of “organisms in one or more populations that together form a cohesive, reproductive unit—a separate lineage on its own evolutionary trajectory” (p. 90). Mayden himself  places the diachronic evolutionary species concept of G.G. Simpson on top of the hierarchy, as the “primary concept” (p. 419), with “all of the other concepts,” reckoned as being at least 21 concepts, serving as secondary, operational concepts “at some level” (p. 417).
In a paper devoted to examining why Darwin’s view on species was rejected by most twentieth-century biologists, the biologist James Mallet  spends some effort in examining those passages in the
Finally, in a paper devoted to examining “Darwin’s solution to the species problem,” the philosopher Marc Ereshefsky  explicitly follows Ghiselin  and Beatty  in interpreting Darwin as a species taxa but not species category realist: Darwin’s “skepticism of the species category did not extend to taxa, and in particular those taxa called ‘species’” (p. 409). Ereshefsky also follows Beatty in holding that Darwin maintained the reference of the species taxa so designated by his fellow naturalists and that he did this for “pragmatic reasons” (p. 421). But Ereshefsky goes beyond Ghiselin and Beatty when he argues that Darwin was basically right. According to Ereshefsky, different modern species concepts pick out different real taxa and modern biology requires a pluralism of species concepts in order to adequately capture the diversity of life. Darwin, says Ereshefsky, rejected the reality of the species category “based on his skepticism of the species/variety distinction,” whereas modern biology “implies that Darwin’s skepticism of the species category is correct” (p. 425) because it has uncovered a heterogeneous lot of real taxa in the world called “species” (reproductively isolated, phylogenetic, ecological, asexual, etc.), taxa that are equally meaningful in terms of information, prediction, and explanation. Given that this is so, given that disagreement over the definition of “species” has actually increased in biology, and given the enormous impracticality of removing the term “species” from the biological lexicon, Ereshefsky concludes that “Current biological theory confirms Darwin’s solution to the species problem” (p. 410).
3. Problems with the current state of scholarship
One thing that is remarkable about the five recent publications summarized above is how different their understandings are of what Darwin meant by “species.” After decades of research and publications on what Darwin meant by one of the central terms in what is now called “the Darwinian revolution,” there is still no consensus on what Darwin meant by “species,” and little of what might be called progress on the matter. To be sure, few if any accuse Darwin any longer of being an outright species taxa nominalist, but there is no consensus on where Darwin stood concerning the binary categories that virtually define the modern species problem: category monism or pluralism, speciation monism or pluralism, taxa as primarily horizontal or vertical, taxa as process or pattern/product entities, taxa as classes or individuals (or something else), taxa as monophyletic or polyphyletic.
There is something further that is striking about the publications examined in the previous section. With the exception of Sloan, each of the other authors remind me of a phenomenon Albert Schweitzer observed over a hundred years ago in his
The fundamental point is that if we really want to get to the history of the matter, if we really believe it is possible to reconstruct to a significant degree what was going on inside Darwin’s head when he wrote about species (taxa and category), the first thing we have to do is to completely put aside our preferred solutions to the species problem. In short, what we have to do is make a serious effort to avoid the evil that historians calls
The second thing we have to do is to look beyond Darwin’s various definitions of “species.” Looking to the
To say that we should “look beyond” Darwin’s definitions is not to say that we should ignore them. But it is to say that we have to look deeper. At this point a famous injunction of Wittgenstein comes strongly to mind, as found in his
What this means is that we have to look beyond and get over what Darwin
In the case of Darwin on “species,” many have thought and continue to think that in his early period he employed something like the modern biological species concept, which is based on reproductive isolation. But that is not the period in his life that should mainly concern us. Instead, if we want to speak of “Darwin’s species concept,” we should want to focus on his
The catalyst for my own research on this topic [19, 20] was John Beatty’s often-cited paper . At the core of his thesis is the claim that
In all of this Beatty was taking the thesis of Michael Ghiselin  a step further, who argued, again, that Darwin was a species taxa realist but not a species category realist. What is remarkable, as I point out in my book, is how many biologists, philosophers of biology, and even historians of biology followed Beatty in his central claim. No one, as far as I could find, ever thought to test Beatty’s thesis empirically. Scientists routinely think of ways to test novel and even established theories, but this habit of thinking is typically missing in the humanities.
The point of it all is that Beatty’s theory can indeed be tested. And the way to test is to “do a Wittgenstein” on Darwin’s writings, focusing on his mature period. What this means is that we need to go through Darwin’s writings much as a paleontologist goes through strata, looking for patterns that perhaps everyone else has missed. In the case of Darwin this means going through not only his books, such as
In looking at these examples, it should become apparent that Darwin did not simply follow the species designations of his fellow naturalists. But what is especially significant is why Darwin deviated when he deviated from the species designations of his fellow naturalists. This is in fact the key to unlocking the door to what Darwin really meant by “species.” In what follows, what is required on the part of the reader to fully grasp this key and to see what is behind the door is not only a considerable degree of patience, but also a strong ability to perceive a recurring pattern, what may rightly be called a kind of
4. Evidence from Darwin’s barnacle work
As a preliminary, we need first to juxtapose two claims made by Darwin in the
The above should make it clear that Darwin was not a cladist, or a proto-cladist, or that he anticipated the theory of punctuated equilibria. Nevertheless, what Darwin often said about the “natural system” of classification in his scheme as being primarily genealogical, that “all true classification is genealogical; that community of descent is the hidden bond which naturalists have been unconsciously seeking” (p. 420), has led many to believe otherwise, to believe that Darwin was a proto-cladist, taking genealogy entirely as the basis of classification [21, p. 356], and that he believed species to be spatially limited and temporally extended individuals [9, p. 85]. What Darwin actually did with species designations, however, especially when he went against his fellow naturalists, should make it clear enough that he thought of species taxa as primarily horizontal entities and that he did not employ a concept of monophyly, in whatever way the latter is defined today, as part of the ontology of species taxa.
But first, did Darwin really believe that at any one time most species are “good species”? To answer this question we need to turn to Darwin’s most important contribution to taxonomy, namely, his eight grueling years of work on barnacles from 1846–1854, mainly for which he received the Royal Medal of the Royal Society in 1853. What struck Darwin more than anything else right from the start was the amount of variation in barnacles. As he puts it in his volume on the Balanidae , “it is hopeless to find in any species,
Darwin, of course, was not with his barnacle work trying to communicate his theory of evolution by natural selection to his fellow naturalists. He had not yet made public his evolutionism, and was still working on preparing his case, which had to be as empirical as possible to be accepted as scientific. So there is no point asking whether he was following his fellow naturalists here in what they
What we need to do, then, is to look and see how Darwin made his “book species” of barnacles. What he did for barnacle taxonomy was entirely new: he focused mainly on the anatomy of the organisms. He found much variability, to be sure, but again, even in the highly variable
But what made a “good species”
But there is more to the matter. It wasn’t simply continuity in traits between barnacle specimens punctuated by gaps that defined species taxa for Darwin. There were “specific or diagnostic characters” that Darwin used to distinguish one barnacle species from another (p. 1). The amount of detail in Darwin’s anatomical work is staggering, and it must be kept in mind that the specific functions of many of the internal parts that he studied were either unknown or imperfectly known. Yet Darwin marched on. Confining ourselves to
This becomes more evident when we look at his designation of varieties for each of the above three species. Only some longitudinal lines distinguish
The period from 1846, when Darwin began his work on barnacles, to 1856, when he began his big book on species,
5. Evidence from the
Origin and beyond
Beginning with the
A good example to begin with is Darwin on primroses and cowslips. In the
The last reason in the list above was apparently thrown in by Darwin for rhetorical effect. For a start, Darwin argues later in the
Darwin, of course, knew of what today are called “sibling species,” species so outwardly identical that biologists confused them as one species until innate reproductive isolation was discovered between them. As he puts it in the
Returning to the case of primroses and cowslips, what needs to be noticed is that the rest of Darwin’s reasons for distinguishing them as two species speak to adaptation by natural selection, especially his phrase “different stations,” which is borrowed from the distinction between “stations” and “habitations” emphasized by Charles Lyell [26, p. 69], and which today would be translated as “niches” and “habitats.” That Darwin does not explicitly appeal to differences in adaptation between primroses and cowslips in the passage we examined above is possibly because his chapter on natural selection was not to come for another two chapters. But that Darwin’s real focus was exclusively on adaptations produced by natural selection will become abundantly evident as we look at more examples.
We are not quite finished, however, with primroses and cowslips. At the end of the
Darwin’s reasons for going against his fellow naturalists (assuming such) are remarkably similar to his position on the races of man in
As we have seen, Darwin also argued that primroses and cowslips descended from a common stock and had between them numerous intermediate links, which he did not think were the result of intercrossing, and yet he went against his fellow naturalists (or so in the
It was not because he thought the human races are interfertile. Darwin was well aware that there were naturalists who claimed empirically that some of the human races had a low degree of fertility between them, and that the children of mixed parentage were either low in fertility or low in vitality. He rejected the evidence as being “almost valueless” (p. 220). But what is important is his claim that even if he was proved right, even if “it should hereafter be proved that all the races of men were perfectly fertile together,” nevertheless “fertility and sterility are not safe criterions of specific distinctness” (p. 222), a claim, as we have seen above, that he had made earlier in the
Darwin’s reasons were different, even though he recognized that geographically there is a “considerable amount of divergence of character in the several races” (p. 234). For a start, he claims that “as far as we are enabled to judge (although always liable to error on this head) not one of the external differences between the races of man are of any direct or special service to him” (pp. 248–249). In other words, Darwin does not believe that the external differences used to distinguish human races, such as skin color, hair, and the shape of the nose, are adaptations, and so he does not believe that they were produced by natural selection. Instead he thinks that they were produced by “Sexual Selection” (pp. 249–250), and as a simple matter of varying concepts of beauty between the races (pp. 338–384). Consequently he does not think of external racial differences as adaptations at all.
And what of internal characters, particularly social, moral, and intellectual faculties such as reason and language? Here again, although Darwin does not refrain from ranking human races as higher and lower, in the very least as more civilized and less civilized, with the superstition and cannibalism of the Fuegians among the lowest, he nowhere argues that the differences are a matter of different adaptations, but instead treats them only as a matter of degree. As Darwin puts it in a characteristic passage, “The American aborigines, Negroes and Europeans differ as much from each other in mind as any three races can be named; yet I was incessantly struck, whilst living with the Fuegians on board the ‘Beagle,’ with the many little traits of character, shewing how similar their minds were to ours; and so it was with a full-blooded negro with whom I happened once to be intimate” (p. 232). And it is surely significant that a year prior to when he began writing
Of further significance are the differences Darwin  drew between natural selection and sexual selection. Even though he states that “in most cases it is scarcely possible to distinguish between the effects of natural selection and sexual selection” (p. 257), he also states that sexual selection “acts in a less rigorous manner than natural selection” (p. 278), since natural selection is a matter of “life or death at all ages” and sexual selection rarely results in death and only begins its operation at the age of reproduction. In addition, sexual selection has no limits to the process unless when checked by natural selection, so that the products of natural selection, which are about “the external conditions of life,” are “rather more perfect” (p. 279) and sexual selection will be “dominated by natural selection for the general welfare of the species” (p. 296). This is not to say that sexual selection cannot produce genuine adaptations in Darwin’s view; it can, but they are not the kind of adaptations that would distinguish species, not only because, as he puts it in the
This brings us to a process related to natural and sexual selection and a case related to Darwin on the races of man, namely, Darwin on domestic pigeons. In the
In response to a request from T.H. Huxley for written sources on domestic breeding so as better to defend Darwin in a lecture he was preparing, Darwin in his first reply letter states that he knows of “no one Book” and that he “found it important associating with fanciers & breeders” [29, p. 404]. Less than three weeks later he wrote Huxley again supplying an “enclosure” containing some direct quotations from two books on pigeon breeding by John Matthews Eaton, a prize-winning pigeon breeder and also a friend of Darwin’s. In those quotations Eaton refers to the different breeds of domestic pigeons as different “species” (p. 429). Darwin remarks in his letter that if Huxley could see the drawings which Darwin himself has, then Huxley “would have grand display of extremes of diversity” (p. 428). Darwin therefore had a good reason to follow Eaton and others and designate the different breeds of pigeons as different species. But he did not do this. Instead, both in his letter to Huxley and in the
The reason for this cannot simply have been that Darwin  thought that all the domestic breeds were derived from a common stock, the rock pigeon, Darwin’s concept of adaptation included two important additions. One is that an organism can have an adaptation that benefits it very little or not at all but that fully benefitted its ancestors. He calls these structures and organs “rudimentary” (pp. 450–456). The other important addition is that in social animals some adaptations do not benefit the organism that has it but instead the social group, the “community,” of which the organism is a part (pp. 87, 202–203).
Darwin’s concept of adaptation included two important additions. One is that an organism can have an adaptation that benefits it very little or not at all but that fully benefitted its ancestors. He calls these structures and organs “rudimentary” (pp. 450–456). The other important addition is that in social animals some adaptations do not benefit the organism that has it but instead the social group, the “community,” of which the organism is a part (pp. 87, 202–203).
Sports or monstrosities provide another interesting test category, cases of saltation (sudden origin), which some of Darwin’s fellow naturalists classified as new species but which in every case Darwin refused to accept as such. In
Another example is the “‘japanned’ or ‘black-shouldered’” form of peafowl, of which there were a number of cases in Great Britain, which bred true, and at least one “high authority” named it a distinct species,
A similar case is a variant of
A related test category for Darwin on species is speciation by hybridization. In the
The above is a case of negative evidence, but the theory itself can be tested, as all theories of history can be tested, namely, retrodictively, by making predictions against the past. My prediction was and continues to be that one cannot find anywhere in Darwin’s writings where he calls a hybrid form a new species. I was therefore shocked when Ghiselin  states that Darwin, in one of his later papers , calls a hybrid form a new species. As Ghiselin puts it, Darwin in his paper on primroses and cowslips “demonstrates that the intermediate form, or oxlip, is a sterile hybrid, and supports this inference by showing that the oxlip occurs where the parent species are present, but not otherwise. The third species is shown to be sterile when crossed with the others, and to be distinct in morphology and in geographical range” (p. 100). If Ghiselin is right, I thought, that Darwin called the oxlip a “species,” then my whole theory on Darwin on species is shot to pieces! The paper by Darwin was not one I had read, since it was not included in the collection of Darwin’s papers by Barrett . Upon examining the actual paper , however, I was relieved, for I found that nowhere in that paper did Darwin call the oxlip a “species.” The three species Darwin in that paper refers to are not the primrose, cowslip, and oxlip, but rather the common primrose (
Our final example is taken from Darwin’s
6. Darwin’s species concept and its implications
The modern entomologist Hugh Paterson thought he found in Darwin a precursor of his own species concept, which he called the Recognition Species Concept and which he based on distinct fertilization mechanisms evolved by natural selection. Looking to the first line of Darwin’s
Many years earlier the pioneering geneticist T.H. Morgan , in a paper devoted to the topic of adaptations, complained that “to-day, accepting evolution,... it is notorious that, by systematists, specific distinctions rest in many cases on differences that have no adaptive significance whatever” (p. 203). Morgan himself says, “from this time forward when I speak of the origin of species I mean the origin of the adaptive characters of species” (p. 204). Surprisingly, both of these statements are taken in the context of a discussion on Darwin’s
Morgan and Paterson are examples of scholars who, unlike the scholars whose very recent works were examined in the second section above, “came close but no cigar,” to use a common metaphor. It is time at last for the cigar, for Darwin’s species concept, and what we have seen in the previous two sections should give us sufficient confidence that we now have it. Accordingly, using modern language, we may express Darwin’s species concept as:
Of course, it is not enough to simply have the cigar. We should not simply want to look at it, we should want to smoke it, too. Or to use a better metaphor, we should want to see if “light will be thrown” on Darwin’s related activities. I shall now argue that Darwin’s species concept, as understood above, reveals a wider consistency (though not perfect) with Darwin’s writings than hitherto realized.
For a start, light is thrown on the title of Darwin’s most famous book,
Nor can one turn to Darwin’s original title for the
In a related matter, light is also thrown on a curious passage that comes at the end of the Introduction to the
It should also now be clear that Darwin did not really believe that species and varieties were basically the same, even though he made statements in the The point is likewise made in the Origin : “Any variation which is not inherited is unimportant for us” (p. 12). To this should be added a further point that is made: “unless profitable variations do occur, natural selection can do nothing” (p. 82).
The point is likewise made in the Origin : “Any variation which is not inherited is unimportant for us” (p. 12). To this should be added a further point that is made: “unless profitable variations do occur, natural selection can do nothing” (p. 82).
The focus on adaptations also explains “borderline cases” in Darwin’s writings. Varieties, as he repeatedly puts it in the
Darwin’s focus on adaptations also throws light on what he says about genealogy and classification, that, as we have seen above from the As Darwin loosely puts in the Origin , “the chief part of the organisation of every being is simply due to inheritance” (p. 199).
As Darwin loosely puts in the Origin , “the chief part of the organisation of every being is simply due to inheritance” (p. 199).
7. Deeper implications of Darwin’s species concept
Further questions still remain, questions that are more controversial. First, was Darwin a species category realist? Well if he in fact had a realist species concept then it would probably make more sense to categorize him as a species category realist than not. It all depends on what one means by “species category realist.” Having a realist species concept might not be a sufficient condition, but I would certainly think it is a necessary one. What is interesting is that if we use Ereshefsky’s  “minimum threshold” (p. 413) for species category realism, then Darwin as understood in the present chapter would have to be categorized as a species category realist. First, for Darwin not only most but
This raises a further question: Is Darwin’s species concept seriously flawed because it is parasitic on the concept of adaptation? Some might think so. As Gregory Radick  points out, “Now historians have thrown doubt on the naturalness of the Darwinian kind ‘adaptation’” (p. 162). They take it to be a social construction—“inseparable from Britain in the age of complex machines and counter-revolutionary theology” (pp. 153–154)—and nothing more. I suspect that most if not all modern biologists would reject this view, not just a few such as Richard Dawkins. (Radick himself makes Darwin’s theorizing on species parasitic on the
What should be disturbing is not that Darwin’s species concept is based on the concept of adaptation, but that Darwin’s species concept is not at all compatible with some of what he explicitly says about species
The time would seem ripe, then, for proceeding to the (in itself) undesirable terrain of
In the case of Darwin, assuming that the analysis presented in this chapter is basically correct, we can only speculate as to his motive or motives for withholding his real species concept. Perhaps it was because he thought that an explicit nominalistic definition would help to either break through or bypass the psychological barrier of what Wollaston , in characterizing the core of the “general” concept of species, called the “axiom” of special creation and non-transmutation (p. 133). Or perhaps Darwin chose to bypass defining “species” for mainly linguistic rather than psychological reasons, simply in order to better communicate his theory of evolution [8, p. 266]. And then perhaps Darwin felt that he would be lowering himself by adding to what he called the “really laughable” babble of species concepts among “systematic naturalists,” something he complained about in the letter to Hooker quoted from above [51, p. 309] and repeated in
And then perhaps his motive changed with time and circumstances. In the years following the publication of the
We shall probably never have a convincing theory on Darwin’s motive. But no matter. For the great many, myself included, who admire Darwin as one of the greatest scientists of all time, and also as an English gentleman, the idea that he might have intentionally misrepresented his species concept (whatever his motive) “may not be a cheering prospect,” but the evidence must be followed wherever it leads, no less in history of science than in natural science. That Darwin did intentionally mislead in this matter does not take away from his scientific accomplishments, but it does bring him down from the heights of the virtuous gods of knowledge and makes him appear much more human, even as a scientist.
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- Darwin’s concept of adaptation included two important additions. One is that an organism can have an adaptation that benefits it very little or not at all but that fully benefitted its ancestors. He calls these structures and organs “rudimentary” (pp. 450–456). The other important addition is that in social animals some adaptations do not benefit the organism that has it but instead the social group, the “community,” of which the organism is a part (pp. 87, 202–203).
- The point is likewise made in the Origin : “Any variation which is not inherited is unimportant for us” (p. 12). To this should be added a further point that is made: “unless profitable variations do occur, natural selection can do nothing” (p. 82).
- As Darwin loosely puts in the Origin , “the chief part of the organisation of every being is simply due to inheritance” (p. 199).