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More unexpected stuff for Darwin Day – alternative history Darwin

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Abstract: In the wake of recent attempts at alternate history, 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 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.

Pluralizing Darwin: Making Counter-Factual History of Science Significant. Thierry Hoquet – forthcoming – Journal for General Philosophy of Science / Zeitschrift für Allgemeine Wissenschaftstheorie:1-20

Curious comment there: “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.” But we could do that today, psychologically, and it wouldn’t be alternative history. It would just be what we did.

See also: Some unexpected stuff for Darwin Day this year… This stuff seems like an alternative to discussing the way Darwinism is slowly fading out as a way of seeing the history of life anyhow. But we knew they weren’t going to do that.

One Reply to “More unexpected stuff for Darwin Day – alternative history Darwin

  1. 1
    polistra says:

    I read a lot of old tech books from the 1800s. It’s clear that evolution was ‘in the air’ before 1859, as a broad non-specific way of looking at things. Darwin as the author or icon didn’t really firm up until 1910 or so. There was open and strong discussion of the question before then. 1910 also represents the end of genuinely new Big Ideas and Big Inventions. Since then we’ve been improving materials and manufacturing. Something or someone closed the door. WW1 might have locked the door, but the closing seems to have happened between 1906 and 1910. A good subject for alt history….

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