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DARWIN'S METAPHOR

Nature's Place in Victorian Culture

by Robert M. Young

'Man's Place in Nature' was a deeply resonant phrase in Victorian Britain. The ideas about the meaning of human nature and the place of mind and humanity in the natural order, which provide the basis of our present views, were forged in the great Darwinian debate. Darwin's Metaphor, twice reprinted, is an acknowledged classic of scholarship in this field, in which the author places this debate in the wider context of the role of ideas about nature in the culture of the period. The author, an eminent historian of psychology and biology, taught a highly popular Special Subject in the History Faculty at Cambridge University on this watershed controversy about human nature, the social order and the natural order. In this collection of closely-integrated essays, distilled from more than a decade of research and teaching, he reflects on the impact of Darwin on conventional thought; the role of ideas drawn from psychology in the Darwinian debate; the influence on the evolutionists of T. R. Malthus' draconian Law of Population and other ideas from political economy; the crucial and problematic metaphor of 'natural selection' which lies at the foundations of modern evolutionary thought; the role of natural theology in the debates on the history of the earth, life and humanity; the crucial and changing function of the periodical press in the wider cultural debate on the impact of Darwinian science. In the final, essay, widely regarded as a classical paper on the writing of the history of science, he considers at length how historians and scientists have framed their ideas about Darwinism and the role of ideology in the writing of the history of ideas about nature and human nature.

Anyone interested in human nature and the place of mind in the natural order will find this book fascinating, challenging and thought-provoking.

Contents:

The Impact of Darwin on Conventional Thought
Malthus and the Evolutionists: The Common Context of Biological and Social Theory
The Role of Psychology in the Ninteenth-Century Evolutionary Debate
Darwin's Metaphor: Does Nature Select?
Natural Theology, Victorian Periodicals and the Fragmentation of a Common Context
The Historiographic and Ideological Contexts of the Nineteehth-Century Debate on Man's Place in Nature.


Some comments:

'His work on "The Historiographic and Ideological Contexts of the Nineteenth-Century Debate on Man's Place in Nature" had an enormous influence on me intellectually, and I was not alone among both junior and senior people in the history of modern biology. That essay, and the other essays published in Darwin's Metaphor remain gems in Darwin scholarship, representing the best in both humanely engaged and careful research in the humanities and social analysis.

Donna Haraway Professor of the History of Consciousness, University of California, Santa Cruz, author of Primate Visions and Simians, Cyborgs and Women

'...by far the most controversial figure in historical Darwin scholarship, and a man who, in addition, may well be the most influential practitioner in the history of the field.'

Ingemar Bohlin, University of Göteborg

'Young's writings provide, within the context of 'Science', the best critical account of human nature theory...'

Christopher J. Berry, University of Glasgow, author of Human Nature.


Cambridge University Press, 1985 Pp.xx+341 Paperback £16.95

 


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© Ian Pitchford and Robert M. Young - Last updated: 28 May, 2005 02:29 PM

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