Lamarck, evolution, and the politics of science

Published on Jan 1, 1970in Journal of the History of Biology0.696
· DOI :10.1007/BF00137355
Richard W. Burkhardt1
Estimated H-index: 1
(Harvard University)
Lamarck's evolutionary theory, briefly mentioned in a lecture in 1800 and further developed in later writings, seems to have made little impression upon Lamarck's contemporaries. Several explanations for this lack of response, in addition to the usual unhelpful statements about the time not being "ripe," have been offered. Logically enough, these explanations for the most part have ascribed the poor reception of Lamarck's evolutionary theory to either the existence of hostile views dominating the science of the time or the insufficiency of Lamarck's own arguments and examples-or to a combination of the two. Certainly both of these factors played fundamental roles in the response to Lamarck's evolutionary theory. What has not been commented upon in any detail is the way in which Lamarck's highly personal thoughts about science and about the scientific community of his day were crucial for the way in which he presented his evolutionary views and thus, presumably, for the way in which these views were received. Lamarck looked upon the needs of science somewhat differently than did most of his younger contemporaries. Moreover, in a curious way, he displayed simultaneously an insensitivity to the difficulties others might have in accepting his novel views and a conviction that these views would indeed be poorly received. For these reasons, and possibly also because he doubted that his strength would last through all of his projected works, it appears that he did not really take great pains to present his theory in such a fashion as to compel his contemporaries to treat it seriously. He seems to have thus assured his theory of the very fate that he feared it would have. Only brief remarks on the development and structure of Lamarck's evolutionary theory will be made here. Primary atten-
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