chapter  13
34 Pages

Responses to evolution: Spencer’s evolutionism, Bergsonism, and contemporary biology

Darwin’s On the Origin of Species was published towards the end of 1859 and although its in uence on the intellectual life of the second half of the nineteenth century was immense and dramatic, it alone did not generate the rise of interest in questions about evolution. As one commentator has noted, most nineteenthcentury evolutionists were Lamarckians or Spencerians rather than Darwinians: Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829) had published his theory of progressive evolution in Philosophie zoologique in 1809 and Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) had developed an evolutionary theory of mind and behavior in his Principles of Psychology of 1855.1 It is o en assumed that Spencer and Darwin adhere to the same theory of evolution, but this is not the case; and it is Spencer who, at least for philosophers, was the major intellectual gure of the period. Some of philosophy’s most original minds, such as Charles Sanders Peirce (18391914) and Henri Bergson (1859-1941), took note of the Darwinian revolution and the rise of philosophical evolutionism and sought to respond to them.2 Bergson captures the mood well when he writes in his great text of 1907, Creative Evolution, that “the language of transformism forces itself now upon all philosophy, as the dogmatic a! rmation of transformism forces itself upon science.”3 Let us note at the outset that Darwin’s aim in the Origin of Species was not to promote the concept of evolution – the word appears only at the very end of the

1. Louis Menand, e Metaphysical Club (London: HarperCollins, 2001), 121. 2. For insight into Peirce and evolution, see Carl R. Hausman, Charles S. Peirce’s Evolutionary

Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993). 3. Henri Bergson, Creative Evolution, Arthur Mitchell (trans.) (Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan,

2007), 17. Herea er cited as CE followed by the page number.