International Society for History, Philosophy, and Social Studies of Biology

twitter 2015
     facebook 2015


WEDNESDAY, JULY 8  /  09:00 - 10:30  /  DS-R520
Organized session / diverse format
Debating Darwin

Michael Ruse (Florida State University, United States); Robert Richards (University of Chicago, United States)


Michael Ruse (Florida State University, United States)
Robert Richards (University of Chicago, United States)
David Sepkoski (Max Planck Institute for the History of Science, Germany)
Gregory Radick (University of Leeds, United Kingdom)

Darwin Studies are now moving to a new phase. Date the beginning of professional work on Charles Darwin, his contributions, and his influence, from around 1959, the hundredth anniversary of the Origin and about the time that Gavin de Beer was beginning to publish the species notebooks. Since then, we have had fifty years of sustained and valuable work digging through the available material, published and unpublished, and giving basic and insightful accounts of Darwin, his work, and much around him. The time now has come for broader interpretations, less concerned with simply digging out the material and more with making overall sense of what was surely one of the major episodes of Western culture. (One thinks analogously of work now being produced on the First World War and its origins.)

Sensitive to this change of direction and emphasis, Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse, both of whom have long been contributors to Darwin Studies, are now offering rival interpretations of the work of Darwin and its significance. Richards argues that the key to understanding lies in the Romantic Movement in Germany at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries and its influence on Darwin. In total opposition, Ruse argues that Darwin can be understood only as a product of his own home-grown culture, specifically the England and Scotland of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They have a book expressing their disagreements (where they offer rival accounts and responses) in production with the University of Chicago Press. This session will air the Richards-Ruse differences – the rival claims and their putative supports.

Moderating and contributing to the session will be the younger historian of biology David Sepkoski, who has written extensively on evolutionary biology, particularly as it applies to the fossil record. He will be concerned less with imposing harmony and more with showing why this debate leads to important new avenues in ongoing discussion of the Darwinian Revolution. Also commenting is the neo-Hodgean historian of biology Gregory Radick who has likewise written extensively on evolutionary biology, with special interest in the work by biologists and others in the decades after the Origin was published. He too is concerned with how now we should understand the Darwinian Revolution and whether it was truly Darwinian or even genuinely revolutionary.

The session will conclude with responses by the participants to each other and questions and discussions from the floor.