Sir John F. W. Herschel and Charles Darwin: Nineteenth-Century Science and Its Methodology

Hopos: The Journal of the International Society for the History of Philosophy of Science 8 (1):108-140 (2018)
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Abstract

There are a bewildering variety of claims connecting Darwin to nineteenth-century philosophy of science—including to Herschel, Whewell, Lyell, German Romanticism, Comte, and others. I argue here that Herschel’s influence on Darwin is undeniable. The form of this influence, however, is often misunderstood. Darwin was not merely taking the concept of “analogy” from Herschel, nor was he combining such an analogy with a consilience as argued for by Whewell. On the contrary, Darwin’s Origin is written in precisely the manner that one would expect were Darwin attempting to model his work on the precepts found in Herschel’s Preliminary Discourse on Natural Science. While Hodge has worked out a careful interpretation of both Darwin and Herschel, drawing similar conclusions, his interpretation misreads Herschel’s use of the vera causa principle and the verification of hypotheses. The new reading that I present here resolves this trouble, combining Hodge’s careful treatment of the structure of the Origin with a more cautious understanding of Herschel’s philosophy of science. This interpretation lets us understand why Darwin laid out the Origin in the way that he did and also why Herschel so strongly disagreed, including in Herschel’s heretofore unanalyzed marginalia in his copy of Darwin’s book.

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Charles H. Pence
Université Catholique de Louvain

Citations of this work

Whatever Happened to Reversion?Charles H. Pence - 2022 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 92 (C):97-108.
Unwarranted assumptions: Claude Bernard and the growth of the vera causa standard.Raphael Scholl - 2020 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 82 (C):120-130.
Natural selection according to Darwin: cause or effect?Ben Bradley - 2022 - History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences 44 (2):1-26.

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References found in this work

On the origin of species.Charles Darwin - 1964 - New York: Oxford University Press. Edited by Gillian Beer.
Studies in the logic of explanation.Carl Gustav Hempel & Paul Oppenheim - 1948 - Philosophy of Science 15 (2):135-175.
Studies in the Logic of Explanation.Carl Hempel & Paul Oppenheim - 1948 - Journal of Symbolic Logic 14 (2):133-133.
The Darwinian Revolution.Michael Ruse - 2019 - Cambridge University Press.

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