Abstract
There is a longstanding and ongoing controversy about whether Buffon is to be regarded as a forerunner of evolutionism in the eighteenth century, or even as one of the founders of transformistic biology. There are good reasons to deny this claim. There are good reasons even to deny that the question which is going to be answered negatively is of particular importance. The present paper addresses the issue from a different angle. It analyzes the concept of time operative in the natural history writings of Buffon, and it delineates the articulation of the concepts of time, change, and history with its organizing impact on Buffon's discourse on earth and organisms. It is argued that although with his species concept Buffon tries to introduce the classical notion of a physical system into biology, in order to do so, he has to subvert it by an element of time. This guides him in considering various aspects of organic change, but by itself does not lead to a general perspective of transformation. On the other hand, in his Epoques de la nature, Buffon introduces a general law of geological change, thus arriving at something which could be called a physically intelligible history. The conquest of natural history by physics, in one and the same movement, leads to a subversion of physical geology by history, and prevents biology from becoming evolutionistic in the sense in which the nineteenth century understands this term
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