What Is Social Darwinism? Essay

1494 words - 6 pages

In 1859 Charles Darwin published his work, On the Origin of Species, which was to cause a revolution in the understanding of biology. From the beginning, this scientific theory gave way to multiple misinterpretations and missapropriations by different kinds of theorists and especially by social scientists.
In order to explain these misunderstandings, one must first point the main differences between darwinism and other forms of evolutionary theories, especially, Lamarckism.
Analysis will follow the pointing out of some of the misinterpretations carried out during the XIXth century, while Charles Darwin was still alive. This will give the opportunity to examine some of the reactions by Darwin himself to these first defenders of darwinism.
Finally, the paper will review some of the main branches of the so called Social Darwinism during the XX century (especially in Europe), which were still based to a great extent in the same mistakes as those made by the theorists in the XIXth century.

Both Lamark and Darwin agreed in accepting that the different life forms evolved through time and they were in a constant process of change. Therefore, neither of them believed that species remained “fixed” or unchanged. They also coincided in the idea that the evolution of species involved a process that went from few and simple organisms to multiple and ever more complex organisms (Ruse, 3).

Lamarck published in 1801 a book entitled Theory of Inheritance of Acquired Characteristics. In this book he presented his idea about evolution: whenever an organism makes any changes during its life in order to adapt to the environment, those changes will be passed on to the offspring. The wants or needs of the organism made the changes happen, according to Lamarck. For example, Lamarck believed that all giraffes used to have short necks, and when there was no food that they could reach with their short necks, they stretched their necks to reach the food from the tree-tops, and, little by little, their offspring and later generations of giraffes inherited ever longer necks. On the other hand, Lamarck believed that body parts which were not longer useful not being used, such as the human appendix and the little toes will be gradually disappearing and eventually people will be born without these parts. Additionally, Lamarck believed that evolution happens according to a predetermined or “intelligent” plan (Ruse, 10).
In his 1859 book, On the Origin of species, Darwin painted a very different painting of evolution. He explained that changes in an organism during its lifetime do not affect the gene pool orthe evolution of any species. He explained that organisms, of different or of the same species, are all different and that those which happen to have random differences (adaptations) that help them to survive in their environments live longer and have more offspring. Thereforehe offspring are born with their parents “advantages”, and as they have more offspring,...

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