Evolution and social life

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Evolution and social life

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Evolution is one of the great unifying ideas of our time. In this pioneering theoretical study, Tim Ingold examines the ways in which the idea has been handled in the context of anthropological debate, from the mid-nineteenth century to the present day, and by comparing biological, historical and anthropological approaches to the study of human culture and social life, he lays the conceptual foundation for their novel and effective synthesis. Beginning with the antinomy between pre- and post-Darwinian senses of evolution, the author shows how this underlies a whole series of contrasts pervading the development of anthropology and contingent disciplines. This leads into a discussion of the divergent answers that biological and social scientists have given to the question 'What is a social relationship?', and to the formulation of the fundamental opposition between social process and cultural form. Finally, Dr. Ingold explores the relation between culture and consciousness, focusing on the validity of the various criteria by which humans have been distinguished from other animals; on the understanding of intentionality, conception and behaviour; and on the evolutionary significance of the dichotomy between the 'innate' and the 'artificial' in culture. The book is unique in its scope and breadth of theoretical vision, transcending the boundaries of natural science and the humanities, and is a major contribution to both the history of anthropological and social thought and the contemporary debate on the relation between human nature, culture and social life. Written in a clear, non-technical style, its arguments are widely accessible and will be essential reading for anthropologists, as well as for biologists, psychologists, historians and philosophers concerned with the theory of evolution.

Themes in the ) Social Sciences Editors: John Dunn, Jack Goody, Eugene A. Hammel, Geoffrey Hawthorn, and Charles Tilly The aim of this series is to publish books which will focus on topics of general and interdisciplinary interest in the social sciences. They will be concerned with non-European cultures and with developing countries, as well as with industrial societies. The emphasis will be on comparative sociology and, initially, on sociological, anthropological and demographic topics. These books are intended for undergraduate teaching, but not as basic introductions to the subjects they cover. Authors have been asked to write on central aspects of current interest which have a wide appeal to teachers and research students, as well as to undergraduates. Other books in the series Edmund Leach: Culture and Communication: The logic by which symbols are connected: an introduction to the use of structuralist analysis in social anthropology Anthony Heath: Rational Choice and Social Exchange: A critique of exchange theory P. Abrams and A. McCulloch: Communes, Sociology and Society Jack Goody: The Domestication of the Savage Mind Jean-Louis Flandrin: Families in Former Times: Kinship, household and sexuality John Dunn: Western Political Theory in the Face of the Future David Thomas: Naturalism and Social Science: A post-empiricist philosophy of social science Oaude Meillassoux: Maidens, Meal and Money: Capitalism and the domestic community David Lane: Leninism: A sociological interpretation Anthony D. Smith: The Ethnic Revival Jack Goody: Cooking, Cuisine and Class Roy Ellen: Environment, Subsistence and System 5. N. Eisenstadt and L. Roniger: Patrons, Clients and Friends: Interpersonal relations and the structure of trust in society John Dunn: The Politics of Socialism Martine Segalen: Historical Anthropology of the Family

Evolution and social life

TIM INGOLD Department of Social Anthropology University of Manchester

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CAMBRIDGE UNIVERSITY PRESS Cambridge London New York New Rochelle Melbourne Sydney

Published by the Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge The Pill Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge CB2 !RP 32 East 57th Street, New York, NY 10022, USA 10 Stamford Road, Oakleigh, Melbourne 3166, Australia ©Cambridge University Press 1986 First published 1986 Printed in the United States of America

Library of Congress

Cataloging-in-Publia~tion

Data

Ingold, Tim, 1948Evolution and social life.

(Themes in the social sciences)

Bibliography: p. Includes index. 1. Social evolution. 2. Human evolution. 3. Culture. I. Title. II. Series. 306 85-31434 GN360.154 1986 ISBN 0 521 24778 0 hard covers ISBN 0 521 28955 6 paperback

5'2oT1 The following publishers have generously given permission to use extended quotations from copyrighted works: From Anthropology, by A. L. Kroeber. Copyright 1948 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc. and renewed 1976 by Theodora Kroeber Quinn. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Structure and function in primitive society, by A. R. Radcliffe-Brown. Copyright 1952 by Routledge and Kegan Paul. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Chance and necessity, by J. Monod. Copyright 1972 by William Collins Sons & Co. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Studies in the philosophy of biology, edited by F. J. Ayala and T. Dobzhansky. Copyright 1974 by the Macmillan Press. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Stone Age economics, by M. D. Sahlins. Copyright 1972 by Aldine Publishing Company. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Behavior and environment: The use of space by animals and men, edited by A. H. Esser. Copyright 1971 by Plenum Publishing Corporation. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Course in genera/linguistics, by F. de Saussure. Copyright 1959 by the Philosophical library, Inc. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From Evolution and culture, edited by M. D. Sahlins and E. R. Service. Copyright 1960 by the University of Michigan. Reprinted by permission of the publisher. From The nature of culture, by A. L. Kroeber. Copyright 1952 by the University of Chicago. Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

To

Ouistopher, Nicholas and )onathan

Could it be that the specific subject of anthropology is the interrelation of what is biological in man and what is social and historical in him? The answer is Yes. Kroeber, Anthropology

Contents

Preface 1 2

page ix

The progress of evolution Mankind ascending

Lines and stages Extension and analogy 3 4 5 6

The substance of history Times of life Chance, necessity and creativity What is a social relationship?

The superorganic The constitution of persons Gifting and altruism 7

Culture and consciousness

The practical and the discursive Intentionality, conception and behaviour The innate and the artificial

1 29 31 47 74 128 173 222 223 244 263 293 294 312 342 377 399 419 424

Notes Bibliography Name index Subject index

vii

Preface

One day in the spring of 1982, I jotted down an outline for the first chapter of a projected book on the material conditions of social life. In this chapter I intended to sort out some of the ambiguity that has surrounded the concept of evolution throughout the development of anthropology, to clarify the question of how-if at all-evolution is to be separated from history, and to argue for a thoroughgoing distinction between processes of social evolution and cultural adaptation. All this was meant as no more than a preliminary clearing of the ground for a more extended inquiry, and my jottings occupied barely a page. They have grown, however, into the present book. It has taken over two years to write, and is already twice as long as was originally planned. It is the most difficult and certainly the most ambitious job I have attempted, and on many occasions I have felt quite unequal to the task and ready to give up. In retrospect, however, it has proved to be an intellectual journey so exciting, and so full of unexpected revelations, that I would not have missed it for anything. I offer this book as an account, and a testimony, of that journey, in the hope that others might profit as much as I did in following the same course. If wisdom lies in recognizing the true extent of one's own ignorance, then I am immeasurably the wiser for having written this volume. For whereas I started out in the belief that I knew most of the answers, which had merely to be transferred onto paper, I have now discovered at least some of the questions, and more important, how these questions are interconnected. That, I suppose, indicates some progress. The major problems that must confront anyone embarking on the study of a subject as all-embracing as evolution, and which certainly confronted me, are first, that there is not much to be said that has not been said before and second, that almost everything of significance that has been written in the natural and social ix

Preface sciences, or in the arts and humanities, touches on the subject in one way or another. Our ignorance, then, lies in how little we know of what is already known, that limitation of perspective that leads yesterday's old hat to be innocently paraded as today's novelty, and which causes different disciplines to sail past one another in opposite directions, like ships lost in a fog, their respective crews convinced that they are on course for a new world. To overcome this limitation, it is necessary to abandon some of the normal canons of fundamental research. One such canon is that one should begin with a survey of the relevant literature, which otherwise stated, means 'stay on board your own ship, but never mind where the others are going'. But once all literature is defined as potentially relevant, such advice is clearly worthless. One must be prepared to follow almost any lead, knowing however that not all leads can be followed and that with every decision not to follow a lead one may be ignoring something that could radically alter one's entire outlook. It is embarrassing but noteworthy that I came across many of the works that have most profoundly influenced the present project completely by accident, most often whilst looking for something else on the library shelf. This says much for the role of serendipity in scholarship, but is not altogether reassuring for one who would like to be confident that, in pursuing his inquiry, he has left no stone unturned. Indeed, the sight of rows of unread (and often unreadable) books, any one of which just might contain some fundamental revelation, is agonizing enough; the thought that one's own might eventually join the queue is even more so. A second canon of research that had to be abandoned is the one that demands direct familiarity with all the most recent work in the field. Cynically, it could be said that the way to keep a step ahead of everyone else is to go back and reread the works of those who were writing in the period just after the one modern scholars are currently (and unwittingly) recapitulating. Anthropologists have as short a memory as the practitioners of any other discipline and are inclined to spend much effort groping towards conclusions already elaborated by their predecessors, in incomparable prose, a long time ago. For this reason I have considered it just as important to look closely at what these earlier authors actually said, as to keep abreast of the latest trends. What I found was often surprising and bore very little relation to the caricatures that are often paraded so as to impress a stamp of legitimacy on current inquiry. It is perhaps worth emphasizing that our disciplinary forbears were neither fools nor heroes, but intelligent and sophisticated people who were writing-as do we-to advance human knowledge and understanding, not to pro-

Preface vide conveniently .packaged modules for future use in teaching the history of the. subJect: It would be an admission of our own ignorance, not theirs, to fa1l to take their works with the seriousness they deserve. There is a problem, however, in deciding how far back we should go. Every I;'redecessor has predecessors, and the problems we address .are timeless. I have, in this book, quite deliberately set my h1st~ncal basehne aroun~ the. middle of the last century, thus excludmg a great many maJOr thmkers who have exercised a formative influence on what later became the study of culture and social life: I mean figures of the stature of Kant, Herder, Hume, Rousseau, and above all, Vico. No doubt their presence can be felt between the lines. I have chosen, however, not to dwell on their contributions to human understanding for three reasons. First, there exist already a great many fine works by philosophers and intellectual historians that cover this ground, and to which anyone wishing to pursue the subject further could well refer. It is simply not a field I am qualified to enter. Second, I did not conceive this study purely as an exercise in the history of ideas, but rather as a contribution to contemporary debate; therefore it was imperative to go back only so far as would leave me still within reach of the present. Third, it made sense to start from the point when anthropology began to constitute itself as a distinct domain of knowledge. For this was a time when the various facets of humanity, variously grouped under the rubrics of human nature and history, had yet to be disentangled; and when anthropologists had to fight for recognition of the autonomy of cultural processes as the absolute pre-eminence of human beings in the animal kingdom met its severest challenge in the demonstration of evolutionary continuity. The problem this posed was not so much resolved as shelved with the coming-of-age of social and cultural anthropology, which as branches of the science of man came to rely on certain assumptions about human uniqueness that were dogmatically asserted rather than actively debated. To reopen the debate is naturally to call into question the delineation of the boundaries of the discipline, and this can only take us back to the days when these boundaries were as yet ill defined. I have produced, here, a work of the kind that my anthropological colleagues are wont to call 'disembodied theory', '_!leaning the sort of book of which they thoroughly disapprove. It IS not something I have attempted before, my ~revious efforts. hav~ng been limited to the more conventional busmess of analysmg first-hand field observations and the comparative reanalysis of secondary ethnographic material. However, I reached a point, not only in rexi

Preface search but also in teaching, when I felt that I could not advance without confronting some rather pressing uncertainties that, in the conduct of empirical work, are more conveniently left unattended. I do not believe that any apology is needed for theory. A science of man that ceases to address the most fundamental questions concerning the human condition, contenting itself with the ever more penetrating analysis of specific ethnographic situations (in which the people generally disappear behind a haze of symbols), is a sterile and introverted exercise; worse still, it leaves a vacuum that practitioners of other disciplines, whose knowledge of anthropology is rudimentary or non-existent, are only too happy to fill. We live in an age when the split between natural science and the humanities is as wide, and as damaging, as ever: The mission of anthropology, as I see it, is to bridge the divide; but to bridge it, not like philosophy, in a would-be world concocted in the ivory tower, but on the basis of an understanding of what, for ordinary folk, everyday life is all about. The perpetual tension between the construction of human beings as they might be, and the knowledge of them as they really are, is what keeps us always on our toes and prevents our inquiry from spinning off at a tangent into the intellectual equivalent of outer space. The subjects of our inquiry are human beings, and not abstract entities fabricated by our imaginations, and of which we say: 'Suppose that these be men ... ' I advocate, in this book, an evolutionary approach to culture and social life. By and large, recent anthropology has turned its back on evolution for all the wrong reasons. Of these, the most commonly cited is the one that equates the evolutionary paradigm with the establishment of a rank-order of societies that invariably places ourselves at the top. This is not, however, an essential aspect of the paradigm; what is essential to it is the idea that all human groups (ourselves included) are fellow passengers in the same overall movement, one that is irreversible and progressive, and hence that the differences between them must be relative to where they stand in it. But relativist anthropology, rejecting the notion of evolutionary progress and substituting the many worlds of culture for the one human world, in fact turned the imputed superiority of ourselves over others, observers over observed, into an absolute one. The enlightened few, liberated from the illusions of ethnocentrism with which all others were supposed to be afflicted as a condition of their belonging to one culture or another, could claim complete emancipation from the humdrum existence of ordinary people. It is my view that the redefinition of anthropology from 'the study of humanity' to 'the study of other cultures' has constituted no less than an abdication of xii

Preface our own position i~ th~ world, and with it of our moral responsibility for what goes on m 1t. The world we live in is continuous; what happens to others, however remote, inevitably has a bearing on every one of us, JUSt as our own actions rebound on them. To justify an attitude. of studied indiffere~ce to the fate of others on the grounds of the avmdance of ethnocentnsm, or the maintenance of total objectivity, is neither scientifically credible nor ethically acceptable. It is characteristic of the evolutionary approach adopted here that it deals not only with mankind as a whole but with the Whole Man: not merely a carrier of culture but an unusual kind of animal, a creature of flesh and blood, endowed with feelings and passions, who acts purposively and creatively through whatever instruments are available to achieve concrete, practical results. It cannot be emphasized too often that humans, with the advent of culture, did not cease to be animals; for culture completes the human animal, it does not replace him with something different. It certainly will not do to reduce all social experience to the effects of innate biopsychological dispositions, thereby turning anthropology and history into subdisciplines of evolutionary biology. But nor can we put human nature in brackets, or write as though there were no such thing, as some of the more extreme exponents of cultural idealism are inclined to do. No theory of culture or history can be adequate that is unable to countenance the fact of our existence as biological organisms and that fails to recognize the very considerable innate component of behavioural disposition. And yet, in facing up to the implications of human nature, we must do so in a way that does justice to the reality of intersubjective life. I believe that the need to relate, as Kroeber said, 'what is biological in man and what is social and historical in him' must once more unite the fields of human biology and social and cultural anthropology, after their long and increasingly unfortunate separation, around the central problems of evolution. It is, to be sure, an uphill task. Faced with the crippling naivety of contemporary biological thought when it comes to matters social and cultural, anthropologists have tended to respond etther by preferring to remain ignorant of the biological challenge, consid~ring it not worth the effort of bothering about, or by counteractmg tt wtth arguments even more lacking in sophisticatio~ and theoretical ~i­ sion which simply substitute one (cultural) fatahsm for another (bwgen~tic). One cannot expect much support from either quarter, for where one side thinks itself on the point of knowing all, the other simply does not want to know. Moreover, as anyone _w1th ~ore than a superficial knowledge of the literature on evolution wtll be aware, the line between the deepest profundity and utter lunacy ts xiii

Preface thin and indistinct, and is drawn by different people in different ways. I have read much, by scientists of eminence and repute, which has struck me as being on the lunatic fringe, or at least downright silly. Although I have done my best to keep to the other side, there will doubtless be those who will want to commit what I have to say to the same category. This is a risk that simply has to be taken if one is to exercise any imagination at all; the safe course is always to remain ignorant. But no one, thank goodness, has been standing over me as I write, dictating what I should think and threatening me with damnation and physical torture should I put a word wrong. For that freedom, hard-won by our intellectual forbears, and still being fought for by a great many distinguished con• temporaries, we may indeed be thankful. In an age dedicated to the. generation of 'facts', in which intellectual work is assimilated to industrial production, nothing is more needed than measured understanding and synthesis. And to achieve it, a first requirement is that we straighten out our concepts, so that we know at least when we are talking about the same and about different things. Doubtless there are contradictions and inconsistencies in this work that I have failed to iron out, or even to spot; but I have done my utmost to avoid the temptation to treat concepts like pieces of Plasticine, malleable to any purpose. I remain in envy of the matchless verbal agility of the prima donnas of anthropology, beside which my own efforts seem pretty pedestrian. However, I insist that real intellectual puzzles can never be solved by a neat turn of phrase, nor can their solution be confirmed simply through frequent citation. Facing contradictions head-on when they appear, rather than skirting them (or making a virtue out of paradox), is the best way to novel theoretical insight. To this end, I have endeavoured to write as simply, clearly and precisely as possible, in the hope that others will understand rather than merely repeat what I have to say. It has not been easy. There have been moments of exhilaration when all seems revealed, as when the skies open on a clear day, followed closely by feelings of despair when the clouds close in again. Infuriatingly, the total vision tends to evaporate like a dream on waking as soon as pen is put to paper. Only a fraction of it is ever regained. Many of the ideas developed in this work were roughly sketched out m a notebook I kept during a six-week stay, in spring 1982, at the University of Umea in Sweden. I owe a great deal of gratitude to everyone there for the hospitality and stimulus I received during that visit. At Manchester, my thanks are due to many of my students m the Department of Social Anthropology, who have put up xiv

Preface patiently with my theoretical predilections and have always respo~ded with insight and encouragement. The book was completed dunng the first two months of a period of sabbatical leave granted by the Umvers1ty of Manchester, for which I am extremely grateful, as I am to my colleagues who agreed to cover my teaching and administrative duties during my absence. jean Monastiriotis, Mary Lea and Margaret Timms typed the manuscript to perfection, on top of a heavy load of other work, and to a tight schedule-my thanks to all three. The greatest debt of gratitude remains to my wife Anna, who for the last two years has had to put up with a husband who has been more than usually absent-minded and irritable, and who has certainly not done his fair share of household chores. The book is dedicated to my children, without whose 'continual interruptions' I doubt whether I would ever have completed it at all. One final note. The word 'man' appears a great many times in what follows, the word 'woman' hardly at all. No sexist bias is intended. I am concerned a good deal, in this book, with the differences between human beings and other animals, but not with differences of sex or gender. Unfortunately, alternative terms such as 'individual' and 'person' have quite specific sociological connotations and cannot be employed with the same generality. In the Circumstances, I have had no alternative but to comply with the conventions of the English language. T.I. Manchester

1

The progress of evolution

No-~ne shou~d ~ke sweeping claims concerning evolution in fields outstde the btologtcal world without first becoming acquainted with th_e well-seasoned concepts of organic evolution and, furthermore, wtthout a most rigorous analysis of the concepts he plans to apply.

Mayr, The growth of biological thought Do societies, or cultures, evolve? It all depends, you will say, on what I mean by evolution. An anthropologist would probably interpret the question as one about progress, thus: 'Is it reasonable to envisage an overall movement from the primitive to the civilized in human modes of life?' Most likely the anthropologist's answer would be negative, but even were it affirmative he would surround it with qualifications- if only to avoid the charge of ethnocentrism. But how would a biologist construe the question? Most biologists consider evolution a proven fact, yet many balk at applying the idea of progress to living nature, just as do anthropologists in relation to culture and society (Lesser 1952:136-8). According to one recent definition, designed to embrace social phenomena within a biological framework, evolution is 'any gradual change' (Wilson 1980:311)-a definition that must strike anthropologists (and perhaps many biologists too) as too broad to be useful. Surely all societies are changing all the time. But paradoxically, so long as anthropologists were content to regard their subject as the study of 'primitive' forms, with the implicit connotation that others had progressed to a more advanced state, these forms were treated as essentially changeless. Are we, then, to regard evolution as progress without history, or as hist?ry without progress? These alternatives can be traced to the two maJor exponents of evolutionary thinking in Victorian Englan~: He_rbert Spence_r _and C.harles Darwin. My purpose in this chapter .Is to 1sol~te th~ cnti~al I;'omts of difference between the two perspectives. Therr clanficat10n 1s essen-

Evolution and social life tial to my subsequent project, which will be to link the difference to an opposition between the social and the cultural dimensions of human experience. It is still widely believed that the 'evolutionism' that dominated nineteenth-century social thought was a unitary paradigm that owed its foundation to the publication, in 1859, of Darwin's The origin of species. This paradigm is largely a fabrication constructed and maintained by those who claim to reject it (Hirst 1976:15). There was not one theory of social evolution but many, and all stemmed from ideas current long before Darwin. As Burrow has remarked, 'The history of Darwin's influence on social theory belongs ... to the history of the diffusion of ideas rather than of their development' (1966:114). And as we shall see, this diffusion did not take place without a great deal of distortion. These facts have been pointed out often enough in the literature.' Their obfuscation can be put down in part to the belief amongst some biologists and much of the lay public that Darwinian theory provides the key not only to the evolution of life, but also to the past and future of humanity. Many distinguished scientists, whose careful consideration of the facts of nature leads them to reject the idea of inevitable ascent from 'lower' to 'higher' forms, have thought fit to pronounce on the progress of mankind in tones reverberant with the ideals of bourgeois enlightenment, and backed by no solid evidence whatsoever. Darwin did this (see Bock 1980:3760), and so do many of his latter-day sociobiological followers (e.g. Wilson 1978). Anthropologists have good reason to protest against such naive speculations. Yet if their protestations are to carry any weight, and if they are to produce a theory of social or cultural evolution that avoids the pitfalls identified by biologists decades ago, they must be clear about the epistemological status of the concepts they intend to apply. For this reason Mayr's admonition (1982:627), with which I headed this chapter, must be taken seriously. In its fulfilment, we shall inevitably have to stray rather far into the realms of biological thought. But let me begin with a word about the origin of 'evolution'.' The verb 'to evolve' comes from the Latin evolvere, which literally means to roll out or unfold. Already in the seventeenth century it was being extended metaphorically to refer to the revelation or working out of a preformed idea or principle. However, this usage ~as oc~as~onal and unsystematic (Williams 1976:103). The history of evolution took an odd turn when it became the central concept of the theory of preformation in embryology, advocated by Charles Bonnet in 1762. According to this theory, every embryo grows from 2

The progress of evolution a tiny image of itself-:---- a homunculus- present in the egg or sperm, wh1ch m turn contam.s an even tinier image of its future progeny, and s?. on. By extenswn, the very first homunculus-supposedly mhab1hng the ovum of Eve- must have contained a programme for the development of all future generations, which would appear in the course of hme as the homunculi were 'unpacked' one after another (Gould 1980:35, 203). However bizarre the idea, it did conform to the original, literal meaning of evolution (Bowler 1975:96-7). By the middle of the nineteenth century, Bonnet's theory of preformation was defunct, but the concept of evolution had been revived in quite another guise by that dinosaur of Victorian philosophy, Herbert Spencer. The connotation had ceased to be one of the unfolding or unpacking of qualities immanent in the thing evolving and had become linked instead to the idea of progressive development towards an enlightened future. As a prognosis for mankind, this was hardly a new idea in Western philosophy, for its roots go back at least to the early seventeenth century (Bury 1932:35-6; Back 1955:126). It reached a climax in Condorcet's Progress of the human mind, published in 1795, which in turn became the inspiration for the work of Saint-Simon and his disciple, August Comte. From Comte, Spencer admitted to having adopted the term 'sociology' but little else (Burrow 1966:189-90; Carneiro 1967:xxi-xxii, xxxii). Despite their differences, which were indeed profound, both Comte and Spencer sought to establish natural laws by which human civilization might be ordained to progress (Mandelbaum 1971:89). It was Spencer's self-proclaimed achievement, however, to have welded a conception of the development of society ('the superorganic') into a grand synthesis that embraced the temporal progresswn of all organic and inorganic forms as well. . The intellectual climate of Spencer's day was partlcularly conducive to such a synthesis. At that time the dominant concern was to discover and explain how things had come to be as they are, a concern that grew in proportion to the steady declme m the authority of orthodox religious doctrines of creahon, and to_ the concomitant advance of natural science. Thus the reconstruction of human development in its various aspects came to be con~eiv~d as but part of a wider enterprise, the reconstruction of life, whtch m turn was to be fitted into a picture of the history of the earth ~nd even of the entire cosmos. Spencer found the inspiration for h1s synthel!c phlloso h through his acquaintance- at second hand- Wlth the work ~f the German embryologist van Baer (1828), who had obd h t eve stage in the development of an orgamsm constlserve t ad ryfr m homogeneity of structure to heterogeneity of tutes an a vance o 3

Evolution and social life structure (Mayr 1982:473). In an article entitled 'Progress: Its law an.d cause' (1857), Spencer endeavoured to show that 'this law of orgamc progress is the law of all progress' (1972:40). With one sweep ?f his cosmic pen, everything from the earth through all forms of hfe to man and human society was brought within the scope of a single principle of epigenetic development, as applicable in astronomy and geology as in biology, psychology and sociology. Shortly after the appearance of this article, Spencer decided to substitute 'evolution' for 'progress', on the grounds that the latter entailed too anthropocentric a vision (Cameiro 1967:xvii; Bowler 1975:107-8). His celebrated definition of evolution, appearing in First principles (1862), ran as follows: 'Evolution is defmable as a change from an incoherent homogeneity to a coherent heterogeneity, accompanying the dissipation of motion and integration of matter' (1972:71). The grandeur of this conception captured the Victorian imagination. Before long, Spencer had a considerable following, and evolution had become a catchword. It still is, yet Spencer and his voluminous works are today all but forgotten. Although his intellectual death was pronounced almost fifty years ago by Talcott Parsons (1937:3), there are faint signs of a contemporary resurrection (e.g. Parsons 1977: 230-1; Carneiro 1973). How are we to account for this curious turn of fate? In brief, the concept of evolution was extended -largely through the efforts of Spencer himself-to cover what Lamarck had called the 'transformism' of living forms, and the process to which Darwin came to refer as 'descent with modification'. Spencer remained throughout his life a committed Lamarckian (Freeman 1974), a point of some significance to which we shall return in Chapter 6. But he also became a strong advocate and publicist of Darwin's views, which he regarded as accessory to his own. For the principle of natural selection he substituted the catch-phrase 'survival of the fittest', which he had first hinted at in 1852, seven years before Darwin published The origin of species. The eo-discoverer of natural selection, A. R. Wallace, later persuaded Darwin to adopt Spencer's phrase, believing that it would be less conducive to the misinterpretation of nature as a wilful agent selecting forms to suit its purposes (Carneiro 1967:xx; Mayr 1982:519). Yet in the doctrine of 'survival of the fittest' the theories of Darwin and Wallace were equally exposed to distortion, for the essential connotation of differential reproduction was obscured (Goudge 1961:116-18). It was all too easy to regard the 'fittest' not as those who left relatively more offspring but as those who managed- with 'tooth and claw'- to eliminate their rivals in a direct competitive struggle. Moreover, to avoid tautology, 'the fittest 4

The progress of evolution are those that survive'; the victorious parties were considered a priori to be the most advanced on a general scale of progress. For this dtstortion, Spencer and subsequent 'Social Darwinists' must be held principally responsible. In reality, the process of variation under natural selection that Darwin invoked to account for the diversification of living forms, far from providing confirmation from within the field of biology of Spencer's evolutionary 'laws', rested on principles wholly incompatible with the axiom of progressive development inherent in these laws. Today Darwinian theory has triumphed, in a form remarkably close to the original, and more or less purged of its Spencerian accretions (Ghiselin 1969). It has not, however, been stripped of the title Spencer bestowed on it- 'the theory of evolution' (Bowler 1975:112-13). Therefore, to understand the difference between the social evolutionism of the nineteenth century and the biological evolutionism of the twentieth (as well as contemporary theories of cultural evolution constructed on the biological model), we must look more closely at the logical premisses of Darwin's theory of descent with modification.

The most fundamental axiom on which Darwin built his theory was not the progression but the variability of living forms. Without variability there could be no natural selection, since there would not be the material on which it could operate. In fact, Darwin's conception of variability contained three components, two of which were not original to him. First, there was the idea of continuity or insensible gradation. Darwin himself refers to the precept natura non facit salturn (nature never makes leaps) as 'that old canon in natural history' (1872:146, 156). It had indeed been around for a long time, in the form of the classical doctrine of the 'Great Chain of Being'. According to this doctrine, which enjoyed widespread popularity from the Renaissance until the late eighteenth century (Oldroyd 1980:9-10), all the multitudinous forms of life are locked in place along a grand scale from the lowliest to the most exalted (human beings), such that not a single position in the scale remains unfilled (Bock 1980:10; Mayr 1982:326). Thus Leibniz, in a letter published in 1753, spoke of the 'law of continuity' that requires 'that all the orders of natural beings form but a single chain, in which the various classes, like so many rings, are so closely linked one to another that it is impossible for the senses or the imagination to determine precisely the point at which one ends and the next begins' (cited in Lovejoy 1936:145). If there is an evolution in such a system, it consists in the forward displacement of the entire chain, such th~t the hierarchical relations between its parts are preserved intact. Bemgs do not giVe nse one to 5

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