Darwin on Aristotle

Allan Gotthelf

in Teleology, First Principles, and Scientific Method in Aristotle's Biology

Published in print January 2012 | ISBN: 9780199287956
Published online January 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780191738296 | DOI:

Series: Oxford Aristotle Studies Series

Darwin on Aristotle

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Charles Darwin's famous 1882 letter, in which he remarks that his ‘two gods’, Linnaeus and Cuvier, were ‘mere school‐boys to old Aristotle’, has been thought to be only an extravagantly worded gesture of politeness. However, a close examination of this and other Darwin letters, and of references to Aristotle in Darwin's earlier work, shows that the famous letter was written several weeks after a first, polite letter of thanks, and was carefully formulated and literally meant. Indeed, it reflected an authentic, and substantial, increase in Darwin's already high respect for Aristotle, as certain documents show. It may also have reflected some real insight on Darwin's part into the teleological aspect of Aristotle's thought, more insight than Ogle himself had achieved, as a portion of their correspondence reveals.

Keywords: Aristotle; Darwin; W. Ogle; Linnaeus; Cuvier; teleology; classification; functional explanation

Chapter.  8675 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: Ancient Philosophy

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