Biology and the emergence of the Anglo-American eugenics movement

Edward J. Larson

in Biology and Ideology from Descartes to Dawkins

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print May 2010 | ISBN: 9780226608402
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226608426 | DOI:
Biology and the emergence of the Anglo-American eugenics movement

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In the late 1800s, Charles Darwin and other naturalists supported a blending view of inheritance whereby offspring possess a middling mix of their parents' traits. Many of these naturalists also argued that individuals pass at least some of their acquired characteristics to their descendants. Darwin proposed that acquired characteristics and other environmentally induced changes in a parent's hereditary material (which he called “gemmules”) account in large part for the inheritable variations that drove evolution. Inspired by the evolutionary theories of his first cousin, Darwin, Francis Galton developed hereditarian notions that helped to lay the foundation for both genetics and eugenics. Eugenics was endorsed by evolutionary geneticists such as August Weismann, Karl Pearson, W. F. R. Weldon, William Bateson, and Hugo de Vries, which, as a result, gave it enormous scientific credibility in America and Europe. This chapter explores the role of biology in the emergence of the eugenics movement in the Anglo-Saxon world.

Keywords: eugenics; Charles Darwin; inheritance; genetics; America; Europe; biology; evolution; August Weismann; Hugo de Vries

Chapter.  10307 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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