Chapter

The role of actual causes (1818–24)

in Worlds Before Adam

Published by University of Chicago Press

Published in print July 2008 | ISBN: 9780226731285
Published online March 2013 | e-ISBN: 9780226731308 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.7208/chicago/9780226731308.003.0008
The role of actual causes (1818–24)

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This chapter considers the proper role of observable present processes as means of explaining the deep past of geohistory. The actualistic method of using the present as the most effective key to the deep past was taken for granted by all savants concerned with the newly historical science of geology, but Cuvier had famously claimed that the policy had limitations, because actual causes were inadequate to explain the earth's major “revolutions.” The work of Karl Ernst Adolf von Hoff is discussed, who showed that although the recorded effects of actual causes such as erosion and sedimentation, volcanic and seismic action, were relatively modest on a global scale, their cumulative effects could have been substantial over the far greater spans of deep time which all geologists took for granted in geohistory.

Keywords: present; past; geohistory; geology; Karl von Hoff

Chapter.  7050 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of Science and Technology

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