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The "Survival of the Fittest" and the Origins of Social Darwinism

The "Survival of the Fittest" and the Origins of Social Darwinism Gregory Claeys In late September 1838 a young man, aged 29, a former medical student and amateur naturalist, who had spent several years in the South Pacific studying plant and animal life, but who remained puzzled as to why "favourable variants" of each species survived while "unfavourable variants" were destroyed, sat perusing a book, as he later recalled, "for amusement."1 The work which provoked Charles Darwin was T. R. Malthus's Essay on Population (1798), which he later claimed first suggested to him the idea that "on the whole the best fitted live." This idea Darwin would popularize through the notion of the "struggle for existence," a phrase which he famously claimed to use as a "metaphor" but which meant simply "the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms."2 That application resulted in the publiThis article was an inaugural lecture at Royal Holloway, University of London, 21 October 1997. My thanks go especially to Gareth Stedman Jones for his comments on the text. 1 Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (3 vols.; London, 1888), I, 83. The passage was picked up by contemporaries, e.g., Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Journal of the History of Ideas University of Pennsylvania Press

The "Survival of the Fittest" and the Origins of Social Darwinism

Journal of the History of Ideas , Volume 61 (2) – Apr 1, 2000

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Publisher
University of Pennsylvania Press
Copyright
Copyright © 2000 The Journal of the History of Ideas, Inc.
ISSN
1086-3222
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Abstract

Gregory Claeys In late September 1838 a young man, aged 29, a former medical student and amateur naturalist, who had spent several years in the South Pacific studying plant and animal life, but who remained puzzled as to why "favourable variants" of each species survived while "unfavourable variants" were destroyed, sat perusing a book, as he later recalled, "for amusement."1 The work which provoked Charles Darwin was T. R. Malthus's Essay on Population (1798), which he later claimed first suggested to him the idea that "on the whole the best fitted live." This idea Darwin would popularize through the notion of the "struggle for existence," a phrase which he famously claimed to use as a "metaphor" but which meant simply "the doctrine of Malthus applied with manifold force to the whole animal and vegetable kingdoms."2 That application resulted in the publiThis article was an inaugural lecture at Royal Holloway, University of London, 21 October 1997. My thanks go especially to Gareth Stedman Jones for his comments on the text. 1 Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin (3 vols.; London, 1888), I, 83. The passage was picked up by contemporaries, e.g., Benjamin Kidd, Social Evolution

Journal

Journal of the History of IdeasUniversity of Pennsylvania Press

Published: Apr 1, 2000

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