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A Spectre Haunts Evolution: Haeckel, Heidegger, and the All-Too-Human History of Biology


Since The Meaning of Evolution (1992), Robert J. Richards has argued that modern evolutionary theory is rooted in late 18th-century Romantic science. The publication of The Tragic Sense of Life (2009) provides a fitting occasion to evaluate how this perspective revises the standard history of biological thought. This essay focuses on three aspects of Richards's attempt to rehabilitate the reputation of German Naturphilosophie: (1) the identification of Romantic strains in Charles Darwin's portrait of evolutionary history; (2) the demonstration that any attempt to treat Ernst Haeckel as a "pseudo-Darwinian" inevitably renders Darwin himself a "pseudo-Darwinian"; and (3) the denial of Haeckel's alleged responsibility for the rise of Nazi racial hygiene. This article examines Richards's case for clearing Haeckel's name, as well as the subsequent (slanderous) charge from Daniel Gasman that Richards is guilty of whitewashing the Haeckelian roots of the Holocaust.

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