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Chauncey Wright was an early intellectual follower of Darwin, and a mentor to American pragmatists, C.S. Peirce and William James. Starting with the discussion of Wright’s interpretation of natural selection, the paper proceeds to outline the distinction he draws between theoretical (scientific) and practical consciousness and the way that this distinction plays out in his account of the development of human consciousness within the context of natural selection. Formulating the problem of reconfiguring the relationship between instrumental intelligence and detached theoretical reason in the light of evolutionary thinking is then identified as central to understanding Wright’s intellectual legacy.