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IAN SHAW 'Of Plain Signification': Darwin's World in the First Edition of The Origin of Species! William James, at the end of his Psychology: Briefer Course, says 'from the common sense point of view (which is that of all the natural sciences) knowledge is an ultimate relation between two mutually external realities, the knower and the known.' And he writes elsewhere in the same volume [that] 'Whilst part ofwhat we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part (and it may be the larger) always comes out of our own mind.'2 james's remarks point the way that my paper will take: Darwin in· the Origin3 shows that his science establishes no exception to james's observation that the point of view of the natural sciences is that of common sense. Darwin does not use the term 'common sense' to describe his approach to his subject,4 but he does put his faith in what he calls the 'plain signification' of facts. His view is that facts seen clearlytheir plain meaning of significance recognized - speak for themselves, and make, we infer, common sense.s But when Darwin takes the common-sense road, he is making that separation between the knower and the known to which James refers, and thereby ignores a reality of experience to which James also points, implying as he does that if data are to become facts, they require a perceptive observer to speak for them, an observer who, in speaking, will make clear, willy nilly, the fact that part of what we perceive '(and it may be the larger) always comes out of our own mind.' He had clearly forgotten his own wise comment in the Origin that 'by the experiment itself the conditions of life are changed' (77). My concern here is to show what the evidence is that Darwin, for the most part, is only implicitly aware that he is involved in what he observes, and to indicate some of the ways in which the Origin's model of the world is shaped by the fact that Darwin-is a particular man living in a particular culture at a particular time.6 In the process I shall be adding to a debate that has been going on for some time, which is concerned most particularly with the implications of Darwin's language in the Origin. Gillian Beer is surely right (in more ways than she knows) to point out that 'The Origin of Species is one of the most extraordinary examples of a work which included more than the maker of it at the time knew, despite all that he did know.,7 UNIVERSITY OF TORONTO QUARTERLY. VOLUME 62, NUMBER 3, SPRING 1993 'THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES' 357 Darwin's enthusiastic application of MalthusB to the world's flora and fauna raises inevitably the question of what else from human culture also found its way into Darwin's model of the natural world. Marx was very perceptive, noting that there was a good deal else being 'applied with manifold force to the animal and vegetable kingdoms,' as well as Malthus. Marx writes: Darwin ... amuses me when he says he is applying the 'Malthusian' theory also to plants and animals, as if with Mr. Malthus the whole ,point were not that he does not apply the theory to plants and animals but only to human beings and with geometrical progression - as opposed to plants and animals. It is remarkable how Darwin recognizes among beasts and plants his English society with its division of labour, competition, opening-up of new markets, 'inventions ,' and the Malthusian 'struggle for existence.'9 Others have also found it remarkable. Patrick Geddes, writing in 1882, had perceived that the substitution of Darwin for Paley, as the interpreter of the order of nature is currently regarded as the displacement of an anthropomorphic view by a purely' scientific one: a little reflection, however, will show that what has actually happened has been merely the replacement of the anthropomorphism of the eighteenth century by that of the nineteenth. For the place vacated by Paley's theological and metaphysical explanation has simply been occupied by that suggested to Darwin...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1712-5278
Print ISSN
0042-0247
Pages
pp. 356-374
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-02
Open Access
No
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