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  • Print publication year: 2008
  • Online publication date: January 2009

17 - The Origin and Philosophy



Darwinism is all the rage in philosophy these days. Evolutionary thinking of one kind or another is frequently used to illuminate such areas as ethics (e.g., Joyce 2006), epistemology (e.g., Hull 1988), and the philosophy of mind (e.g., Sterelny 2003). But it is one thing to examine how evolutionary work in a broadly Darwinian style has influenced philosophy, another to ask what form of philosophical insight is present in Darwin’s own oeuvre. And it is something else yet again to ask what the specific relationship might be between philosophy and the Origin of Species. This last question can be broken down into an analysis of the work’s philosophical legacy and an analysis of its philosophical content.

Since the Origin has so often been taken by later thinkers as the canonical statement of a Darwinian worldview, any project of assessing that book’s philosophical legacy risks sliding toward a hopelessly ambitious attempt to embrace all those subsequent forms of philosophical Darwinism that the Origin has inspired. This essay consequently focuses on the Origin’s own philosophical content. In the next section I will catalogue some of the philosophical themes that arise in it.