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7 - Nietzsche and Darwin

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 July 2010

Jane Maienschein
Affiliation:
Arizona State University
Michael Ruse
Affiliation:
University of Guelph, Ontario
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Summary

INTRODUCTION

First, a few dates. When Charles Darwin (1809–82) published The Origin of Species, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) was age fifteen. The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche's first book, appeared in 1872, a year after Darwin's The Descent of Man. It revealed no particular interest in biological theories, although it already contained the theme of vital values. Nietzsche's serious commentaries on Darwin and the Darwinians began in Human All-Too-Human (1878) and developed uninterruptedly from then on. The high point of that somewhat one-sided “dialogue” was the Genealogy of Morals (1887), a book explicitly written against the Darwinian view of the origin of morals and published shortly before Nietzsche's definitive descent into madness (early 1889). On the other side of the relationship, Darwin never alluded to Nietzsche in his published work, nor, as far as I know, in his correspondence. It is likely that Darwin did not know of Nietzsche's existence. Therefore, there was nothing like a reciprocal relationship between Nietzsche and Darwin. But there is no doubt that Nietzsche, the most famous philosopher of the second half of the nineteenth century, was concerned with Darwin. This essay aims to provide a systematic evaluation of Nietzsche's work in those areas in which he felt the necessity to position himself with regard to Darwin, or “Darwinism,” as he knew it.

Strangely enough, although most philosophers may be vaguely aware of some relationship between Nietzsche and Darwin, analyses of that relationship have been rare in the modern philosophical literature (after 1945), and they generally have been poorly documented. That has been true for both historians of philosophy and philosophers of biology.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1999

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