Term Paper: Darwinian Ideas

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Darwinian Ideas

How much influence did the work of Charles Darwin have on Herbert Spencer, William Graham Sumner, and Lester Frank Ward? And who has made the better case in terms of plugging Darwin's evolutionary concepts and theories into late 19th Century American Society? This paper examines the ideas presented by Spencer, Sumner, and Ward, and offers the opinion that Spencer had the greater influence on the future of American thought and social values. There are many so-called "experts" on cultures and religion that invoke the word "evolution" (in putting down evolution as a scientific theory in order to promote a "creationist" agenda), it is worthwhile to look to the past for thinkers' views on Darwin and evolution.

Meanwhile, the same year that Herbert Spencer - a nineteenth century social scientist - published his much-heralded essay on school curriculum ("What Knowledge is of Most Worth"), Charles Darwin published his earth-shaking, scientifically revolutionary title, Origins of the Species. And it is clear that "evolutionary thinking was entering into scientific discourse" (Silberman, 2003), and as a result, the concept of evolution (on many levels) was "transforming our understanding of man's place in the natural order..." Silberman writes in the Journal of Education.

As for Spencer's use of Darwinian thought, the social scientist's work reflected a "relentless effort to formulate an overarching theory of evolution and to bring it to bear on all matters human."

Evolution (social and biological evolution), in the view of Spencer, "is fundamentally a process of integration and differentiation..." Even the gestation of a living creature, Spencer believed, "is an evolutionary process whereby an initial undifferentiated mass is transformed into a complex organism, each part distinct from, but related to, the other parts," Silverman wrote. Spencer was apparently seen as a genius in terms of understanding - and putting into words and concepts - that just as "human history provides evidence for the specific laws of social evolution and must, in turn, be understood in light of such laws.

William Graham Sumner - who was, according to the Journal of Libertarian Studies, a "pioneering sociologist" and "astute historian of the early American republic" - critiqued democracy in 20th Century as "plutocratic, paternalistic, and imperialist" (Trask, 2004). He saw the western nation-states as "too geographically extensive, populous, and diverse" to ever achieve democracy; he saw the "great mass" of Europeans and Americans as "incapable of self-government"; and further, he believed the "plutocrats in America" would become imperialistic and "warlike, and would gradually extend paternal protections to the masses.

Around the year 1876, Sumner began reading Charles Darwin, Thomas Huxley, and Herbert Spencer, and Trask asserts that in particular, Spencer's books, Social Statics, First Principles, and Study of Sociology "exerted enormous influence on his thought." It was from this point on that Sumner became more and more interested in social theory, and in the mid-1890s, began devoting "his full attention to sociology."

How influenced was he by Darwin's work? Scholars and critics have "mistakenly cited Sumner as the leading Social Darwinist… [END OF PREVIEW]

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