1902 Encyclopedia > Evolution > Evolution in Philosophy: Influence of Darwinism in Germany.

(Part 31)


Influence of Darwinism in Germany.—We will close the sketch of the recent German discussion of evolution-problems, and so our historical review as a whole, by a brief reference to the philosophic and quasi-philosophic literature which has sprung up in Germany under the direct influence of Mr Darwin’s doctrine. It is not a little curious that, of the two great English evolutionists, the one who has most stimulated German philosophical thought is the writer who has confined himself to question of natural science, which the writer who has built up the idea of organic descent into a complete cosmological theory is only now beginning to be known in that country.

(a) Darwinism and Methodology.—First of all, then, a bare allusion must be made to certain criticism of Mr Darwin’s biological hypothesis as legitimate instruments of a sound natural philosophy. It may surprise some English readers to learn that the doctrine of the descent of species by natural selection ha sbeen denounced in Germany as partaking of the vices of a spurious and teleological natural philosophy. The writer who has taken most pains to show up the philosophic unsoundness of Mr Darwin’s procedure is A. Wigand (Der Darwinismus und die Naturforschung Newton’s und Cuvier’s see especially vol. ii.)

(b) Darwinism and Cosmology.—Turning now to the influences of Darwinism on German though, we may best begin with the more circumscribed branches of speculation. Physical speculation in Germany is being slowly affected by Mr Darwin’s theory. A curious examples of this is to be met with in a little work by Dr Karl du Prel, entitled Der Kampf was Dasein am Himmel. This work is of real philosophic interest as illustrating how Mr Darwin’s way of conceiving self-preservation, as the effect of natural superiority in respect of adaptability to the conditions of existence, may be extended beyond the organic world to the cosmos as a whole. Du Prel regards the cosmic bodies as analogous to competing organisms, space standing for the means of existence for which they struggle, and the force of attraction and the fitness of the body’s movement in relation to those of other bodies representing organic efficiently. Those of other bodies representing organic efficiency. Those bodies which have these advantages survive, whereas those which lack them are extinguished either by being dissipated or fused with other bodies .

(c) Darwinism and Anthropology.—Passing by the biological speculations respecting the ultimate origin of living forms to which Darwinism has rise we pass to those aspects of anthropology which have a peculiar philosophic interest. In a same sense it may be said that Mr Darwin’s speculations, especially as carried out by himself in his Descent of Man, have powerfully influenced the whole of recent anthropological speculation ; for writers like A. Bastian (Schöpfung und Entstehung and Der Mensch in der Geschichte), who still hold to the doctrine of the fixity of species, and the essential difference between human history and sequences of natural events, are now the exceptions. With anthropology, we must connect that new science of comparative human psychology (Völkerpsychologie) which has sprung up of late years.

(d) Origin of Language.—Of the problems which fall under this science of man’s genesis and development, none has more of philosophic interest than the question of the origin of language. This question, which lies at the very threshold of a proper understanding of the relation of man’s mental nature to that of the lower animals, is touched on by Mr Darwin himself in his Descent of Man. In Germany it is being earnestly discussed by a number of writers, on whom the influence of Mr Darwin’s theory of human descent is very marked. Among the writers who have explicity applied the method of evolution, as defined by Mr Darwin, to the explanation of language, may be mentioned A. Schleicher,1 L. Geirger,2 Dr G. Jäger,3 Wilhelm Bleek, and Ernest Haeckel. Jäger, who assumes that man is the immediate descendant of ape-like progenitors,

FOOTNOTE (p.769)

(1) Die Darwin’ sche Theorie und die Sprachwissenschaft.

(2) Der Ursprung der Sprache.

(3) Ueber den Ursprung der menschlichen Sprache.

(4) Ueber den Irsprung de Sprache.

(5) The History of Creation, ii. p. 300 sq.

connects the first beginning of human speech with a superiority in the command of the actions of respiration which is involved in man’s erect posture.

(e) Darwinism and Psychology.—From anthropology we pass to psychology. Here the influence of Darwinism meets us too. Among recent psychologists W. Wundt, in his Grundzüge der physiologischen Psychologie, makes frequent use of the doctrine of a gradual evolution of mental dispositions by means of heredity. He would, for example, explain the rapidity with which the space-perception is formed in the infant mind by help of such an inherited disposition. Wundt appears to lean to the hypothesis of ultimate sentient elements, by the summation of whose rudimentary feelings arises the unity of consciousness.

The wider consequences of Mr Darwin’s theory in the domain of psychology are briefly indicated by Dr Georg von Giz’ycki, in his little work Die philosophischen Consequenzen der Lamarck-Darwin’schen Entwicklungstheorie. He argues against attributing sensation to all material things, which supposition (unlike Proffesor Clifford) he does not regard as a necessary consequence of the evolution hypothesis. He distinctly seizes the bearing of this doctrine on our conception of mind (animal as well as human) as identical in its fundamental laws, and as presenting to the psychologist a single serial development ; and he still further follows Mr Spencer in connecting all mental activity with vital functions essential to the preservation of the individual and of the race. Finally, he adopts the view that the mental organism depends on the laws of the external universe. The harmony or adaptation which we see holding between thoughts and things must be interpreted as the effect of the latter acting on and modifying the former in conformity with themselves.

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