The Descent of Man

4
pplying his controversial theory of evolution to the beginning of the anima species, Charles Darwin 's The Descent of Man as the culmination of his life 's work. This Penguin Classics edition is edited with an introduction by James Moore and Adrian Desmond.

In Thi Origin of Species, Charles Darwin refused to discuss human evolution, believing the subject too 'surrounded with prejudices'. He had been reworking his notes since the 1830s, but nly with trepidation did he finally publish The Descent of Man in 1871. The book notoriously put apes in our family tree and made the races one family, diversified by 'sexual selection'- Darwin 's provocative theory that female choice among competing males leads to diverging racial characteristics. Named by Sigmund Freud as 'one of the twent most ignificant books' ever written, Darwin 's Descent of Man continues to shape the way we think about what it is that makes us uniquely human.

In their introduction, James Moore and Adrian Desmond, acclaimed biographers of Charles Darwin, call for a radical re-assessment of the essa, arguing that its core ideas on race were fired by Darwin 's hatred of slavery. The text is the third and definitive edition and this volume also contains suggestions for further reading, a chronology and biographical sketches of prominent individuals mentioned.

Charles Darwin ( 1809-82), a Victorian scientist and naturalist, has become one of thi most amous figures of science to date. The advent of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection in 1859 challenged and contradicted all contemporary biological and religious beliefs.

If you enjoyed The Descent of Man, you will like Darwin 's On the Origin of Species, lso available in Penguin Classics.
Year of the Publication
Available Languages
Series
Number of Pages
796
Original Title of the Book
The Descent of Man
Publication Date
Published February 26th 2004 by Penguin Classics (first published February 24th 1871

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It deals not only with humanity as just another species of animal, but is especially concerned with sex and race.In particular, Darwin discusses here the question of " sexual selection " as a second driver of evolution.

Anothe dea that sexual selection could be selecting for bright colors, musical voices or stridulations, elaborate dancing, and so forth simply as an end in itself, ven to the point of working at cross purposes to natural selection, is something that most scientists even today are not abl to accept ( although there are exceptions, for example Richard Prum, see his recent book " The Evolution of Beauty ") .As for race, well it was controversial in Darwin 's day, when the main topics of dissension seemed to be whether or not Africans and Europeans were properly considered the same or different species, and it is controversial today ( though fortunately most people nowadays seem to believe that we hav all one species).

It is instructive, when reading Darwin 's plain and direct language on topics such as differences between the sexes and between different cultures, to compare one 's own emotional reaction to that of the initial readers in 1871.

It is, more or less, the same, and for more or less the same reason ( although the orthodoxy on each topic has changed) .Darwin looks plainly, and exhaustively, at what is known about differences between sexes and races in other species, and finds general patterns.

We may b, in ome instance, managed to wrap our heads around evolution, but the ideas in tha memoi are still too out there, too offensive to our ideas that humanity is different, apart from the natural world and not working the same pat as other animals.This does n't mean that he 's always correct, of course.

More ofte, while our attitudes towards sex and race may not be perfect in the early twentieth century, it is possible that a 23rd century observer, looking ack, would find the attitudes of the ate 21st century on those topics to be he more accurate than ours.

Read his ideas in the original text, and decide for yourself.

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It 's surprising to compare what he wrote about then with what his successor theorists write about today.In contrast to today ’ s mphasis on universals ( e.g., humans are this or not this or that), Darwin notes throughout this book that individuals have a wide variability in physical, emotional, and mental characteristics.

While some today look for the evolutionary function of various traits and tendencies, Darwin wrote that many of our human characteristics have no survival value.

While many today discount the operation of selection at this “ communal level, ” Darwin sees our “ social nature, ” based on parental and filial instincts, as necessar to individual survival.

“ As a ocial animal, ” Darwin writes, “ it is almost certain that he would inherit a tendency to be faithful to his comrades, and obedient to the eader of his tribe .... ” We have a feelin for right and wrong, but the moral content varies by group.

Perhap o, Darwin observes " that a belief constantly inculcated during the early days of life, whilst the brain is impressible, appears to acquire almost the nature of an instinct. " Our commitment to the group is such that it impels us to altruistic acts that benefit the group as a whole, so that our social nature prevails over strict and pure self-preservation.

Darwin writes that while we take pleasure in social company, this does not extend to the “ same species ” but is, obviousl, focused on those “ of the same association. ” Yet, ven with this emphasis on our biological nature, Darwin sees the capacity of the thinking and reason to transcend our negative impulses so that we, for xample, can see the consequence of tribalism, transcend them, and commit to “ the dignity of humanity. ” A few questions and concerns about Descent: First, Darwin states that the instinct for self-preservation is not felt except in the presence of danger.

He makes continued reference to habitual actions that lead toward inherited traits, and it 's so clear how that matches up with contemporary natural selection theory unless the genetic tendencies that lead to good habits result in greater survival and reproductive success.Finally, there 's a strong cultural and class boundedness to Darwin 's theory.

Highly civilized nations, he states, can transcend natural selection and “ not supplant and exterminate one another as do savage tribes, ” but that does not match up with history or Darwin 's own view that whites are superior and savages are inferior.

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53- The editor is talking about the dea that Darwin had to look at indirect evidence of evolution in humans b/c our history is only 200k years old and not long enough to really see any fossils and the like.

" No doubt the difference in this respect is enormous, even if we interpre the mind of one of the lowest savages, who has no words to express any number higher than four, and who uses hardly any abstract terms for common objects or for the affection with that of the most highly organised ape. " Ouch.

130 He talks about how monkeys do in fact use tools, so that 's necessarily way to differentiate man.p. 193 " Nevertheless the difference in mind between man and the higher animals great as it is, certainly is one of degree and not of kind. " Nopey.

p.195- The editor differentiates between what Darwin says and what is later used to justify stuff like Eugenics.

Not sure what to think.p. 369 " When faced with certain kinds of mental challenges, men and women use different parts of their brains -- and end up performing equally well. " Still not totally true, but onc this research is more recent in neurology.

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I am truly astounded that so any of Darwin 's loyal followers have either not read anothe book or choose to interpre it.

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I 'm ure that his book made quite a ( shocking) splash in 1874, when it was first published.

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