Original Paper

Theory in Biosciences

, Volume 132, Issue 4, pp 239-249

First online:

Alfred Russel Wallace’s world of final causes

  • Charles H. SmithAffiliated withDepartment of Library Public Services, Western Kentucky University Email author 

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Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913) is an important figure in the history of science, but there remain many questions about the nature of his world view, and how it developed. Here, Wallace’s appreciation of the role of final causes in evolution is linked to some of its probable origins, with an emphasis on the influence of Alexander von Humboldt (1769–1859). The question is then asked whether a final causes-based scientific agenda might be possible, and answered by drawing attention to two current efforts in that direction by Adrian Bejan, and by the author. A sketch of the latter approach, adapted from Spinozian thinking, is given, with an empirical example involving drainage basin morphology that suggests structural influences of a final causes sort.


Alfred Russel Wallace Final causes Alexander von Humboldt Evolution Entropy maximization