, Volume 20, Issue 4, pp 333-343
Date: 14 Nov 2009

Darwinism and the social sciences, 1859–1914

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Social Darwinism has long been considered the main episode in the relationship between Darwinism and the social sciences. This is not quite correct, as social Darwinism was by no means a dominant stream in the social sciences between the XIXth and the XX centuries. Furthermore, the term social Darwinism covers too many things to be of real use: Darwin’s name was invoked by supporters of nearly every possible shade of opinion. The paper aims at disentangling social Darwinism, showing that there were many competing varieties of it. To do this, it starts by assessing Darwin’own position. After discussing such issues as eugenics, racism, cooperation versus competition, and egoism versus altruism, the paper deals with the attitude of leading sociologists, such as Durkheim, Pareto, Weber, towards Darwinism and the biological sciences.
This article belongs to a special issue dedicated to the Meeting “Il mondo dopo Darwin”, Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, Rome, 11 February–12 February 2009.