Journal of the History of Biology

, Volume 46, Issue 1, pp 103–124 | Cite as

Evolution Born of Moisture: Analogies and Parallels Between Anaximander’s Ideas on Origin of Life and Man and Later Pre-Darwinian and Darwinian Evolutionary Concepts

  • Radim KočandrleEmail author
  • Karel Kleisner


This study focuses on the origin of life as presented in the thought of Anaximander of Miletus but also points to some parallel motifs found in much later conceptions of both the pre-Darwinian German romantic science and post-Darwinian biology. According to Anaximander, life originated in the moisture associated with earth (mud). This moist environment hosted the first living creatures that later populated the dry land. In these descriptions, one can trace the earliest hints of the notion of environmental adaptation. The origin of humans was seen as connected in some way with fish: ancient humans were supposed to have developed inside fish-like animals. Anaximander took into account changes in the development of living creatures (adaptations) and speculated on the origins of humans. Similar ideas are found also in the writings of much later, eighteenth and nineteenth century authors who were close to the tradition of German romantic science. We do not argue that these later concepts are in any way directly linked with those of the pre-Socratics, but they show surprising parallels in, e.g., the hypothesis that life originated in a moist environment or the supposition that human developed from fish-like ancestors. These transformations are seen as a consequence of timeless logic rather than as evolution in historical terms. Despite the accent on the origin of living things, both Anaximander and the later Naturphilosophen lack in their notions the element most characteristic of Darwin’s thought, that is, the emphasis on historicity and uniqueness of all that comes into being.


Adaptation Anaximander Anthropogony Evolution Moisture Zoogony 


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© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy, Faculty of Philosophy and ArtsUniversity of West BohemiaPilsenCzech Republic
  2. 2.Department of Philosophy and History of Science, Faculty of ScienceCharles UniversityPrague 2Czech Republic

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