Alfred Russel Wallace’s world of final causes


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.

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A reduced version of this work was presented at the conference “One Hundred Years After Wallace” in Mexico City on March 8th, 2013.

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Correspondence to Charles H. Smith.

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This article is a contribution to the Special issue Alfred Russel Wallace (1823–1913): The man in the shadow of Charles Darwin—Guest Editors U. Kutschera, U. Hossfeld.

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Smith, C.H. Alfred Russel Wallace’s world of final causes. Theory Biosci. 132, 239–249 (2013).

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  • Alfred Russel Wallace
  • Final causes
  • Alexander von Humboldt
  • Evolution
  • Entropy maximization