Springer Nature is making SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 research free. View research | View latest news | Sign up for updates

Typology Reconsidered: Two Doctrines on the History of Evolutionary Biology


Recent historiography of 19th century biology supports the revision of two traditional doctrines about the history of biology. First, the most important and widespread biological debate around the time of Darwin was not evolution versus creation, but biological functionalism versus structuralism. Second, the “idealist” and “typological” structuralist theories of the time were not particularly anti-evolutionary. Typological theories provided argumentation and evidence that was crucial to the refutation of Natural Theological creationism. The contrast between functionalist and structuralist approaches to biology continues today, and the historical misunderstanding of 19th century typological biology may be one of its effects. This historical case can shed light on current controversies regarding the relevance of developmental biology to evolution.

This is a preview of subscription content, log in to check access.


  1. Amundson, R.: 1990, 'Doctor Dennett and Doctor Pangloss: Perfection and Selection in Psychology and Biology', Behavioral and Brain Sciences 13, 577–584.

  2. Amundson, R.: 1994, 'Two Concepts of Constraint: Adaptationism and the Challenge from Developmental Biology', Philosophy of Science 61, 556–578.

  3. Amundson, R.: 1996, 'Historical Development of the Concept of Adaptation', in M. Rose and G.V. Lauder (eds.), Adaptation, Academic Press, New York.

  4. Amundson, R.: forthcoming, 'Adaptation and Development: On the Lack of Common Ground', in S. Orzack and E. Sober (eds.), Adaptation and Optimality.

  5. Appel, T.: 1987, The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate: French Biology in the Decades before Darwin, Oxford University Press, New York.

  6. Bell, Sir C.: 1833, The Hand: Its Mechanism and Vital Endowments as Evincing Design, Bridgewater Treatise, Treatise IV, William Pickering, London.

  7. Bowler, P.J.: 1977, 'Darwinism and the Argument from Design: Suggestions for a Reevaluation', Journal of the History of Biology 10, 29–43.

  8. Bowler, P.J.: 1984, Evolution: The History of an Idea, University of California Press, Berkeley.

  9. Bowler, P.J.: 1988, The Non-Darwinian Revolution, Johns Hopkins Press, Baltimore.

  10. Cain, A.J.: 1964, 'The Perfection of Animals', in J.D. McCarthy and C.L. Duddington (eds.), Viewpoints in Biology, Butterworths, London.

  11. Clark, J.W. and Hughes, T.M.: 1890, The Life and Letters of Adam Sedgwick, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  12. Darwin, C.: 1859, On the Origin of Species. [Reprint, Facsimile of 1st edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA, 1964.]

  13. Darwin, C.: 1872, On the Origin of Species, 6th edition. John Murray, London.

  14. Depew, D. and Weber, B.H.: 1995, Darwinism Evolving, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.

  15. Desmond, A.: 1989, The Politics of Evolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  16. Geoffroy St.-Hilaire, É.: 1830, 'On the Philosophy of Nature' (report from Le Globe), Edinburgh New Philosophical Journal 8, 152–155.

  17. Ghiselin, M.T.: 1969, The Triumph of the Darwinian Method, University of California Press, Berkeley.

  18. Gilbert, S.F., Opitz, J.M., and Raff, R.A.: 1996, 'Resynthesizing Evolutionary and Development Biology', Developmental Biology 173, 357–372.

  19. Gillespie, N.C.: 1987, 'Natural Order, Natural Theology, and Social Order: John Ray and the “Newtonian Ideology”', Journal of the History of Biology 20, 1–47.

  20. Goodwin, B.C.: 1982, 'A Relational or Field Theory of Reproduction and its Evolutionary Implications', in M.W. Ho and P.T. Saunders (eds.), Beyond Neo-Darwinism, Academic Press, New York.

  21. Gould, S.J.: 1983, 'Irrelevance, Submission, and Partnership: The Changing Role of Paleontology in Darwin's Three Centennials, and a Modest Proposal for Macroevolution', in D.S. Bendall (ed.), Evolution from Molecules to Men, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  22. Greene, J.C.: 1959, The Death of Adam: Evolution and its Impact on Western Thought, University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.

  23. Gruber, J.W.: 1960, A Conscience in Conflict: The Life of St. George Jackson Mivart, Columbia University Press, New York.

  24. Hall, B.K.: 1992, Evolutionary Developmental Biology, Chapman & Hall, London.

  25. Hamburger, V.: 1980, 'Embryology and the Modern Synthesis in Evolutionary Theory', in E. Mayr and W. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  26. Hopkins, W.: 1860, 'Physical Theories of the Phenomena of Life', Fraser's Magacine, June, 739–753. Reprinted 1973 in D. Hull (ed.), Darwin and His Critics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  27. Hull, D.L.: 1965, 'The Effect of Essentialism on Taxonomy: 2000 Years of Stasis', British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 15, 314–326; 16, 1–18.

  28. Hull, D.L.: 1973, 'Introductory', in Darwin and His Critics, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  29. Hull, D.L.: 1983, 'Darwin and the Nature of Science', in D.S. Bendall (ed.), Evolution from Molecules to Men, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  30. Lenoir, T.: 1982, The Strategy of Life, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  31. Lurie, E.: 1960, Louis Agassiz: A Life in Science, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  32. Mayr, E.: 1959a, 'Darwin and the Evolutionary Theory in Biology', in Evolution and Anthropology: A Centennial Approach, Anthropological Society of America, Washington, DC.

  33. Mayr, E.: 1959b, 'Agassiz, Darwin, and Evolution', Harvard Library Bulletin 13, 165–194.

  34. Mayr, E.: 1964, 'Introduction', in Charles Darwin, On the Origin of Species, reprint edition, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  35. Mayr, E.: 1980, 'Prologue: Some Thoughts on the History of the Evolutionary Synthesis', in E. Mayr and W. Provine (eds.), The Evolutionary Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  36. Mayr, E.: 1982, The Growth of Biological Thought, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  37. Mayr, E. and Provine, W.: 1980, The Evolutionary Synthesis, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA.

  38. McCosh, Rev. J.: 1851, 'Typical Forms: Goethe, Professor Owen, Mr. Fairbain', The North British Review, 389–418.

  39. Nyhart, L.: 1995, Biology Takes Form, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  40. Ospovat, D.: 1978, 'Perfect Adaptation and Teleological Explanation', Studies in History of Biology 2, 33–56.

  41. Ospovat, D.: 1981, The Development of Darwin's Theory, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

  42. Owen, R.: 1848, The Archetype and Homologies of the Vertebrate Skeleton, John van Voorst, London.

  43. Owen, R.: 1849, On the Nature of Limbs, John van Voorst, London.

  44. Paley, W.: 1831, The Works of William Paley; Complete in one volume, Thomas Nelson and Peter Brown, Edinburgh.

  45. Reeve, H.K. and Sherman, P.W.: 1993, 'Adaptation and the Goals of Evolutionary Research', The Quarterly Review of Biology 68, 1–32.

  46. Rehbock, P.F.: 1985, The Philosophical Naturalists, University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, WI.

  47. Richards, E.: 1987, 'A Question of Property Rights: Richard Owen's Evolutionism Reassessed', British Journal for the History of Science 20, 129–171.

  48. Richards, R.J.: 1992, The Meaning of Evolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  49. Roget, P.M.: 1834, Animal and Vegetable Physiology Considered with Reference to Natural Theology, 2 vols., William Pickering, London.

  50. Rupke, N.: 1994, Richard Owen: Victorian Naturalist, Yale University Press, New Haven, CT.

  51. Ruse, M.: 1979, The Darwinian Revolution, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  52. Ruse, M.: 1993, 'Were Owen and Darwin Naturphilosophen?', Annals of Science 50, 383–388.

  53. Russell, E.S.: 1916, Form and Function, John Murray, London.

  54. Sloan, P.R.: 1992, 'On the Edge of Evolution', in R. Owen, it The Hunterian Lectures in Comparative Anatomy, May and June 1837, P.R. Sloan (ed.), University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

  55. Sober, E.: 1980, 'Evolution, Population Thinking, and Essentialism', Philosophy of Science 47, 350–383.

  56. Wake, D.B., Mabee, P., Hanken, J., and Wagner, G.: 1991, 'Development and Evolution – The Emergence of a New Field', in E.C. Dudley (ed.), The Unity of Evolutionary Biology: Proceedings of the Fourth International Congress of Systematic and Evolutionary Biology, Volume I, Dioscorides Press, Portland, OR.

  57. Wallace, B.: 1986, 'Can Embryologists Contribute to an Understanding of Evolutionary Mechanisms?', in W. Bechtel (ed.), Integrating Scientific Disciplines, Martinus Nijhoff Publishers, Dordrecht.

  58. Whewell, W.: 1863, History of the Inductive Sciences: From the Earliest to the Present Times, 3d edition, with additions, in two volumes, v. 2, D. Appleton and Company, New York.

Download references

Author information

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Amundson, R. Typology Reconsidered: Two Doctrines on the History of Evolutionary Biology. Biology & Philosophy 13, 153–177 (1998).

Download citation

  • typology
  • essentialism
  • idealism
  • adaptationism
  • morphology
  • Richard Owen