American Philosophy

Social Darwinism

Was nineteenth century evolutionary thought connected to ideas of progress?

Not directly, because evolution was an external force, whereas progress depended on individual human effort. But the two notions were frequently associated, as in the ideas of American industrialist Andrew Carnegie. In general, notions of progress formed both ideals and practical motivations. Society as a whole was believed to be progressing, and individuals were motivated to advance in life by becoming materially prosperous. The prosperity of society was largely believed to be a matter of technology. The nineteenth century was the first full-fledged “machine age,” and it saw the inventions and wide use of the cotton gin, locomotive, telegraph, and electric lights, to name just a few.


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