American Philosophy

Social Darwinism

What was evolutionary thought like in America during the nineteenth century?

Within educated communities, Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution was broadly accepted as an accurate history of living beings. Since Deism, or the idea that God was suffused throughout nature, was a widespread perspective at the time, there was not an obvious conflict between religious accounts of creation and evolution. Discussion more commonly centered on whether social forms of evolution were ruthlessly competitive or cooperative. As in nineteenth century European thought, there were two perspectives: life in society, as in nature, was “red in tooth and claw” and a matter of “survival of the fittest;” or, life in society, as in nature, evolved through cooperation. It is not surprising that the transcendentalists favored the cooperative view.


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