Darwin as an epistemologist

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In this article I argue that Darwin was the author, quite contrary to his original intentions, of a fundamental revolution in the theory of scientific knowledge. In 1838, in order to meet the anti-evolutionist challenge of his professional colleague, William Whewell, he began to sketch a transmutationist theory of the origin of human ideas which would explain the success of inductive science: its discovery of what Whewell and his contemporaries thought were necessary and certain truths. But though it explained how scientific ideas originated, Darwin's theory implied also that theoretical certainty in science was impossible. Thus Darwin's evolutionism when combined with Whewell's a priorism led to a thorough-going fallibilism. This was worked out in detail by W. K. Clifford, a Cambridge evolutionist, Kantian and fallibilist.

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00033798700200271

Affiliations: Department of Political Studies, Queen's University at Kingston, Ontario, Canada, K7L 3N6

Publication date: July 1, 1987

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