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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 65.djvu/247

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243
EIGHTEENTH CENTURY EVOLUTIONISTS.

found in all those species which now exist? Chance, one might say, turned out a vast number of individuals; a small proportion of these were organized in such a manner that the animals' organs could satisfy their needs. A much greater number showed neither adaptation nor order; these last have all perished. . . . Thus the species which we see to-day are but a small part of all those that a blind destiny has produced." Maupertuis did not dogmatically maintain the antiteleological position which this criticism tended to justify; he only maintained that zoology can not assist theology, because the former has no need of teleological explanations and can sufficiently account for the degree of adaptation which exists on the principle which we should now call that of the survival of the fittest, i. e., of the best adapted.

Maupertuis had also his own theories in metaphysics; but these are so closely connected with his evolutionary views that the two should be considered together. I turn, then, to mention his work in promoting new ideas in natural science. He was the first to introduce the Newtonian physics and astronomy into France. In the face of a good deal of opposition, he successfully disseminated the doctrine of attraction among the learned; and it was apparently from him that Voltaire acquired a sufficient smattering of physics and astronomy to enable him to write his 'Eléments de la Philosophie de Newton' (1738). As became the president of an academy, Maupertuis undertook, in his 'Lettres' and 'Lettres sur le Progres des Sciences'[1] to sum up certain of the most important gains that had been made by scientific inquiry, and to lay down a program of experimental investigations next to be undertaken. These investigations, he urged, should be supported by the state, when they are too elaborate or too expensive to be undertaken by private enterprise. Some of his suggestions are pretty fantastic and impracticable; but the greater number show good sense and a keen appreciation of the importance of systematic experimentation, even in sciences where experimental methods had as yet been little used. He recommends, among other things, the exploration of the north and south polar regions, and of the interior of Africa, for the settlement of the chief unsettled questions in geography; urges the employment of experimental methods in zoology, especially in the study of the problems of heredity; advises specialization in medical


  1. 'Oeuvres,' 1756, tome II. The proposals contained in these letters were the special objects of Voltaire's ridicule. But—M. Desnoiresterres ('Voltaire et Frédéric,' ch. 8) to the contrary notwithstanding—Voltaire gains nearly all his effects either by deliberately misrepresenting Maupertuis, or by presenting as absurdities ideas which to the unprejudiced will rather seem evidences of soundness of judgment. The Kantian idealist of our time, for example, will find some lack of point in this attempt at the ironical: 'Le candidat (Maupertuis) se trompe, quand il dit que l'ètendue n'est qu'une perception de notre âme. S'il fait jamais de bonnes études, il verra que Petendue n'est pas comme le son et les couleurs, qui n'existent que dans nos sensations, comme le sait tout écolier.'