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538

THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

KANT AND EVOLUTION

By Professor ARTHUR O. LOVEJOY

THE JOHNS HOPKINS UNIVERSITY

I

IT has come to be one of the generally accepted legends of the history of science that the author of the "Kritik der reinen Vernunft "was also a pioneer of evolutionism. In the anthropological essays of the Koenigsberger, for example—we are assured by the writer of a German treatise on Kant's philosophy of nature[1]—"we already find the most essential conceptions of the modern theory of descent indicated, at least in germ—and, indeed, in a way that marks Kant out as a direct precursor of Darwin." The same expositor says:

Throughout these writings the idea of evolution plays everywhere the same rôle as in contemporary science.... The series of organisms is for Kant in a constant flux, in which the seemingly so stable differentiæ of genera and species have in reality only a relative and subsidiary significance.

And in a famous passage of the "Kritik der Urteilskraft," says another writer, "the present-day doctrine of descent is clearly expressed in its fundamental features."[2] Haeckel, who is in the main followed by Osborn, goes even farther in his ascription of Darwinian and "monistic" ideas to Kant's earlier works, though he thinks that in later life Kant fell from grace. Haeckel says:[3]

In various works of Kant, especially in those written in his earlier years (between 1755 and 1775) are scattered a number of very important passages which would justify our placing him by the side of Lamarck and Goethe as the principal and most interesting of Darwin's precursors.... He maintains the derivation of the various organisms from common primary forms, . . . and was the first to discover the principle of the "struggle for existence" and the theory of selection. For these reasons we should unconditionally have to assign a place of honor in the history of the theory of development to our mighty Koenigsberg philosopher, were it not that, unfortunately, these remarkable monistic ideas of young Kant were at a subsequent period wholly suppressed by the overwhelming influence of the dualistic, Christian conception of the universe.

  1. Drews, "Kants Naturphilosophie," 1894, pp. 44, 48.
  2. Schultze, "Kant and Darwin," 1875, p. 217. Schultze's monograph, perhaps the earliest, and hitherto the most comprehensive, on the subject, seems to be responsible for much of the error into which subsequent writers have fallen. It consists, indeed, chiefly of reprints of the greater part of each of the writings in which Kant approaches the topic in question; but it is accompanied by a commentary and notes in which Schultze gives a highly misleading impression of Kant's actual utterances.
  3. "History of Creation," Lankester's translation, 1892, p. 103. Cf. Osborn, "From the Greeks to Darwin," 1894, pp. 98-9.