Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 78.djvu/41

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KANT AND EVOLUTION

"Elucidation of the Conception of a Race of Men."[1] These two essays do not significantly differ in doctrine, and they may most conveniently be dealt with here as slightly variant expressions of the same arguments and conclusions. They are among the most important documents for the determination of Kant's position with respect to the theory of evolution.

Kant derived not only most of his zoological facts, but also some of his ideas of scientific method, from Buffon. The latter, like Maupertuis, had ridiculed the "systems" and "methods" of the great systematists, Linnaeus and Tournefort, and had looked with a good deal of contempt upon their absorption in purely descriptive and classificatory science. Schemes of classification were convenient, no doubt, and accurate description essential; but there was a higher stage of scientific inquiry to which these were merely vestibulary. Buffon wrote:[2]

We ought to try to rise to something greater and still more worthy of occupying us—that is to say, to combine observations, to generalize the facts, to link them together by the force of analogy, and to endeavor to arrive at that high degree of knowledge in which one can recognize particular effects as dependent upon more general effects, can compare nature with herself in her larger processes.

This spirit Kant had in some degree caught; and in the "Physical Geography" he proposes a modification in the nomenclature of the sciences which should express the distinction between two types of scientific inquiry. He observes:

We are accustomed to use the words "Natursbeschreihung" (description of nature) and "Naturgeschichte"[3] (natural history) as synonymous. But it is manifest that the knowledge of the things of nature as they now are still leaves to be desired a knowledge of what they previously have been, and of the changes through which they have passed in order to arrive at their present condition. A "history of nature"—such as is still almost completely lacking—would make known to us the alterations of the form of the earth and those which the terrestrial creatures (plants and animals) have undergone in the course of their natural migrations, and their consequent divergences from the primitive type of their ancestral species (Stammgattung). Such a science would probably reduce a great number of seemingly distinct species (Arten) to mere races of a single genus (Oattung), and would transform the now current artificial system (Schulayatem) of nature-description into a physical system for the understanding.

In this, manifestly, Kant shows a lively sense of the nature and importance of genetic problems in the investigations of the naturalist. It is true that he somewhat naively makes the distinction between the

  1. "Bestimmung des Begriffs einer Menschenrace," here referred to as the "Conception of Race." V. Hartenstein edition, IV., 215.
  2. "Discours de la manière d'étudier et de traiter l'histoire naturelle." In "Œuvres," Lanessan ed., Vol. I., p. 6.
  3. Later (in the "Use of Teleological Principles") Kant proposed to express this distinction by the words "physiography" and "physiogony."