"Endless Forms" of Evolution? Heuristics in Darwin and Taine.

  • Andrew Court University of Edinburgh


Morse Peckham wrote in 1959 that rejection and misinterpretation had characterised the first one hundred years of Darwinism. After reviewing René Wellek's 1956 survey of evolutionary ideas in literary history and Joseph Carroll's 1995 discussion of Darwinism in Hippolyte Taine, I argue that Wellek and Carroll have failed to provide accurate accounts of Darwin's influence. I suggest that methodological parallels must be found to make a claim for a theoretical approach being "Darwinian." I consider why The Origin of Species might have appealed methodologically to Taine by examining Darwin's argument, and then suggest that there is a better evaluative criterion of influence—that of "heuristic support"—than those provided by Wellek or Carroll. I test the hypothesis that the "shape" of Taine's theory in History of English Literature is the same as that of Darwin's theory in the Origin. I summarise Taine's theory in brief outline, counter Carroll's claim that Taine was a "biological determinist," and show that Taine's theory was congruent at the explanatory, methodological level with Darwin's, finding that Taine used the same kind of heuristic support to overcome procedural problems similar to Darwin's. I conclude that literary scholars must make better use of specialist scholarship in history and philosophy of science to answer Peckham's charge.
How to Cite
Court, Andrew. 2006. “"Endless Forms" Of Evolution? Heuristics in Darwin and Taine.”. FORUM: University of Edinburgh Postgraduate Journal of Culture & The Arts, August. http://www.forumjournal.org/article/view/560.