medhist00074-0003

medhist00074-0003 - MedicalHistory, 1985,29:237-258....

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Unformatted text preview: MedicalHistory, 1985,29:237-258. RICHARD OWEN'S HUNTERIAN LECTURES ON COMPARATIVE ANATOMY AND PHYSIOLOGY, 1837-55 by NICHOLAS RUPKE* Inrecentyears, historiansofbiologyhavedrawnattentiontothefactthatduringthe period 1830-59-the three decades before thepublicationofDarwin's Originof species-a majorchangetookplaceinbiologicalthoughtinEngland.Teleological explanations ofthe Cuvierian and Paleyan kind were amended, ifnot entirely supplanted, by a mixtureofidealistand transcendentalistphilosophies.Thisnew approachsoughtto explainorganicdiversityasvariations onidealor primitivetypes. Thus the significance oforganic structure was no longer primarily itsadaptive function,buttheunderlyinglawbywhichitcouldbereducedtoageneraltype.Inthis way, organicdiversityassumed ahistoricalmeaningwhichcouldbediscoveredby means ofthe studyofcomparative anatomy, embryonic development, and fossil succession. Ospovat has arguedthat,on thebasisofthischangeinbiologicalthought,the naturalistsofthemiddlepartofthenineteenthcenturyshouldnotbedividedinto creationistsand evolutionists,butintoteleologists,whocontinuedtotoethePaleyan line,and non-teleologists.1 Darwin belonged to the lattergroup, and Ospovat's division sheds new lighton the cognitive side of Darwinism and as such isof philosophicalvalue.Itshistoricalworth,however,islimitedbythefactthatthetwo groups hadlittleifanysocialreality:theydidnotconstituteactualcirclesoffriendsor colleagues.Inparticular,thenon-teleologicalgroup,whichincludedsuchopponents ofDarwin as Louis Agassizand Richard Owen, represented merely a clusterof scientificviews,notagroup ofcollaboratingnaturalists. Like Ospovat, Jacyna has emphasized the importance of idealist thought in English biology ofthe 1830s and 1840s.2Both authors single out Martin Barry, William Carpenter, and Owen as the main advocates of the new approach. * DrNicholasA.Rupke,WellcomeInstitutefortheHistoryofMedicine,183EustonRoad,LondonNW1 2BP. IDov Ospovat, 'Perfectadaptation and teleologicalexplanation: approaches totheproblem ofthe historyoflifeinthemid-nineteenthcentury',StudiesintheHistoryofBiology, 1978,2:33-56.Seealso, idem, 'TheinfluenceofKarlErnstvon Baer'sembryology, 1828-59: areappraisalinlightofRichard Owen'sandWilliamB.Carpenter's"Palaeontologicalapplicationof'Von Baer'sLaw"",J.Hist.Biol., 1976,9:1-28;idem, ThedevelopmentofDarwin'stheory:Naturalhistory,naturaltheology,andnatural selection, 1838-59, Cambridge UniversityPress,1981. IL.S.Jacyna,'The Romanticprogramme and thereceptionofcelltheoryinBritain',J.Hist.Biol., 1984,17:13-48.Seealso,idem, 'Principlesofgeneralphysiology:thecomparativedimensiontoBritish neuroscienceinthe 1830sand 1840s',StudiesintheHistoryofBiology, 1984,7:47-92....
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This note was uploaded on 01/16/2012 for the course BI 200 taught by Professor Potter during the Fall '11 term at Montgomery College.

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medhist00074-0003 - MedicalHistory, 1985,29:237-258....

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