J.-B. LAMARCK AND THE PHILOSOPHY OF NATURE IN FRANCE
by Frederick Gregory
Department of History
University of Florida
Whether or not one can speak meaningfully of a romantic version of science in France in the first years of the nineteenth century is certainly open to question. If, as with the Germans, romanticism can be linked to science through an emphasis on the broad implications of scientific ideas and an appreciation of speculation, then the thought of the French scientist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck is surely romantic. If, on the other hand, the romantic perspective excludes those who value highly the role of observation and experiment, who shun metaphysical and religious issues as foreign enterprises, and who believe themselves obligated to deal only with naturalistic and materialistic explanations in science, then Lamarck is among the detractors of romanticism.
How Jean Baptiste Lamarck combined both these romantic and non-romantic characteristics in one person will be the subject of the exposition that follows. I have chosen to include Lamarck's work here because, as indicated at the outset of this essay, it does in some measure display intellectual affinities to certain aspects of romanticism. I do not mean to suggest that Lamarck is himself most accurately portrayed as a romantic, nor that Lamarckianism is romanticism in science. In fact Lamarck was something of an amphibian. Part of him, the part he was most aware of in himself, operated strictly according to the canons of French Newtonianism. The other side, which led to his unofficial ostracism by members of the French scientific community, produced sweeping speculation about nature's creative production of life on earth.
In what follows, then, I shall not be as concerned with Lamarckianism as an example of French romantic science as I will be to provide a multifarious analysis of Lamarck's work in all its complexity, including both its romantic and nonromantic aspects. Any generalizations about the relationship between Lamarckianism and Romanticism will be left to the reader.
Lamarck and the French Scientific Community
As a young man of 20 J. B. Lamarck found himself stationed with the army in the south of France. His company was moved from the Mediterranean coast to an alpine region in the period between 1764 ant 1768, giving young Lamarck an opportunity to make use of his newly found interest in botany to contrast the flora of two very diverse environments.
This early interest in botany proved to be more significant than a mere passing fancy. In the mid-1700's Lamarck decided to try to make the natural sciences a full time career. He became a member of the circle of botanists and students at the Jardin du Roi, and then, in 1777, he completed a work on the flora of France that received recognition from one of the most respected naturalists of the time. Georges Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon arranged to have Lamarck's work published, and not long thereafter he assisted in obtaining for Lamarck a position in the botanical section of the Académie des Sciences. When in 1781 Buffon created for Lamarck the position of correspondent of the Jardin et Cabinet du Roi, Lamarck's rise in the French scientific community appeared to be assured.
Under the pressures of the Revolution, a comprehensive plan to reorganize the cabinet and garden was presented to the National Convention. The plan reflected the egalitarian ant utilitarian spirit of the times, for it abolished the position of intendant Buffon had held, and it called for a specific orientation toward applied work in agriculture and Lamarck's position under the reorganization was no longer connected to botany, as one might have expected, but was designated as Professor of Insects and Worms. The plan was not acted upon by the Convention, but it served as the basis of a proposal for the formation of a Museum d'Histoire Naturelle in 1793, and this time the plan was approved.(1)
In the mid-1790's Lamarck's scientific status was at its peak. He occupied a chair at the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle, he was a member of the first class of the Institut de France, and he was a participant in the leading French scientific societies. But by 1797 he resigned from the Société Philomathique because his views were being ignored, and by the early 1800's he was clearly on the outs with the scientific establishment. The rapid turnabout occurred, according to Richard Burkhardt, because Lamarck was not only a scientist, but also a "naturalist-philospher" who was interested in broad, speculative intellectual ventures.(2)
Early indications of Lamarck's "spirit of system"(3) are not wanting. Even in his earliest published work, the Flore françoise of 1779, he wrote of putting together a "universal" botany. But it was his Investigations of the Causes of the Principal Physical Facts of 1794, a grand venture into a system of physics, chemistry, and physiology, that precipitated charges from scientific colleagues that he was wasting time and effort on fruitless and unverifiable speculation. In the 1780's he had tried without success to gain for his physicochemical system the approval of the Académie des Sciences. Publication of the two volumes of the Investigations, totaling more than 800 pages, was undertaken only after the Académie was eliminated in 1793 by the revolutionary government. His colleagues did not even pretend to hide their boredom with the memoirs on his system that Lamarck continued to read at professional meetings in the late 1790's. Lamarck's own perception of his status at the turn of the century is summarized well by Burkhardt:
One did not have to be attacked frontally, Lamarck realized, to be destroyed by one's enemies. He knew all too well, he felt, what took place in scientific societies. In an unpublished manuscript of 1801 or 1802 he described the means he supposed were being used to destroy him. All that was necessary was a passing disparaging remark, a smile or a knowing wink, an air of disdain, a shifting of the discussion to another topic, and the uninitiated was apprised of the official judgment: Lamarck's physico-chemical system was not worth considering. And if someone without tact were to inquire directly about Lamarck's work, the agents of the established theory would be ready with a curt response: "You speak of a man who knows nothing, who is not acquainted with the facts, who has never made an experiment." By such means the conspirators ruined him behind his back and he hat no means of defense.(4)The castigation of J. B. Lamarck by the great majority of the members of French scientific circles serves in its own way as documentation of the unofficial position of French scientists on the role of hypothesis and speculation in science. While it would be difficult, in fact impossible, to uncover a consensus on the nature and role of facts and theories among eighteenth century scientists,(5) the behavior of Lamarck's enemies at the beginning of the nineteenth century is strong testimony to an unofficial but clearly real supercilious rejection of all those who made use of speculation.
In his willingness to allot a place for speculative thought in science Lamarck possessed a certain similarity to Schelling. Both thinkers objected to an overemphasis on so-called facts at the expense of theories within which facts took on their meaning. Remarks Lamarck made in an unpublished manuscript of 1801 or 1802 could well have been made by Schelling in the same year.
It is at present a highly esteemed merit to occupy oneself only with the gathering of facts. One must search after them on all sides. One must consider them wholly in isolation. Finally one must confine oneself everywhere to the smallest details. This procedure alone is said to be estimable.To Lamarck hypothetical reasoning was a necessary piece of a scientist's equipment. Certainly one must not abuse the judicious application of hypotheses by creating a theory out of mid air - Lamarck was not one to condone lack of attention to fact and detail. But to refuse to generalize at all beyond the immediate testimony of the facts was an equally faulty scientific procedure:
As for me, I think it can be now useful to bring together the collected facts, and to strive to consider them as a whole, in order to obtain from them the most probable general results. Those who would conclude that in the study of nature we must always limit ourselves to amassing facts resemble an architect who would advice always cutting stones, preparing mortar, wood, iron-work, etc. and who would never dare to employ these materials to construct an edifice.(6)
I believe that the course of silence is good for nothing. Every effort to lift the veil which hides nature's operations from us is useful. A mediocre idea often gives birth to a better one, ant by force of trying one will perhaps obtain some success. All that is important in such circumstances is to give as certain only that which is clearly demonstrated.(7)Sentiments such as these do not exhaust the similarities between Lamarck and Schelling. Like Schelling, Lamarck believed his work (on a physico- chemical system) had "called the attention of enlightened men to the necessity of establishing bases of reasoning in physics." 27 In a similar vein, Lamarck once wrote a manuscript entitled "On What Remains To Be Done To Give to Botany the Degree of Perfection It Cannot Do Without," underscoring in the very title the urgency he associated with the need to perfect science. Furthermore, in his confidence that "the whole natural world lay before him, waiting to be made intelligible,' and in his "characteristic impatience to get at generalities underlying natural phenomena,"(8) he strongly resembled his young counterpart from across the Rhine.
The Background to Lamarckian Evolution
If Lamarck was to be shut out by his colleagues as the eighteenth century drew to a close because of his musings about a general physico-chemical system of nature, he would continue to be excluded and derided in the nineteenth century because of his general theories concerning the origin ant development of life. But in order to understand Lamarck's evolutionary scheme, it will be helpful to discuss briefly the status of the concepts of species and of the chain of being.
The notion of a great chain of being is the subject of one of the most respected and oft-cited books in modern intellectual history. In The Great Chain of Being: A Study of the History of an Idea, Arthur Lovejoy has traced the development of the hierarchical ordering of being from early Greek thought to the Romantic Era. While the relevance of the chain of being since the seventeenth century is clearly visible in natural history, the concept in earlier periods appears in other contexts.
Lovejoy describes what he means by a great chain of being in terms of complete actualization of all that in possible:
It is this strange and pregnant theorem of the 'fullness' of the realization of conceptual possibility in actuality, that, in conjunction with two other ideas usually associated with it and commonly regarded as implied by it, is to be the principal topic of these lectures. It has, so far as I know, never been distinguished by an appropriate name; and for want of this, its identity in varying contexts and in different phrasings seems often to have escaped recognition by historians. I shall call it the principle of plenitude, but shall use the term to cover a wider range of inferences from premises identical with Plato's than he himself draws; i.e., not only the thesis that the universe is a plenum formarum in which the range of conceivable diversity of kinds of living things is exhaustively exemplified, but also any other deductions from the assumption that no genuine potentiality of being can remain unfulfilled, that the extent and abundance of the creation must be as great as the possibility of existence and commensurate with the productive capacity of a 'perfect' and inexhaustible Source, and that the world is the better, the more things it contains.(9)Historically Plato's Timaeus is among the earliest sources of the concept. First all grades of immortal beings are generated, then mortals creatures are created to fill the lacunae that would exist without them. The universe, Plato suggests, would be imperfect and deficient without mortals, "since it will not contain all sorts of living creatures, as it must do if it is to be complete."(10)
From the medieval period comes Dante's famous exemplification of the hierarchical universe, and with it an endorsement of the principle of plentitude:
That which can die and that which dieth notThe seventeenth century philosopher John Locke provides us with an application of the principle of plentitude to the creatures of nature.
Are nothing but the splendor of that Idea
Which by His love our Lord brings into being.
That living Light
Through its own goodness reunites its rays
In new subsistences as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.
Thence it descends to the last potencies,
Downward from act to act becoming such
That only brief contingencies it makes.(11)
In all the visible corporeal world we see no chasms or gaps. All quite down from us the descent is by easy steps, and a continued series that in each remove differ very little one from the other. There are fishes that have wings and are not strangers to the airy region; and there are some birds that are inhabitants of the water, whose blood is as cold as fishes. ... There are animals so near of kin both to birds and beasts that they are in the middle between both. Amphibious animals link the terrestrial and aquatic together; ... not to mention what is confidently reported of mermaids or sea-men. There are some brutes that seem to have as much reason and knowledge as some that are called men; and the animal and vegetable kingdoms are so nearly joined, that if you will take the lowest of one and the highest of the other, there will scarce be perceived any great difference between them; and so on until we come to the lowest and the most unorganlcal parts of matter, we shall find everywhere that the several species are linked together, and differ but in almost insensible degrees. And when we consider the infinite power event wisdom of the Maker, we have reason to think, that it is suitable to the magnificent harmony of the universe, and the great design and infinite goodness of the architect, that the species of creatures should also, by gentle degrees, ascend upwards from us towards his infinite perfection, as we see they gradually descend from us downwards.(12)Lovejoy contends that the contribution of eighteenth century thinkers to the development of the idea of a great chain of being consisted of the temporalization of the chain.
The plenum formarum came to be conceived by some, not as the inventory but as the program of nature, which is being carried out gradually and exceedingly slowly in the cosmic history. While all the possibles demand realization, they are not accorded it all at once. Some have attained it in the past and have apparently since lost it; many are embodied in the kind of creatures which now exist; doubtless infinitely many more are destined to receive the gift of actual existence in the ages that are to come. It is only of the universe in its entire temporal span that the principle of plenitude holds good. The Demiurgus is not in a hurry; and his goodness is sufficiently exhibited if, soon or late, every Idea finds its manifestation in the sensible order.(13)It is important to realize what is not contained in this temporalized chain of being. Lovejy is not claiming that in the eighteenth century one level of being was allowed to be transformed over time into the being on the next higher rung of the ladder. A few individuals did entertain thoughts related to this possibility, which can be referred to as organic mutability, but the vast majority of naturalists viewed the ladder of being as a static entity. Temporalizing this static entity meant that the realization of all of the rungs of being did not occur at the original creation of the universe, but would occur over the course of time.
Most eighteenth century scientists, and most scientists before them, held firmly to the doctrine of the fixity of species. In the Genesis account God was said to have created each animal "according to its kind."(14) God Himself had distinctly categorized species, strictly separating each one from every other. The notion that each species was fixed in place was not long in becoming virtually canonized. One can imagine the ease with which the doctrine of the fruity of species was associated with the idea of a great chain of being, each species representing a fixed link in the chain. It is no wonder that this mixture of Christian theology with the age-old notion of plentitude became the heritage of the Christian West.
As indicated above, there were those in the eighteenth century who began to entertain ideas related to organic mutability. Ironically one of these naturalists was responsible for the static classification of living things that dominated the era. Carl van Linnaeus, a Swede, began to denote plants and animals by two names, a generic name to indicate a group of creatures visibly related, and a second label to denote a restricted or specific category. The nomenclature of Linnaeus corresponds to the modern designations of genus and species respectively. Linnaeus's elaborate classificatory system was interpreted by many as an attempt to spell out the contents of the great chain.
In early editions of Linnaeus's great work, the Systema Naturae, he maintained that species were absolutely fixed since the beginning of creation. Nullae species novae was the Latin for "no new species." Because of Linnaeus's great fame as a scientist this doctrine became more firmly rooted than ever in the canons of the day.
Linnaeus changed his opinion that the number of species had been constant since the Creation when he encountered a plant he named Peloria. It looked like the plant Linaria in every way except for its floral structure. Linnaeus commented in a letter that it was "a new species, not existing from the beginning of the world."(15)
There were several others who agreed that new species had appeared since the Creation.(16) The growing acknowledgment of the appearance of new species serves as evidence of the temporalization of the great chain of being, but it does not signify a real threat to the fixity of species. As Burkhardt comments regarding naturalists of the eighteenth century:
They supposed that if new forms did arise over time, these forms were either hybrids or degenerations of type. They did not assume that organic change was fundamentally progressive or that it ever proceeded beyond the bounds of certain fixed, primordial types.(17)At the turn of the century this generalization no longer was as accurate. Each of the three zoologists at the Museum d'Histoire Naturelle was sympathetic to the idea of organic mutability. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, professor of mammals and birds, may have held to organic mutability as early as the 1790's, and Lacépède, professor of reptiles and fish, set forth his transformist views in 1800. Faujas de Saint-Fond, professor of geology, was thought by Cuvier to be a believer in the doctrine of species change.(18) The view, then, that Lamarck's theory of evolution was not accepted by his colleagues because they were unable to think in evolutionary terms is an overstatement. "What seems to be more nearly the truth," writes Burkhardt, "...is that Lamarck's theory of evolution was rejected not because the idea of organic mutability was virtually unthinkable at the time, but because Lamarck's support of that idea was unconvincing and because, more generally, the kind of speculative venture Lamarck had embarked upon did not correspond with contemporary views of the kind of work a naturalist should be doing."(19)
Lamarck's Theory of Evolution
Common to many of the outstanding thinkers of the eighteenth century, regardless of field, was an assumption that one could divide one's subject into what would naturally obtain if nature had its way, and what actually obtained due to the presence of adventitious circumstances. The philosophes strove to uncover "the natural" wherever they could; the laws of nature stood as models to be extended and applied to the study of religion, law, history, and so forth. At the same time they realized that the laws of nature only approximated reality; even in physics the presence of friction affected the predicted outcome of an experiment. Inasmuch as Lamarck, like Rousseau, Hume, Smith, and Malthus before him, accepted the necessity of a two factored system, one that distinguished between a "natural" course of events and a "real" course of events, he produced a scheme that "was still in its essential structure a theory that belonged very much to the late eighteenth century."(20)
From Lamarck's early botanical writings one would gain no hint that he later would challenge the assumption that a species may be altered over time. This is not to say that Lamarck refused to acknowledge that varieties of a species might depart from the original, merely that such changes were understood to be confined within sufficient limits so that the species itself did not change.(21)
Later on, however, the sheer facts of observation seemed to him to be evidence overwhelmingly in favor of species change. Not only was the fixity of species inadequate, but the very determination of species was proving impossible.
Meanwhile, the farther we advance in our knowledge of the various organized bodies which cover almost every part of the earth's surface, the greater becomes our difficulty in determining what should be regarded as a species, and still more in finding the boundaries and distinctions of genera. According as the productions of nature are collected and our museums grow richer, we see nearly all the gaps filled up and the lines of demarcation effaced. We find ourselves reduced to an arbitrary decision which sometimes leads us to take the smallest differences of varieties and erect them into what we call species, and sometimes leads us to describe as a variety of some species slightly differing individuals which others regard as constituting a separate species. Let me repeat that the richer our collections grow, the more proofs do we find that everything is more or less merged into everything else, that noticeable differences disappear, and that nature usually leaves us nothing but minute, nay puerile, details on which to found our distinctions.(22)By 1802 the components of Lamarck's thoughts on organic development were in place, if not fully worked out. Consistent with his penchant for a spirit of system, Lamarck's evolutionary theory was a broad portrait of how nature produced the different forms of animals, one from another, moving gradually from the simplest to the most complex. Such a comprehensive theory was far broader than the restricted claim of organic mutability. To say, after all that one species had developed from another, and that over time it would evolve into still a different species, was hardly equivalent to the bold assertion that nature began with the simplest organisms and from them progressively and in orderly fashion produced the higher animals. For most everyone the latter proposition entailed the former; for a mind like Lamarck's evolutionary development was a natural extension of organic mutability.
In 1809 the French scientific community was presented with the full blown version of Lamarckian evolution. It was contained in a book with the title Zoological Philosophy: An Exposition with Regard to the Natural History of Animals. The Diversity of Their Organization and the Faculties Which They Derive From It; the Physical Causes which Maintain Life Within Them and Give Rise to Their Various Movements; Lastly, Those Which Produce Feeling and Intelligence in Some Among Them. The title alone was enough to dissuade his colleagues from believing that he was sincere in his disavowal of "abandoning nature" in favor of "fantastic flights of our imagination" that lead only to "vagueness" and "errors."(23)
Lamarck's view of evolution involved a two-factor theory of change. "The 'first and predominant cause' represented the 'natural' course of events, the 'plan of nature,' what would have occurred even-more clearly had it not been for the second cause, the constraining influence of particular environmental circumstances."(24) While the second cause was "accidental," it had to be taken into account if one were to discuss how organisms had developed in actuality as opposed to development in some ideal context.
The name Lamarck has been associated almost solely with notions that emerged from his treatment of the second cause of evolutionary development. "Lamarckian" evolution generally has been taken to refer to the development allegedly resulting from the influence of so-called external conditions, adventitious factors such as climate, geography, and the uses and disuses of organs that such extrinsic conditions inspire.
But Lamarck himself did not emphasize the secondary cause of evolution. The primary factor of organic change was what he called the "power of life," a natural tendency toward increased complexity.
If nature, who has not succeeded in endowing -organized bodies with eternal existence, had not had the power of giving these bodies the faculty of reproducing others like themselves to carry on and perpetuate the race in the same way, she would have been forced to create directly all races, or rather she would only have been able to create a single race in each organic kingdom, viz. the simplest and most imperfect animals and plants. Moreover, if nature had not been able to endow the organizing activity with the faculty of gradually increasing the complexity of organization by accelerating the energy of the movement of the fluids and hence that of organic movement, and if she had not preserved by reproduction all the progress made in complexity of organization and all acquired improvements, she would assuredly never have produced that infinitely varied multitude of animals and plants which differ so greatly from one another both in their organization and in their faculties.(25)The natural tendency toward increased complexity was to be understood as a given force of nature. But it only began its work after the simplest of organisms appeared. Where, then, did these simple organisms come from? Lamarck's answer was that they were produced by spontaneous generation.
Nature, by means of heat, light electricity and moisture, forms direct or spontaneous generations at that extremity of each kingdom of living bodies, where the simplest of these bodies are found.(26)Two comments regarding Lamarok's doctrine of spontaneous generation are in order. The reader should notice, firstly, that Lamarck refers the creative action of spontaneous generation to the "extremity of each kingdom"; i.e., nature spawns the simplest plant organisms and the simplest animal organisms separately. Lamarck did not believe that there were transitional fores connecting the plant and animal kingdoms. Ironically, many who adhered to the fixity of species felt that there may well be organisms within the great chain of being that linked nature's two kingdoms.(27)
Secondly, Lamarck's understanding of spontaneous generation contained no reference to a Divine Artificer. The means employed by nature were the forces of physics and chemistry. When he did go into the details of spontaneous generation, his explanations were wholly mechanistic.(28) Although earlier in his life Lamarck had not thought that the appearance of organic nature could have been produced from inorganic nature, he later changed his mind. Consequently Lamarck was not a vitalist; he did not feel that life was a special kind of being that was wholly different from nonliving being. To him life was "a very natural phenomenon, a physical fact."(29)
Lamarck, again like many of his predecessors-in the eighteenth century, was a deist. He felt no obligation to include God in his explanation of organic development.
Since existing prejudices harmonize well with these successive regenerations of like individuals, it has been imagined that every species is invariable and as old as nature, and that it was specially created by the Supreme Author of all existing things. Doubtless, nothing exists but by the will of the Sublime Author of all things, but can we set rules for him in the execution of his will, or fix the routine for him to observe? Could not his infinite power create an order of things which gave existence successively to all that we see as well as to all that exists but that we do not see? Assuredly, whatever his will may have been, the immensity of his power is always the same, and in whatever manner that supreme will may have asserted itself, nothing can diminish its grandeur. I shall then respect the decrees of that infinite wisdom and confine myself to the sphere of a pure observer of nature. If I succeed in unraveling anything in her methods, I shall say without fear of error that it has pleased the Author of nature to endow her with that faculty and power.(30)The naturalistic and mechanistic explanation of nature's tendency to ever increasing complexity drew upon three interacting elements: the parts of the body that contain fluids, the fluids themselves, and what he called the "exciting cause" of the motions of the fluids taking place within the organism. Like others of his day, he appealed to certain imponderable fluids to account for the "exciting cause" of the fluids' motions. Caloric, the imponderable element of heat, and electricity were specified by Lamarck as the agents responsible for having set the fluids of the simplest organisms in motion. "But the ponderable fluids, once set in motion, could also shape animal form, and it was by action of these that animal form became more and more complex."(31)
Exactly how these bodily fluids could, over time, carve out new vessels and create new organs was spelled out as early as 1802:
The characteristic of the movement of fluids in the supple parts of the living bodies that contain them is to trace out routes and places for deposits and outlets; to create canals and the various organs, to vary these canals and organs according to the diversity of either the movements or nature of the fluid. causing them; finally, to enlarge, elongate, divide, and gradually solidify these canal. and organs. ... The state of organization in each living body has been formed little by little by the increasing influence of the movement of fluids and by the changes continually undergone there in the nature and state of these fluids through the usual succession of losses ant renewals.(32)Up to this point Lamarck has shown how nature viewed ideally and abstractly has worked to produce the ever more complex organisms that exist. Of course a scientist cannot permit himself to overlook the factors that perturb the ideal; hence Lamarck included in his system a discussion of the role of the environment in evolution.
A living organism existing under the pressure of the "power of life" also finds itself affected by the immediate climatic and geographical features of its environment. Lamarck pointed out that great alterations in the environment led to great alterations in the needs of animals. If the new needs became permanent, "the animals then adopt new habits which last as long as the needs that evoked them. ... It is then obvious that a great and permanent alteration in the environment of any race of animals induces new habits in these animals."(33)
The crucial step was yet ahead, for the introduction of new habits had by itself no necessary effect on the alteration or transformation of species. But if these new habits led the animal to use one of its parts in preference over another part, or to neglect the use of some organ altogether, then a part could be gradually strengthened or weakened over time. Now if these alterations in bodily parts were passed down to the offspring of the organism that acquired them, then the characteristics of the species itself would have been affected.
Lamarck was clear that the changes induced in any individual organism would be minute, and that, therefore, a great amount of time would be necessary for the species to develop a new characteristic. But he was equally clearthat nature had all the time she wished, so that the variations that could be introduced by such means were "practically inexhaustible.(34)
The most commonly cited example of the "inheritance of acquired characteristics," as this process is called, is Lamarck's version of how the giraffe got its long neck.
It is interesting to observe the result of habit in the peculiar shape and size of the giraffe: this animal, the largest of the mammals, is known to live in the interior of Africa in places where the soil is nearly always arid and barren, so that it is obliged to browse on the leaves of trees and to make constant efforts to reach them. From this habit long maintained in all its race, it has resulted that the animal's forelegs have become longer than its hind legs, and that its neck is lengthened to such a degree that the giraffe, without standing up on its hind legs, attains a height of six meters (nearly 20 feet).(35)The entire procedure involved in the secondary cause of evolution is summarized by Lamarck in two laws.
In every animal which has not passed the limit of its development, a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually strengthens, develops and enlarges that organ, and gives it a power proportional to the length of time it has been so used; while the permanent disuse of any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.
All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young.(36)As Darwin would observe later, so Lamarck realized here at the beginning of the century that the organs an animal possesses do not determine the functions an animal performs so much as the animal's habits have conditioned the development the organs. Darwin, of course, meant something quite different from Lamarck, but he too preferred to view adaptation as Lamarck did. It was not, as theologians pointing to the wisdom of the Creator in nature would have it, that the deer has long legs to enable it to run fast, but it runs fast because it has long legs.
Lamarck and Darwin are usually distinguished from one another because Lamarck accepted the inheritance of acquired characteristics and Darwin did not. While it is true that Darwin introduced an alternative to the inheritance of acquired characteristics, it is not true that Darwin rejected this concept. He himself made use of it in the Origin of Species for certain cases.(37)
Another unwarranted criticism of Lamarck is that his system depended on the will of the organism to introduce the changes that would be acquired, whereas Darwin's mechanism of change involved no dependency on teleological categories at all. The giraffe, it is assumed chooses to stretch for the acacia leaves by exercising its will; hence purpose is a fundamental cornerstone of Lamarckian evolution. But one must distinguish Lamarck's use of anthropomorphic language from the process such language was being employed to describe. Lamarck may be guilty of saying that the share bird has gradually developed stilt-like legs because it did not "wish" to get its body wet, but "he himself would have been the first to assert that 'wishing' or 'willing' was of no consequence in all but the highest forms of animal life and therefore could play no major role in the general process of organic change."(38) Lamarck was true to the physical and chemical parameters that he had early concluded were the determining ones. When the giraffe exercised its will it was merely responding to external stimuli.
In bringing our brief survey of Lamarck work to a close, it is perhaps worth noting that he lived and worked in a scientific community that was dominated by values that were supposedly derived from Newton. While Lamarck in no way felt that he had betrayed the canons of French Newtonianism, his rejection by more "orthodox" colleagues may be a hint that Lamarck possessed and displayed romantic characteristics that his colleagues never could have appreciated.
Copyright ©1998 Frederick Gregory
1. For further details on this plan and other matters regarding Lamarck's early scientific career, see Richard W. Burkhardt, Jr., The Spirit of System: Lamarck and Evolutionary Biology (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1977), pp. 22-38, 94-95. On Lamarck ant the French Revolution, cf. pp. 36-38.
2. Ibid., pp. 38, 42-45.
3. This phrase, which Burkhardt uses as the title of his recent work on Lamarck, appears to have been chosen from remarks Lamarck wrote in 1803. Cf. Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 184, where these remarks are quoted. On the status of an "esprit de système" in the eighteenth century, cf. p. 39, n. 78.
4. Ibid., P. 44.
5. According to Aram Vartanian the French scientific community judged an hypothetical assertion as "almost equivalent to admitting that it was arbitrary and worthless." [A. Vartanian, Introduction to L'Homme machine by Julian LaMettrie (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1960), p. 17.] Yet Buffon acknowledged the necessity of putting facts together to give ideas (Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 39), and even the arch-materialist of the eighteenth century, Baron d'Holbach, once admitted: "For want of experience hypothesis must settle a curiosity that always endeavors to spring forward beyond the boundaries prescribed to our minds." [The System of Nature, 2 vols. in one (Boston: Mendum, 1877), I, p. 44.] For a fuller picture of d'Holbach's view of hypothesis, see my unpublished paper on "D'Holbach's Conception of Scientific Knowledge," presented at the Annual Meeting of the History of Science Society (December, 1976), p. 10, n. 19.
6. Quoted in Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 41.
7. From an 1805 piece by Lamarck with the revealing title: "Considérations sur quelques faits applicables à la théorie du globe, observés par M. Péron dans son voyage aux terres australes, et sur quelques geologiques qui naissent de la connoissance de ces faits," quoted in Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 42.
8. Ibid, pp. 217, 113.
9. Arthur O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being: A Study in the History of an Idea (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1960), p. 52.
10. Quoted from the Timaeus in Lovejoy, op. cit., p. 51 .
11. Quoted from the Paradiso in Lovejoy, op. cit., p. 69. For a description of Dante's hlerarchica1 universe and its relation to the Scientific Revolution, see Thomas Kuhn, The Copernican Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1976), pp. 112-114.
12. Quoted from the Essay Concerning Human Understanding in Lovejov, op. cit., p. 184. Gottfried Leibniz is also the author of numerous sentiments supporting a great chain of being. The principle of plentitute follows from the Leibnizian principle of sufficient reason no less directly than it can be derived from Dante's hierarchical universe. See Lovejoy, op. cit., Chapter V.
13. Ibid., p. 244.
14. Genesis 1:24.
15. Quoted in Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 77.
16. Cf. Burkhardt, op. cit., chap. 3, passim.
17. Ibid., p. 82.
18. Ibid., p. 202.
19. Ibid., pp. 201-202.
20. Ibid., p. 144
21. Ibid., pp. 87,90. See Burkhardt's three-pronged summery of Lamarck's position in 1792. (p. 91)
22. J.-B. Lamarck, Zoological Philosophy trans. Hugh Eliot (New York: Hafner Publishing Co., 1963), p. 37.
23. Ibid., p. 212.
24. Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 146.
25. Lamarck, op. cit., pp. 129-130.
26. Ibid., p. 244.
27. As, for example, in the quotation from John Locke above.
28. See, for example, his discussion of spontaneous generation as taken from his Natural History of Invertebrates in Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 154.
29. Ibid., p. 152.
30. Lamarck, op. cit., p. 36.
31. Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 156.
32. Idem. Lamarck explained the appearance of intelligence and other special faculties of the higher organisms by means of a similar materialistic structure.
33. Lamarck, op. cit., p. 107.
34. Ibid., p. 114.
35. Ibid., p. 122.
36. Ibid., p. 113.
37. These are listed in Ernst Mayr's Introduction to the facsimile of the first edition of the Origin (New York: Atheneum, 1967), p. xxx. Lamarck, incidentally, claimed no originality for the notion of the inheritance of acquired characteristics. Cf. Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 179.
38. Burkhardt, op. cit., p. 175.