Monday, January 15, 2007

Charles Darwin "The Origin of Species" (1859)

One of the key themes of modernity is a fascination with origins. While there are Enlightenment era writers of history, such as Gibbon, they all tend to use history for narrative or didactic purposes, not to show the origins of modern conditions. Romantic authors in general, however, have a marked fascination with history as well as the mysterious past shrouded in the mists of time. In many cases, modernity is marked by a feeling of rootlessness, and the Romantics often speak of a mystical union with larger structures of organization, such as history or nature.

Charles Darwin's study The Origin of Species deals with the long-extinct orgins of modern species. Darwin was not the first to suggest that species have evolved over time- Buffon and Lamarck had made similar claims- but he was the first to argue for a mechanism by which they evolved, namely 'natural selection'. Darwin argued that species of the same genera have descended from common ancestors, and not from disctinct and separate species.

Darwin starts by pointing out that sexually reproducing species have great variation- no two individuals of a species are identical. These individual variations are important because they are often inheritable. Variations are neither good or bad, but some are better suited to the physical environment.

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