The Origin of Species

Darwin's Design: Social Theory in Origin of Species

It is no secret that Darwin's theory of Natural Selection and Evolution, put forth in Origin of Species, has been applied to social theory, giving rise to Social Darwinism. But are we correct to assume that Social Darwinism is simply an extract of evolutionary theory, the extrapolation of a dispassionate scientific treatise, or might the ideas in Origin of Species be influenced by a preexisting social theory? Darwin may actually have had an imperialist social agenda, that is, some incipient form of Social Darwinism, in mind when he wrote his famous book, as evidenced by his deliberate choice of ambiguous language that may allude to social relationships as well as natural ones. In numerous passages in Origin of Species, Darwin uses terminology that could refer to plants or animals in nature, but that could also refer to humans in society.

Darwin believes that a goal of any species is to continue its existence; a species can do so only by evolving, by adapting in response to changes in the environment. Darwin's evolutionary theory can be briefly summarized in five tenets: overpopulation, variation, competition or struggle for survival, survival of best adapted, and heredity. He contends that each species tends to...

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