In The Descent of Man Darwin addresses many of the issues raised by his notorious Origin of Species: finding in the traits and instincts of animals the origins of the mental abilities of humans, of language, of our social structures and our moral capacities, he attempts to show that there is no clear dividing line between animals and humans. Most importantly, he accounts for what Victorians called the ‘races’ of mankind by means of what he calls sexual selection. This book presents a full explanation of Darwin’s ideas about sexual selection, including his belief that many important characteristics of human beings and animals have emerged in response to competition for mates.
This was a controversial work. Yet Darwin tried hard to avoid being branded as a radical revolutionary. He is steeped in Victorian sensibilities regarding gender and cultural differences: he sees human civilization as a move from barbarous savagery to modern gentlefolk, and women as more emotional and less intellectual than men, thus providing a biological basis for the social assumptions and prejudices of the day. The Descent of Man played a major role in the emergence of social Darwinism.
This complete version of the first edition gives the modern reader an unparalleled opportunity to engage directly with Darwin’s proposals, launched in the midst of continuing controversy over On the Origin of Species.
Janet Browne is the author of the prize-winning biography, Charles Darwin: Voyaging and Charles Darwin: The Power of Place.
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About the Author
Date of Birth:February 12, 1809
Date of Death:April 19, 1882
Place of Birth:Shrewsbury, England
Place of Death:London, England
Education:B.A. in Theology, Christ¿s College, Cambridge University, 1831
Table of Contents
I. The Evidence of the Descent of Man From Some Lower Form
II. Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals
III. Comparison of the Mental Powers of Man and the Lower Animals, continued
IV. On the Manner of Development of Man from Some Lower Form
V. On the Development of the Intellectual and Moral Faculties during Primeval and Civilised Times
VI. On the Affinities and Genealogy of Man
VII. On the Races of Man
What People are Saying About This
One of the ten most significant books. (Sigmund Freud)"
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Descent of Man is undoubtedly a great work by a staggeringly original thinker. It is plagued by theoretical problems, however, as many of Darwin's conclusions are inaccurate and even self-contradictory. Compared to Origin of Species, a unified and directed argument, it is at times messy and inconsistent. Nonetheless, a brave work, not to mention seminal in its field. Be forewarned that some of its more 'political' statements will probably cause discomfort if the work isn't looked at as a historical document.
This is Darwin's final major book with a focus on man. The primary focus is on man's origin in Part I, and sexual selection in Parts II & III. I found the discussion of moral sense and social instincts to be particularly enlightening with his focus on "sympathy" and "habit" as discussed by the Scottish philosophers (cf. Adam Smith, The Theory of Moral Sentiments). Notably he rejects God as the source of conscience. The bulk of the text, however, contains detail examples and discussion of the process of sexual selection.
The sad thing about "the Descent of Man" is that it is not more widely read. Darwin had ten years to think about the real meaning of his theory prior to publishing "the Descent of Man", thus, when he did publish it, he was able, with clearlity, to give us a deep understanding of the meaning of his own work. Anyone who wishes to gain an understanding of Darwins work can get it straight from this book. It features athoritative statements from Darwin, on his theory, such as, "...man has ultimately become superior to woman" (Chapt. 19). It includes, while speaking about the meaning of Darwins theory, statements like, "At some future period, not very distant as measured by centuries, the civilised races of man will almost certainly exterminate, and replace, the savage races throughout the world....The break between man in a more civilised state, as we may hope, even than the Caucasian, and some ape as low as baboon, instead of as now between the negro or Australian and the gorilla." (Chapter 6). In this book Darwin even tells us, on his own athorty, the real meaning of his work for the future of man when he states, " Yet he (man) might by selection do something not only for the bodily constitution and frame of his offspring, but for their intellectual and moral qualities. Both sexes ought to refrain from marraige if they are in any marked degree inferior in body or mind; but such hopes are Utopian and will never be even partially realised until the laws of inheritance are thouroughly known. Everyone does good service, who aids towards this end. When the priniciples of breeding and inheritance are better understood, we shall not hear ignorant members of our legislature rejecting with scorn a plan for ascertaining whether or not consanguineous marriages are injurious to ma." (Chapter 21). The book is loaded with such athoritative statements. The problem with Darwinsm today is not that some silly Christian bad mouths it, the problem with Darwinsm today is that not enough people read this book and learn for themselves what Darwin himself claimed to be the real meaning of his theory!