ARTICLE: Charles Darwin’s Theory of Moral Sentiments: What Darwin’s Ethics Really Owes to Adam Smith

In the Journal of the History of Ideas for October 2017:

Charles Darwin’s Theory of Moral Sentiments: What Darwin’s Ethics Really Owes to Adam Smith

Greg Priest

Abstract When we read the Origin, we cannot help but hear echoes of the Wealth of Nations. Darwin’s “economy of nature” features a “division of labour” that leads to complexity and productivity. We should not, however, analyze Darwin’s ethics through this lens. Darwin did not draw his economic ideas from Smith, nor did he base his ethics on an economic foundation. Darwin’s ethics rest on Smith’s notion from the Theory of Moral Sentiments of an innate human faculty of sympathy. Darwin gave this faculty an evolutionary interpretation and built on this foundation an ethics far removed from what is commonly supposed.

 

 

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Merchants of Doubt

In my philosophy of science class, we have been reading articles about values in science, financial conflicts of interest, and the commercialization of science. Next week we read Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health. A forthcoming book by two historians of science looks like it would fit in with this course: Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway. Here is the Amazon blurb:

The U.S. scientific community has long led the world in research on such areas as public health, environmental science, and issues affecting quality of life. Our scientists have produced landmark studies on the dangers of DDT, tobacco smoke, acid rain, and global warming. But at the same time, a small yet potent subset of this community leads the world in vehement denial of these dangers.

Merchants of Doubt tells the story of how a loose-knit group of high-level scientists and scientific advisers, with deep connections in politics and industry, ran effective campaigns to mislead the public and deny well-established scientific knowledge over four decades. Remarkably, the same individuals surface repeatedly? Some of the same figures who have claimed that the science of global warming is “not settled” denied the truth of studies linking smoking to lung cancer, coal smoke to acid rain, and CFCs to the ozone hole. “Doubt is our product,” wrote one tobacco executive. These “experts” supplied it.

Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, historians of science, roll back the rug on this dark corner of the American scientific community, showing how ideology and corporate interests, aided by a too-compliant media, have skewed public understanding of some of the most pressing issues of our era.

Darwin Round-Up

Monday, November 16th is the deadline for submissions to Charlie’s Playhouse’s “Ask the Kids” [about evolution] project.  More information here.

I somehow neglected to share Ben Fry’s very cool digital rendition of the six editions of On the Origin of Species and the changes therein: “The Preservation of Favoured Traces.”

The Sedgwick Museum of Earth Sciences blog that accompanies their new Darwin as a geologist exhibit (my pics) has a short write up on the “Darwin in the Field” conference I attended last July, here. Also, the newsletter of the Palaeontological Association (they provided funding for the conference, including travel money for myself and a post-doc at the Smithsonian) has a report of the conference written by, well, me! You can see it at the bottom of page 56 in this PDF.

Two freely available articles from Bioscience: “The Darwinian Revelation: Tracing the Origin and Evolution of an Idea” [PDF] by James Costa and “Ten Myths about Charles Darwin” [PDF] by Kevin Padian [previous posts with Padian].

Nature has started a series on Darwin and culture called “Global Darwin”: “Darwin and culture,” “Global Darwin: Eastern enchantment,” and “Global Darwin: Contempt for competition.” These pieces explore a variety of reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution.

Also titled “Global Darwin” is a 2009 lecture by Jim Secord. Access it here. At the same site are lectures by Janet Browne and Rebecca Stott.

Here is a page for the National Library of Medicine’s exhibit Rewriting the Book of Nature: Charles Darwin and the Rise of Evolutionary Theory, and two sets of pictures on Flickr showing a Darwin exhibition (Darwin’s Legacy) at the National Museum of Natural History, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Darwin Online has put up the annotated copy of On the Origin of Species owned by Darwin’s third son, and experimental assistant, Francis.

Videos of many lectures from the University of Cambridge’s Darwin Festival in July are up on YouTube.

Darwinfest: Bold Ideas Change Worlds, at ASU, has its own website. Darwin biographer Janet Browne will give a lecture on November 13th. Previous lectures from throughout 2009 are available for download.

Historian of science Jim Endersby will talk on “Darwin, Hooker, and Empire” on November 18th  in conjunction with the American Philosophical Society’s exhibition Dialogues with Darwin: An Exhibition of Historical Documents and Contemporary Art. Website here, and a fun Flickr photo set of post-it notes that visitors filled out and placed on a tree of life diagram. Another recent lecture of Endersby’s, “Smashing Species: Joseph Hooker and Victorian Science” for the Royal Society, can be downloaded as an mp3.

Christ’s College, Cambridge has a website for Darwin, with lots of resources.

“Who can head the words of Charlie Darwin…”

Cambridge Library Collection’s Life Science series offers reprints of many historically important books (71 titles), many of which are on Amazon.

Via Genomicron, “This View of Life: Evolutionary Art for the Year of Darwin”:

Evolutionary art is the topic of many books this year: Charles Darwin and Victorian Visual Culture by Jonathan Smith; Endless Forms: Charles Darwin, Natural Science, and the Visual Arts by Jane Munro; Darwin: Art and the Search for Origins; The Art of Evolution: Darwin, Darwinisms, and Visual Culture by Barbara Larson and Fae Bauer; Darwin’s Camera: Art and Photography in the Theory of Evolution by Phillip Prodger; Reframing Darwin: Evolution and Art in Australia by Jeanette Hoorn; and Darwin’s Pictures: Views of Evolutionary Theory, 1837-1874 by Julia Voss.

In Evolution: Education and Outreach is an article by U. Kutschera called “Darwin’s Philosophical Imperative and the Furor Theologicus: “In 1859 Charles Darwin submitted a manuscript entitled “An Abstract of an Essay on the Origin of Species and Varieties through Natural Selection” to John Murray III, who published the text under the title On the Origin of Species. On many pages of this book, Darwin contrasts his naturalistic theory that explains the transmutation and diversification of animals and plants with the Bible-based belief that all species were independently created. On the last page of the first edition, published in November 1859, where Darwin speculated on the origin of the earliest forms of life from which all other species have descended, no reference to “the Creator” is made. In order to conciliate angry clerics and hence to tame the erupted furor theologicus, Darwin included the phrase “by the Creator” in the second edition of 1860 and in all subsequent versions of his book (sixth ed. 1872). However, in a letter of 1863, Darwin distanced himself from this Bible-based statement and wrote that by creation he means “appeared by some wholly unknown process.” In 1871, Darwin proposed a naturalistic origin-of-life-concept but did not dare to mention his “warm little pond hypothesis” in the sixth definitive edition of the Origin (1872). I conclude that the British naturalist strictly separated scientific facts and theories from religious dogmas (Darwin’s “philosophical imperative”) and would not endorse current claims by the Catholic Church and other Christian associations that evolutionary theory and Bible-based myths are compatible.”

EEO also has a piece about the traveling Darwin exhibition by Chiara Ceci, “Darwin: Origin and Evolution of an Exhibition”: “Two hundred years after his birth, Darwin, originated by the American Museum of Natural History in New York, is the most important exhibition about the English scientist ever organized for the general public. This traveling exhibition has appeared in many versions worldwide, and a study of the relationships between local developers of the various editions of the exhibition underlines how a scientific exhibition and, more generally, science communication can succeed in striking a good equilibrium between universal content and cultural determinants.”

“Discover the principles of evolution through animations, movies and simulations” at Evolution of Life.

Several articles have appeared this year in the Journal of the History of Biology touching on Darwin and evolution in general: “Capitalist Contexts for Darwinian Theory: Land, Finance, Industry and Empire” (M.J.S. Hodge); “The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner” (Charlotte Weissman); “Edward Hitchcock’s Pre-Darwinian (1840) ‘Tree of Life'” (J. David Archibald); “Tantalizing Tortoises and the Darwin-Galápagos Legend” (Frank J. Sulloway); “‘A Great Complication of Circumstances’ – Darwin and the Economy of Nature” (Trevor Pearce); “Charles Darwin’s Beagle Voyage, Fossil Vertebrate Succession, and ‘The Gradual Birth & Death of Species'” (Paul D. Brinkman); “Darwin and Inheritance: The Influence of Prosper Lucas” (Ricardo Noguera-Solano and Rosaura Ruiz-Gutiérrez); and “Of Mice and Men: Evolution and the Socialist Utopia. William Morris, H.G. Wells, and George Bernard Shaw” (Piers J. Hale).

A Darwin article in Plant Biology: “From Charles Darwin’s botanical country-house studies to modern plant biology”: “As a student of theology at Cambridge University, Charles Darwin (1809-1882) attended the lectures of the botanist John S. Henslow (1796-1861). This instruction provided the basis for his life-long interest in plants as well as the species question. This was a major reason why in his book On the Origin of Species, which was published 150 years ago, Darwin explained his metaphorical phrase `struggle for life’ with respect to animals and plants. In this article, we review Darwin’s botanical work with reference to the following topics: the struggle for existence in the vegetable kingdom with respect to the phytochrome-mediated shade avoidance response; the biology of flowers and Darwin’s plant-insect co-evolution hypothesis; climbing plants and the discovery of action potentials; the power of movement in plants and Darwin’s conflict with the German plant physiologist Julius Sachs; and light perception by growing grass coleoptiles with reference to the phototropins. Finally, we describe the establishment of the scientific discipline of Plant Biology that took place in the USA 80 years ago, and define this area of research with respect to Darwin’s work on botany and the physiology of higher plants.”

And another in Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences: “Dog fight: Darwin as animal advocate in the antivivisection controversy of 1875”: “The traditional characterization of Charles Darwin as a strong advocate of physiological experimentation on animals was posited in Richard French’s Antivivisection and medical science in Victorian England (1975), where French portrayed him as a soldier in Thomas Huxley’s efforts to preserve anatomical experimentation on animals unfettered by government regulation. That interpretation relied too much on, inter alia, Huxley’s own description of the legislative battles of 1875, and shared many historians’ propensity to foster a legacy of Darwin as a leader among a new wave of scientists, even where personal interests might indicate a conflicting story. Animal rights issues concerned more than mere science for Darwin, however, and where debates over other scientific issues failed to inspire Darwin to become publicly active, he readily joined the battle over vivisection, helping to draft legislation which, in many ways, was more protective of animal rights than even the bills proposed by his friend and anti-vivisectionist, Frances Power Cobbe. Darwin may not have officially joined Cobbe’s side in the fight, but personal correspondence of the period between 1870 and 1875 reveals a man whose first interest was to protect animals from inhumane treatment, and second to protect the reputations of those men and physiologists who were his friends, and who he believed incapable of inhumane acts. On this latter point he and Cobbe never did reach agreement, but they certainly agreed on the humane treatment of animals, and the need to proscribe various forms of animal experimentation.”

“Darwinism Comes to Penn” [PDF], in The Pennsylvania Gazette: “A century-and-a-half after the November 1859 publication of On the Origin of Species, a Penn microbiologist looks back at how Darwin’s ideas were received by some of the University’s leading thinkers.”

In the Journal of Evolutionary Biology, “WWDD? (What Would Darwin Do?)” [PDF], looks at evolution research and publishing: “We have just celebrated the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Darwin and the 150th anniversary of the publication of On the Origin of Species. While I hope we all rejoiced in the success of evolutionary biology and its continued growth, we should not become complacent. Although these are indeed events to celebrate, we still face the real threat of general ignorance of Darwin’s ideas. World leaders (or would-be world leaders) still promote superstition, stories and unthinking acceptance of dogma over scientific evidence. Evolutionary biologists have succeeded in investigating the magnificence, the wonder, the complexity, and the detail of evolution and its role in generating biodiversity. Evolutionary biologists have been less successful in making this relevant to those who are not biologists (and even, alas, some biologists). Is evolutionary biology likely to thrive when governments demand an immediate return on their research investment? How do we begin to educate others as to the value and importance of evolutionary research? I do not begin to claim that I can fathom the mind of Darwin, but I cannot help wondering – what would Darwin do today? Would he respond? How would he respond? And, what would be the form of his response?”

Jerry Coyne on “Why Evolution is True”:

Daniel Dennett on “Darwin and the Evolution of Why”:

A new book “offers a primer in the history of the development of evolution as a discipline after Darwin’s book and in how evolution is defined today”: The Origin Then and Now: An Interpretive Guide to the Origin of Species (Princeton University Press, 2009) by UCR biologist David Reznick. You can read the introduction on the publisher’s page for the book.

Richard Dawkins closes his latest book The Greatest Show on Earth: The Evidence for Evolution by going through and detailing each line of the famous closing paragraph (“There is grandeur in this view of life…”) of On the Origin of Species. It’s available online, for you, to read, and ponder.

“The Evolution of Charles Darwin,” a 4-part series on CBC Radio One: “Ideas pays tribute to Charles Darwin and celebrates the 150th anniversary of the publication of his transformational and contentious book, On the Origin of Species. Darwin’s theory of evolution through Natural Selection completely changed how we think about the world. In this 4-part series, Seth Feldman guides us through the life and ideas of Charles Darwin, a creative genius. The series is produced by Sara Wolch.” Via Adrian.

Via The Evolution List, The Darwinian Revolutions Video Series: “This series of six online videos is a brief introduction to Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection and its implications.” The short videos are: Darwinian Revolutions, Evolutionary Ancestors, Lamarck’s Theory, One Long Argument, Mendel-Eclipse of Darwin, and The Evolving Synthesis.

The November 2009 issue of Naturwissenschaften is devoted to Darwin. The articles are “Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species, directional selection, and the evolutionary sciences today” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera); “Darwin’s warm little pond revisited: From molecules to the origin of life” [PDF] (Hartmut Follmann and Carol Brownson); “Charles Darwin, beetles and phylogenetics” [PDF] (Rolf G. Beutel, Frank Friedrich and Richard A. B. Leschen); “The predictability of evolution: Glimpses into a post-Darwinian world” [PDF] (Simon Conway Morris); and “Evolutionary plant physiology: Charles Darwin’s forgotten synthesis” [PDF] (Ulrich Kutschera and Karl J. Niklas).

Two more articles consider Darwin and the origin of life. In Endeavour James E. Strick offers “Darwin and the origin of life: public versus private science”: “In the first twenty years after the publication of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, an intense debate took place within the ranks of Darwin’s supporters over exactly what his theory implied about the means by which the original living organism formed on Earth. Many supporters of evolutionary science also supported the doctrine of spontaneous generation: life forming from nonliving material not just once but many times up to the present day. Darwin was ambivalent on this topic. He feared its explosive potential to drive away liberal-minded Christians who might otherwise be supporters. His ambivalent wording created still more confusion, both among friends and foes, about what Darwin actually believed about the origin of life. A famous lecture by Thomas H. Huxley in 1870 set forth what later became the ‘party line’ Darwinian position on the subject.” In Origins of Life and Evolution of Biospheres, Juli Peretó, Jeffrey L. Bada and Antonio Lazcano offer another analysis in “Charles Darwin and the Origin of Life”: “When Charles Darwin published The Origin of Species 150 years ago he consciously avoided discussing the origin of life. However, analysis of some other texts written by Darwin, and of the correspondence he exchanged with friends and colleagues demonstrates that he took for granted the possibility of a natural emergence of the first life forms. As shown by notes from the pages he excised from his private notebooks, as early as 1837 Darwin was convinced that “the intimate relation of Life with laws of chemical combination, & the universality of latter render spontaneous generation not improbable”. Like many of his contemporaries, Darwin rejected the idea that putrefaction of preexisting organic compounds could lead to the appearance of organisms. Although he favored the possibility that life could appear by natural processes from simple inorganic compounds, his reluctance to discuss the issue resulted from his recognition that at the time it was possible to undertake the experimental study of the emergence of life.”

A conference at the Wedgwood Museum: “THE WEDGWOODS AND THE DARWINS – THE MARRIAGE OF SCIENCE AND INDUSTRY”

PZ Myers live-blogged on Pharyngula talks given at Chicago’s big Darwin festival, Darwin/Chicago 2009. Science Life also has a piece about the conference.

From the August 24, 2009 issue of Significance, two Darwin articles: “Darwin, Mendel and the evolution of evolution” by R. Allan Reese: “The history of science is full of myths. Darwin has his fair share; but Gregor Mendel, his fellow scientist and contemporary, has suffered even more. R. Allan Reese disentangles what we like to believe about Mendel from what we should believe—and finds a modern species whose origin was not by conventional evolution;” and “Cousins: Charles Darwin, Sir Francis Galton and the birth of eugenics” by Nicholas W. Gillham: “Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”Sir Francis Galton, scientist, African Explorer and statistician, was a key figure in statistical history. He was the man who devised the statistical concepts of regression and correlation. He was also Charles Darwin’s cousin. And, inspired by his reading of Darwin, he was the founder of eugenics: the “science” of improving the human race through selective breeding. Nicholas Gillham tells of a darker side to statistics and heredity.”

In Archives of Natural History of October 2009 is a short article, “Letters from Alfred Russel Wallace concerning the Darwin commemorations of 1909” by Henry A McGhie.

BOOK REVIEW: Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

I received this book from the publisher last year, so I am now finally able to put up my review. But I also had to read it for my current graduate class on historical writing, taught by Michael Reidy (my advisor and the author of the book!). And the review:

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History by Michael S. Reidy

Tides of History: Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy. By Michael S. Reidy. Chicago, London: Chicago University Press, 2008. xiv + 389 pp. Illustrations, notes, bibliography, index. $40.00 (cloth).

In an essay in William K. Story’s edited volume Scientific Aspects of European Expansion (Varorium, 1996), historian Alan Frost shows how science conducted in the Pacific during European exploration of the late eighteenth century was essentially political in nature. Scientists acted with their respective nations in mind. Michael S. Reidy extends the notion of science for political purposes into the nineteenth century with Tides of History. But while the book’s subtitle, Ocean Science and Her Majesty’s Navy, underscores the connection between advancements in science and the imperial reach of maritime nations (predominantly Britain), Reidy aims for much more than just showing how the British used science to rule the waves. He has other interests in mind, and it is unfortunate that the title of his book misleads the reader of its primary content. Although Reidy does discuss the Admiralty and how tidal science was crucial to military matters, he is more interested in the scientist himself and his role – in particular one giant of science (William Whewell) and plenty of rather unknowns. Even larger still is Reidy’s contribution to a growing field of ocean history, a fresh understanding of history understood through looking at the spaces in between the land that most histories are focused with.

Much of Tides of History details the history of tidal science – of the data collection itself, and the theoretical understanding of the tides (whether or not it was based on data). The narrative of Reidy’s story, told through scientific publications, letters, and the use images (tables and graphs), almost mirrors the flux and reflux of the tides themselves, the ebb and flow of the seas across the globe. Tidal science, and the reasons for studying it, have shifted in importance to various parties through the centuries. Reidy outlines what has gone before, in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, before focusing on the nineteenth century, the highest period of Britain’s imperial expansion, and the regional and global tide experiments in the mid-1830s.

Reidy is fond of metaphors, and they abound in Tides of History. For example, Whewell “helped transform the spatial scope of science while simultaneously expanding the terrain of the scientist” (p. 240). This spatiality is important to Reidy in showing how Whewell transformed the study of tides into a Humboldtian research program, rather than the temporal nature of previous studies. In contrast to earlier and recent works on Whewell, Reidy shows how this evaluator of science in Britain was much more than just a man interested in the work of scientists, but a premier scientist himself. The study of tides, which held Whewell’s interest for more than two decades, also influenced Whewell’s philosophical contributions to science – how science should be done and who should do it. Despite Whewell’s insistence that only certain persons could be scientists – those who strived for theoretical understanding of phenomena – he recognized the efforts and contributions of the often overlooked figures in history. Data collectors, calculators, and computers, doing monotonous and tedious work with ink, provided crucial information for “scientists” to devise their theories with. By looking closely at the role of these “subordinate labourers,” as Whewell referred to them, Reidy gives us a much needed contribution to the history of science, a bottom-up history in a field which too often stresses the importance of the man of science. There were many men (and women) of science, whether or not they were considered “scientists.”

While Reidy succeeds in relating the study of the tides to those with economic interests in using that knowledge – merchants, traders, etc. – what is missing from Tides of History, despite its secondary role to an understanding of the emerging scientist in the early Victorian period, is how the military aspect of the study of the tides was actually used. Examples of how the Admiralty benefited from tidal knowledge, grounded in particular events (if records exist), would surely benefit an understanding of the importance of the study of the tides, and of the relationship of scientists with the larger society. Another mistake in Tides of History, in my opinion, is in the introduction of self-registering tide gauges in Reidy’s narrative. Through reading the text, we know that data collectors observed and marked down numbers concerning the tides. We do not know, however, if and how they utilized technological instruments in carrying out their tasks. So, the invention of the self-registering tide gauge, which made it possible to record data without the hand of a person, becomes not as exciting a turn in the narrative as if the reader truly understood how earlier “subordinated labourers” collected information about the rise and fall of tides.

Despite these few problems, Tides of History is a valuable contribution to understanding the culture of science in the early Victorian period, a time when the role of scientists was becoming more connected with commerce and government, in helping to ensure Britain’s imperialistic success and reaping rewards from it. Taken with Richard Drayton’s Nature’s Government: Science, Imperial Britain and the ‘Improvement’ of the World (Yale University Press, 2000), Tides of History offers a more complete picture of the relationship between science and society – of the political and economic importance of science and the increasingly important role of the scientist – in the nineteenth century. This is a valuable book for those interested in nineteenth-century science, the history of physical sciences, imperialism, environmental history, and maritime history to have on their shelves.

BOOK REVIEW: D. Graham Burnett’s "Trying Leviathan"

A few weeks ago, on a hike to History Rock in Hyalite Canyon just south of Bozeman, I noticed this rock in the trail. I said to my friend who was with me that it looked like a whale, and she replied that it could also look like a fish. I thought that little exchange ironic considering that I was near finishing D. Graham Burnett’s Trying Leviathan(Princeton, 2007), a book that revolves around a historical investigation of the question, “Is a Whale a Fish?” It took me a while to read this interesting (but densely erudite!) book – mostly 10 to 15 minutes during my lunch break everyday working at the campus library since January. If given the time, however, I probably could have polished it off in a few weeks, but time is always limited, and I am not as prolific a reader as a fellow blogger, who has also read this book (and hopefully planning to review, Brian?). So, that said, I am happy to finally post my review of Burnett’s book about” The Nineteenth-Century New York Court Case That Put the Whale on Trial and Challenged the Order of Nature” (this is its subtitle), and I thank Princeton University Press for their patience.

In Trying Leviathan, Burnett, a historian of science at Princeton University and author of Masters of All They Surveyed: Exploration, Geography, and a British El Dorado (UCP, 2000), explores a little known New York trial from 1818, Maurice v. Judd, in which a fish oil inspector (James Maurice) brought a candle maker and oil merchant (Samuel Judd) to court over his refusal to pay fees on whale oil (a law stated that fish oil had to be inspected for quality and purity). Maurice was represented by lawyers William Sampson and John Anthon, who desired to keep the trial about commercial regulation and away from, in Burnett’s words, the “muddy matters of taxonomy” (p. 17). Judd, whose defense included the testimony of the well-respected New York naturalist Samuel Mitchell, was represented by Robert Bogardus and William M. Price, who thought differently – they saw this as a taxonomic issue, and were willing to get dirty in the muddy matters (this case is also mentioned in the endnotes of Eric Jay Dolin’s Leviathan: The History of Whaling in America (W.W. Norton, 2007), pp. 384-385). What results is a splendid examination of questions about taxonomic systems, epistemology of natural historical knowledge, semantics, literary references, authority of various classes of New York citizens, and the relationship between science and society. Although the trial centers on the question of whether whale oil is fish oil, and hence if whales are fish, Burnett strives to look deeper into the reasons why the trial came to court at all, and what it meant beyond the straight science of taxonomy; he writes in his introduction: “It is perhaps cliché to assert that all taxonomy is politics, or to insist that epistemological problems are always problems of social order; Maurice v. Judd provides a striking occasion to test the viability (as well as the limits) of such sweeping claims” (p. 10).

Burnett organizes his book around three reasons why this case is important to study: the status of “philosophy” and natural history in learned institutions and intellectual culture of New York in the first quarter of the nineteenth century; the importance of whales and other cetaceans that were considered “problems of knowledge” to this period of history in the United States; and the shaky status of zoological classification, surely not one of a “golden age of the classifying imagination” (I do think I should fully read Harriet Ritvo’s The Platypus and the Mermaid: And Other Figments of the Classifying Imagination (Harvard UP, 1997) – I read the first chapter for an animal histories course in 2005). These considerations, and the trial’s main question in general (is a whale a fish?), are investigated by chapters devoted to what different categories of people in New York did or did not know about whales: naturalists, sailors and whalemen, artisans, merchants, and dealers in whale products, and regular folk of New York. While Mitchell thought it important to understand the authority of the first three, Sampson added the last category, considering the opinion of everyday citizens as worthy of attention.

The everyday citizens are tackled first, with Burnett concluding that a majority of people – whose limited contact with whales (textually or physically) included the authority of the Bible and its tripartite taxonomy (fish/water, beasts/earth, and birds/sky), popular natural history texts, the occasional strandings or moorings of whales, and the whale jaw bone of Scudder’s American Museum – thought of whales as fish, and it was hard to stomach that whales could be in the same category (mammals) as humans. Whales seemed to sit outside of natural history, more as curiosities than as creatures which could be easily classified. Peculiar examples of animals pointed to exceptions to the rule of classification, which damaged the authority of the new philosophy of taxonomy, brought forth mainly by the comparative anatomy of Cuvier (as being different from the Linnean-style categorization of plants or animals based on external characteristics).

Yet the naturalists, “those who philosophize,” would make the case that whales are indeed mammals, the subject of Burnett’s third chapter. Anthon, who represented the oil inspector, stated to the jurors: “Many of us may not have seen a whale,” but this should not cause us to be “led astray by the learning of philosophers” (p. 41). At issue was the authority of the naturalist and ichthyologist Samuel Mitchell, author of “The Fishes of New-York” and star witness of the defense, and in the long run, the authority of the enterprise of science itself. If common sense tells regular citizens of New York that whales are fish (for the Bible says so, and they swim in water like fish), then on what grounds should a naturalist’s erudition and, maybe, mere opinion, tell them otherwise? Since taxonomy was brought to the forefront in the case, the prosecutors sought to show that the current state of taxonomy is in question, and that there is disagreement between the learned.

Not only did Mitchell represent the “new philosophy” of classification based on comparative anatomy, but he had big ideas about a program for a patriotic, American natural history, to make New York a scientific center by popularizing the city’s natural history collections and promoting natural history to its citizens through lectures. And it was to this up and coming natural history and scientific culture that Maurice v. Judd may have owed its time in court: “through the trial flowed the strong currents of opposition to the institutions, innovations, and schemes of state-sponsored ‘philosophy.’ Science in the service of the state looked to many New Yorkers suspiciously like the state in the service of the men of science” (p. 207), while there existed an “emerging cultural and intellectual ambitions of a rising community of artisans and merchants, who were seeking support for their own institutions for the advancement of learning” (p. 203). Maurice v. Judd was more about social order in New York than it was about figuring out what a particular type of creature was (such that Burnett could have titled his book Trying Natural History, or Trying Mitchell, but Trying Leviathan sounds better).

In Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869), the naturalist Pierre Aronnax, with his apprentice Counsel, and the harpoonist Ned Land at times disagreed over not only their fate aboard Nemo’s Nautilus, but also matters of life in the sea; and while Aronnax showed erudition as to the species of plants and birds (expert knowledge), Ned Land knew how to capture and prepare them for eating (practical knowledge). Naturalists and whalemen had different ways of looking at whales, and in the fourth chapter of Trying Leviathan, Burnett investigates what whalemen knew about their prey. Two whalemen were witnesses in the trial – one believed whales were not fish, noting similarities with humans, and the other did, until the trial caused him to possibly think otherwise. Whalers combined physical experience with whales with texts that discussed natural history of marine mammals, which may or may not have contrasted with the views of “cabinet naturalists.” Burnett uses the logs and journals of whalemen to understand how they understood cetaceans. One way whalers thought of whales was in terms of oil; they were not solely animals, but instead storehouses of a money-making product. But they also thought of whales in terms of zoology. Important to Burnett’s look into the whaleman’s natural history is their cutting-in patterns, diagrams which depicted the methods by which a whale would be cut up, a “high-seas butchery,” in which different whales necessitated different cutting-in operations due to different anatomies – anatomies different from those of naturalists, an “autonomous domain of natural knowledge” (p. 118). I like Burnett’s observation that a harpoon or shaft is just as much a pointer to anatomical detail as it is a whaler’s fatal tool. But he is quick to note that such anatomical detail represented for whalemen only a “superficial anatomy,” because whalemen learned the anatomy useful to their purpose (whale oil was found in areas near the outer layer, or “blanket,” of the animal), while naturalists learned as much as they could to have as complete a picture of nature as possible. With whales referred to as fish in logbooks, whalers not considering some whales to be “whales” (semantics), and whales as whales in the water yet fish if out of water, I take it that whalers generally considered their catch as fish.

In the fifth chapter, Burnett discusses the last group worth studying, those involved in the whale product industries (mainly oil), the “men of affairs.” Although the shortest of the chapters to look at what a group of people knew about whales, it is here that Burnett teases out more motives of Maurice v. Judd. He asks what was really at stake, since the fine put on Judd was only $75. Like the Scopes Trial in 1925, Maurice v. Judd best represented a formal test case for the New York law passed in March of 1818 that authorized “the appointment of guagers [sic] and inspectors of fish oils” (p. 147), to test the scope and interpretations of “fish oil.” Dealers in oil generally understood fish oil and whale oil to be distinct, while Gideon Lee, a leather industry man who drafted the statute, desired to have all oils under the term “fish oils” inspected for purity to clean up a messy oil industry, full of “deceptions and fraud” (p. 162). Plus, fish oils were important for leather manufacture, and for Lee, “money made its own taxonomic distinctions” (p. 161). In the end, Maurice v. Judd really concerned venders of oils (those who were inspected) and purchasers of oils (the leather tanning industry) protecting their commercial interests. Animals were classified differently in this context, in what Burnett calls “taxonomies of craft and trade” (p. 164).

In the pages of the penultimate chapter of Trying Leviathan, Burnett reveals the outcome of the trial, and for that reason, I am not going to discuss it. This book was an exciting read, and Burnett brought to life for the reader many characters and their arguments in early nineteenth century New York. I think the reader deserves to find out the outcome for themselves. He pulled from a multitude of sources – logbooks, natural history texts, lecture notes, trial transcripts, newspaper articles, letters, and illustrations – representing a variety of people concerned with the trial. It’s science history, social history, intellectual history, religious history, economic history, and law history (are there any others?) all brought together to illuminate one small and largely forgotten event in American history. There is much more in this book than I could possibly share, and I am still trying to decide if Maurice v. Judd owes its occurrence to a science vs. artisans issue or a venders vs. purchasers problem in New York.

Dispersal Event 3/9/2008

Working on something in the history of geological sciences? From the H-SCI-MED-TECH listserve:

I wish to organize a panel of Grad students, young scholars andestablished faculty for the upcoming HSS meeting (Pittsburgh) on the history of the earth sciences. My work focuses on evolutionary theory and paleobotany, and the paper I plan to present examines the role of paleobotany in the development of theModern Synthesis. Dr. Debra Lindsay (UNB) has agreed to be a part of thesession, and therefore I am looking for graduate student participation. Any papers that focus on the history of the earth sciences and/orconnections to evolution are welcome! Please contact me off list at mailto:atddigrius@drew.edu. Dawn M. Digrius, Ph.D.

A review of The Thief at the End of the World: Rubber, Power, and the Seeds of Empire by Joe Jackson from the Los Angeles Times:

Jackson gives us an excellent portrait of Joseph Dalton Hooker, director of the Kew gardens, a walking encyclopedia of botany and in some ways the scheming mastermind of this story. Hooker, a prickly, arrogant and duplicitous man, raged against tourists who came stomping around his gardens; he saw Kew as a scientific research and development factory designed to aid Britain’s vast colonial plantations by shuffling plants around the world when opportunities presented themselves.

The October 2007 issue of Archives of Natural History is available online here. It includes these two articles concerning Darwin:

“Charles Darwin, ‘little Dawkins’ and the platycnemic Yale men: introducing a bioarchaeological tale of the descent of man” (PDF) by Peter Lucas: A small box of animal bones, forwarded by Charles Darwin from North Wales, led to excavations by William Boyd Dawkins in Denbighshire between 1869 and 1872 and in Flintshire in 1886. Neglected riches of the archival record allow glimpses of Darwin and his family and contribute to this first narrative account of a pioneering episode in prehistoric archaeology which resulted in the three most important discoveries of Neolithic human remains in North Wales (and their later apparently near total disappearance). Many of the leg bones had features of the flattening of tibia (platycnemia) and femur (platymeria) first noted by George Busk in Neolithic bones from Gibraltar in 1863, and by Paul Broca at Cro-Magnon in 1868. Within a few years flattened leg bones were recognised across the globe, subsequently in samples extending back to the Middle Palaeolithic and forward to modern hunter-gatherers; platymeric shafts have been found at early hominin sites. Busk’s platycnemic index and understanding of flattening as related to muscular activity anticipate the work of modern bioarchaeologists. Dawkins was recipient of a much quoted account of the Huxley-Wilberforce confrontation at Oxford and opponent of Darwin’s views on human origins: his work opens up instructive perspectives.

“Fritz Müller’s first copy of Darwin’s Origin rediscovered” (PDF) by David A. West (short note, no abstract)

The Brooklyn Rail: review of the play Man-Made
The Morning Call: [letter] Darwin birthday is nothing to celebrate
The Red Notebook: Plinth Charming (about a petition for a Darwin statue & Brit citizenship)

[Picture of Darwin by David Levine (The New York Review of Books) can be found in Stephen Jay Gould’s An Urchin in the Storm (New York: W.W. Norton, 1987), p. 146. Even better, there is a gallery of Levine’s illustrations online, and it includes 2 more Darwin caricatures and more scientists]