Charles Darwin – The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex (1871)

Origin of Species scrupulously does not mention man (though it could have concluded nicely with such an apogee)…and Descent of Man, formally, seems written in order to make it difficult for any reader to get through it. It withholds the promised clarity of its title. It is introduced as “a collection of notes” (relate to other archival novels, such as Dracula, etc.]

Darwin vs Wallace: the latter turned to superstition as explanation for man’s transcendence of the naimal relam (language, etc.) while the former remained convinced that there were analogs to human life in the animal world. Compare this to Dr. Jekyll vs. his friend Lanyon and contextualize within the discourse of facts.

Evidence for Human Evolution: “[man] still bears in his bodily frame the indelible stamp of his lowly origin.” He therefore argues against perfect design by way of vestiges. Contrast sharply with Lamarck, who attempted to draw strict causal chains (i.e. Giraffe grew a neck in order to reach tall branches); Darwin, instead, located random variation and mutation at the origin, which was then taken up or not depending on its advantageousness within a particular environment, species, etc. “All variations are the result of and are governed by the same general laws…” Talks a bunch about “rudiments,” such as hair and the coccyx and the increasingly short caecum (a cul-de-sac in the digestive system that can be fatal if food gets stuck there…) Only a natural prejudice and the belief that we are descended from demi-gods keeps us from recognizing the community of descent.

Man and Apes: Associates the move to bidpedism with the rapid increase in cognitive ability. Also, could have been advantageous for man to spring from weak chimp rather than powerful gorilla because it leads to greater sympathy with others—in general, a more intellectual disposition for a species that lack natural wepaons.

Mental powers: no fundamental difference between man and apes, here, either. Instinct vs. Intelligence (indirectly proportionate according to Cuvier. However, there is evidence that animals, sharing the same sensory powers as man, also react similarly to various stimuli (terror, suspicion, happiness, etc.).

Morality: Establishing a sort of “universal moral sense” based not on propriety, but instead on the necessity of the preservation of certain basic social structures (the self, the family, the tribe, etc.) : that is, the natural instinct shared by the lower animals naturally leads to the higher moral demands of the golden rule. Sympathy, therefore, is an instinct. Relate this to Arnold’s The Study of Poetry (1880), where he argues for the self-preserving power of poetry. 

On Civilization: Charity is a vestige, rudiment of sympathy, that persists despite reason. Believes private property is a good thing for the sake of the arts >> believes there should be a class of men who do not need to labor so that they can rule those who do labor. America is the place where the most energetic and restless people go to find wealth and succeed…calls it a “great country.” But all civilized nations are descended from barbarous tribes: clear traces of barbarism in civilized traditions + the ability of the lower races to raise themselves up given the proper conditions. Man is digressing; he is rising!

Compare the affectionate orangutan (Jenny) with the savages from Tierra del Fuego.


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