Darwin’s Method

Kamil Ahsan in The Box Move:

Darwin_5[1] This essay takes the view that Darwin never worked either purely inductively or deductively. It will demonstrate how Darwin often worked on a hunch, and thus collected his facts not blindly as one might be inclined to believe, but essentially searched for the evidence that could support his hunch of evolution by natural selection. It will further argue that Darwin’s method did not involve mere wide-eyed observation but instead was based on hypotheses that he had already clearly thought about and on analogies from social thought as varied as that of Thomas Malthus and Adam Smith. In order to assess Darwin’s methodology, two levels of analysis will be used. A: Using the Notebooks, Darwin’s recorded thought process will be traced chronologically, marking important occurrences such as his meeting with ornithologist John Gould, and demonstrating through the early effect of Lyell’s geology and Darwin’s unsuccessful hypotheses, that he could not have proceeded inductively. B: Using Darwin’s letters and the Origin, the general themes in Darwin’s collection of evidence to support a work that was two decades or more in preparation will be propounded upon. The themes will thus demonstrate how Darwin selectively chose information to suit his needs especially in the context of Malthusian ideas, and that the best analysis can be made by approaching On the Origin of Species primarily as a work of synthesis and not merely as Darwin’s extrapolation following a great deal of objective observation. When viewing the Origin as a cumulative work, it will also be stressed that Darwin did not simply string together facts from observations in the field of biology, but drew from analogies across disciplines including geology and economics.

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