STS Colloquium Talk: Piers Hale March 13

Professor Piers Hale of the University of Oklahoma History of Science Department delivers an STS colloquium talk titled “Malthus or Mutualism? A Reassessment of the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England” on Thursday, March 13th from 5:00-6:30 pm in the Green College Coach House.

Historians of science have long debated the significance of Darwin’s reading of Malthus’s essay on the principle of population, both for the development of his theory of natural selection and to ask questions about the relationship between scientific and social ideas. Darwin’s contemporaries, of all political persuasions, also noted how well his theory fit with contemporary liberal political economy. On the other hand, while the Russian anarchist, geographer and naturalist Peter Kropotkin accepted much of what Darwin had to say, he rejected the Malthusian element of natural selection that others believed to be central to Darwin’s theory. He has thus been portrayed as somewhat of an anomaly for asserting that he had a better understanding of Darwinian evolution than did ‘Darwin’s Bulldog,’ Thomas Huxley, even implying that he had a better understanding of Darwinism than did Darwin himself.
While we have become familiar with the notion that ‘Darwin without Malthus’ flourished among Russian evolutionary biologists, in this presentation I show that not only was there a long tradition of non-Malthusian evolution in Britain, but that that tradition persisted long after the publication of Darwin’s Origin, and was held by many to be a credible alternative to the view of nature that Darwin had presented there.