University of Virginia Library

Search this document 
Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]

collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse section 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIV. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
109  collapse sectionV. 
29  collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionII. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionI. 
collapse sectionIII. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionVI. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionVII. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 
collapse sectionV. 

170 occurrences of ideology
[Clear Hits]


Although Darwin himself disavowed any intention
to draw philosophical conclusions, it was clear that his
ideas could be readily generalized so as to constitute
a world-outlook. The final sentence of the Origin of
remarked on the “grandeur of this view of life,”
and thereby invited a metaphysical interpretation of
the book's conclusions. Such metaphysical inter-
pretations not only generalized those conclusions, but
also tended to deal with questions that Darwin legiti-
mately bypassed. Among these were the question of
how life began, why it started to evolve, whether
evolution had always been continuous, and to what
extent naturalistic principles adequately accounted for
cosmic order, teleology in nature, the appearance of
the human mind, ostensible freedom of action, and
human knowledge. In taking up these matters, evolu-
tionary philosophies sometimes tried to anticipate the
findings of the sciences, sometimes offered speculative
answers to nonscientific questions, and sometimes
undertook conceptual analysis and redefinition of
terms. Occasionally there was a failure of nerve in the
face of the Darwinian challenge, so that an anti-
evolutionary position ultimately emerged. It will be
convenient to deal with a few of the major evolutionary
philosophies under four headings: mechanistic evolu-
tionism, vitalistic evolutionism, emergent evolutionism,
and pragmatic evolutionism.

Mechanistic Evolutionism. According to one gener-
alized doctrine, the total universe has evolved as a
consequence of its basic stuff being acted on by ex-
trinsic forces or laws. The biologist Ernst Haeckel,
Darwin's vigorous champion in Germany, expounded
this doctrine in his popular work, The Riddle of the
(London, 1899), Chs. I and XIII. “Evolution”
was for him the magic conception which could lead
to the solution of every cosmic riddle. All natural
phenomena, he contended, “from the motion of
heavenly bodies... to the growth of plants and the
consciousness of man, obey one and the same great
law of causation.” It produces “a vast, uniform, un-
interrupted process of development.” In the process
countless types of organization arise, but “all may be
ultimately referred to the mechanics of atoms.” Yet
since continuity prevails throughout, the atoms which
constitute the world-stuff must be supposed to have
a rudimentary consciousness or “soul” from which the
consciousness of man was evolved. Hence atoms are


not just bits of physical matter. Haeckel therefore
referred to his doctrine as “monism,” not materialism.
It may be viewed as a philosophically crude but influ-
ential attempt to unite Darwinism with the cosmogony
initiated by Descartes, Kant, and Laplace.

A more sophisticated version of mechanistic evolu-
tionism was formulated by Herbert Spencer in A Sys-
tem of Synthetic Philosophy
(1862-93). He had pub-
lished an attack on the idea of fixed, created species,
and a defense of transmutation, in his essay, “The
Development Hypothesis” (1852). When the Origin of
appeared Spencer accepted its contention that
existing forms of life had descended with modifications
from common ancestors. He even coined the phrase
“survival of the fittest” which Darwin unwisely
adopted as a synonym for natural selection.

Yet Spencer was not a Darwinian. The general
definition of evolution he formulated was inspired by
von Baer's description of embryological development,
and also by Lamarckian progressionism. Evolution is
defined as “an integration of matter and a concomitant
dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes
from a relatively indefinite, incoherent homogeneity
to a relatively definite, coherent heterogeneity; and
during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel
transformation” (First Principles, 6th ed., p. 144). The
causes of this movement are mechanical, being ex-
trinsic to matter and motion. Spencer undertook to
apply his definition to all phenomena, from the forma-
tion of the solar system out of a primitive nebula to
the rise of civilization out of primitive human associa-
tions. The enterprise needed ten large volumes and
thirty years to complete. In its day it was world-

Part of the reason for its fame was that the Synthetic
proposed to reconcile science and religion.
But in doing so it largely negated evolutionism. For
in his opening volume, First Principles (1862), Spencer
adopted an epistemological premiss from Mansel's The
Limits of Religious Thought
(1858) according to which
ultimate reality cannot be known. Now religion in-
volves the consciousness of an Incomprehensible Power
behind phenomena, and science, since it is only con-
cerned with phenomena, can acknowledge that they
are manifestations of an unknowable reality. Hence
there need be no opposition between the respective
claims of religion and science. But it follows that the
process of evolution is a feature of phenomena alone.
Ultimate reality does not evolve. Moreover, even in
the domain of phenomena evolution is not all-
pervasive. For it is essentially a rearrangement of en-
during matter and motion in various sectors—
inorganic, organic, and super-organic. The mechanical
causes that operate are likewise enduring. And,
Spencer declares, more forthrightly than Diderot, uni-
versal development will eventually run its course. It
will then be followed by the reverse process of retro-
gression and dissolution in the grand cosmic cycle. Thus
despite the wealth of detail it encompasses, the Syn-
thetic Philosophy
turns out to be an anti-evolutionary
system or, as Henri Bergson put it, “evolutionism only
in name.”

Vitalistic Evolutionism. The ancient idea that orga-
nisms are animated by a vital force not found in inor-
ganic matter had been invoked to account for the
history of life by advocates of progressionism and
Naturphilosophie in the eighteenth century. The influ-
ence of these romantic speculations did not end with
the appearance of the Origin of Species, however, but
continued to be manifested in metaphysical doctrines
hostile to Darwinism. No objection was raised to the
conclusion that evolution had occurred. What was
objected to was the philosophical adequacy of
mechanistic or naturalistic explanations of evolution.
The issue of teleology, largely ignored by Haeckel and
Spencer, came in for much attention, as did the ques-
tion of why organisms had become ever more diversi-
fied and complex since arising on the earth. Answers
to such questions in terms of a generalized vitalism,
with strong romantic overtones, were offered by
Schopenhauer and Bergson.

The importance of Schopenhauer for the history of
evolutionism was first pointed out by Lovejoy (see
Lovejoy, 1911). The relevant material occurs mainly
in a late work, Zur Philosophie und Wissenschaft der
(1850), which Schopenhauer wrote under the
influence of Chambers' Vestiges of the Natural History
of Creation,
a book that prefigured many Darwinian
arguments for the theory of descent. Schopenhauer
used Chambers' ideas to develop an evolutionary phi-
losophy of nature as a final supplement to the earlier
system which Schopenhauer had worked out in Die
Welt als Wille und Vorstellung
(1818). According to
that system, absolute reality is Will, an unconscious,
striving, irrational power, beyond space and time,
which “objectifies” itself in the phenomenal world. By
1850 Schopenhauer construed this objectification as a
process of cosmic, geological, and biological evolution.
Each individual in the process embodies the will to
live. The general diversification of types and the
movement through sudden saltations towards com-
plexity are explicable in terms of a striving of the Will
for maximum expression. This is an “end” determined
by its nature, though not consciously pursued. Hence
the whole process is teleological, not mechanical. Yet
like Spencer, Schopenhauer refused to give ontological
primacy to evolution. For the Will in itself is timeless,
complete, and inscrutable. As Lovejoy remarks, “both


systems consist of an evolutionary philosophy of nature,
projected against the background of an essentially
mystical and negative metaphysics” (Lovejoy [1911],
p. 214).

A thoroughgoing evolutionary metaphysics was set
forth by Bergson in L'évolution créatrice (1907; trans.
as Creative Evolution, 1911). This ingenious speculative
work proclaimed the ontological priority of time and
becoming over being. It attributed the history of orga-
nisms and their living properties to the activity of a
primordial impulse (élan vital; poussée vitale) which
infused inert matter, created organic structures, and
endowed organisms with the capacity to grow and
adapt to the environment. The vital impulse freely
created forms in ever-increasing diversity, at each stage
“engrafting on to the necessity of physical forces the
largest possible amount of indetermination.” Like his
eighteenth-century predecessor, Robinet, Bergson sup-
posed that inert matter resisted the vital impulse, so
that there is a constant tendency for organisms to
relapse into repetitive, devitalized routines. Eventu-
ally, the individual organism dies, but the “current of
life” passes on to succeeding generations and gives rise
to unpredictable novelties. At bottom, the vital impulse
is “a current of consciousness” which has found expres-
sion in human intelligence as a result of “a sudden leap
from animal to man” (Creative Evolution, p. 195).

Bergson contended that this doctrine provided a far
more adequate account of evolutionary phenomena
than either Darwinism or Spencerian mechanism.
These theories, he held, failed to make intelligible the
springing up of new organic types, the drive towards
ever-increasing complexity of structure, and the pres-
ervation of adaptive functioning through phases of
rapid change. Such phenomena become intelligible if
they are regarded as consequences of the action of a
vital impulse. It works purposively to sustain each
organism for a short period, but it does not pursue any
final goal. There is “teleology without design” which
results in continuous progress, indefinitely pursued.
Man is the growing tip of this progressive movement.
In him true freedom is realized; and he has access to
ultimate reality in his intuition of time.

Bergson's evolutionism was attractive to those who
were in revolt against mechanistic and materialistic
ideas at the start of the twentieth century. Many
welcomed the important place he gave to mind in the
evolutionary picture. Philosophers such as William
James, and writers such as Marcel Proust, André Gide,
and Shaw were influenced by his emphasis on cre-
ativity, freedom, novelty, and the flow of consciousness.
His defense of metaphysics challenged the positivism
of Hippolyte Taine which had dominated French
intellectual life for some years before Bergson's works
appeared. Yet it was the romantic, imaginative quality
of those works rather than the presence in them of
cogent arguments and supporting evidence that made
Bergsonian evolutionism popular.

Emergent Evolutionism. A central theme in the
Origin of Species was that no abrupt changes had taken
place in the history of life. That history conformed to
the principle, natura non facit saltum (“nature makes
no leap”), and hence all evolutionary changes in orga-
nisms were gradual. Some of Darwin's supporters con-
sidered that his espousal of this principle was ill-
advised since it is not an essential part of his theory.
Thus, T. H. Huxley affirmed in Collected Essays (9 vols.,
1893-94) “that Nature does make jumps now and then,
and a recognition of the fact is of no small importance
in disposing of minor objections to the doctrine of
transmutation” (II, 77). A Darwinian could accept the
view that sudden novelties had arisen in evolution,
although it was not clear how he could then escape
from accepting the unpalatable conclusion of thinkers
like Schopenhauer and Bergson that the “leaps” to
novelty are due to a vital force. The conceptual diffi-
culties here were resolved by the formulation of the
doctrine of emergent evolutionism.

In its full statement emergent evolutionism is a
metaphysical doctrine. But one of its contentions is
empirical, namely, that emergent events can be ob-
served in nature. The results of certain chemical reac-
tions which happen suddenly provide a simple exam-
ple. Hence the claim that nature makes no leaps is
empirically false. Furthermore, when they first occur,
these emergent events add something new to the sum-
total of existence, and being genuinely novel, they are
unpredictable in principle. Emergents can also be
noted in the history of life at those points where new
organic types appeared on the scene. Their emergence
is a natural fact which does not require the postulation
of a vital impulse. The fact is, however, incompatible
with mechanistic, reductionist, or preformationist in-
terpretations of what took place. It is likewise incom-
patible with some, but not all, interpretations of the
causal principle. The emergence of novelties in biolog-
ical evolution illustrates the cumulative aspect of the

These contentions were embodied in systems of
metaphysical evolutionism by Lloyd Morgan in
Emergent Evolution (1923) and by Samuel Alexander
in Space, Time and Deity (1920). They construed
“emergence” as applying not to individual events or
to particular organic forms, but to broad “levels” of
being. Lloyd Morgan affirmed that the universe had
evolved by generating four temporally successive
levels: psycho-physical events, life, mind, and spirit or
God. Alexander distinguished five levels of complexes


and their qualities: space-time, matter, life, mind, and
deity. The supervening of each level on its predecessors
was declared to be inexplicable, a fact to be accepted
with “natural piety.” Other exponents of the doctrine
objected to this conclusion, and undertook to show that
emergents can be given a rational explanation ex post
without denying that when they occur they are
unpredictable novelties. There is no consensus about
how many or what kinds of levels cosmic evolution
has produced. By no means do all emergent evolution-
ists accept the view that one of the levels can be called
God. Naturalistic formulations of the doctrine have
been given in which the main categories are physical,
e.g., elementary particles, atoms, molecules, cells, or-
ganisms, and societies.

The notion of emergence has been accepted by many
biologists as a valid description of what happened at
critical stages of terrestrial evolution. The notion has
also been found useful as a device for integrating bio-
logical evolution and the unique products of mental,
moral, and cultural evolution that have enriched the
sum of things on the earth. These applications accord
with the view that discontinuities exist among living
systems because of the different degrees of complexity
in their organization. The metaphysical extension of
this view, however, is problematic. It requires the
postulation of such highly controversial ideas as an
overall, cosmic evolution, pervasive levels of being, and
an inherent tendency of the cosmos to produce novel-
ties. Furthermore, the model or paradigm associated
with these ideas is obscure. Emergent evolution is
envisaged neither as a temporal building up of a scale
of nature, nor as a temporalized chain of beings. For
it is said that each level which emerges “contains
within it” all earlier levels, and also that the superven-
ing of a level on others may engender novel qualities
at one or more of those other levels. The model here
would seem to be that of a developing organism which
during embryogenesis can be observed to manifest new
structures within which earlier structures are con-
tained. Emergent evolutionism has, indeed, an affinity
for organismic and epigenetic ideas, which have some-
times been combined with it.

Pragmatic Evolutionism. A distinctive generaliza-
tion of Darwinian conceptions took place in connection
with the rise of pragmatism in America. The initiators
of this doctrine accepted Darwin's view that evolution
is continuous. But they broadened his theory of chance
variations and natural selection so as to explain the
role of human thought and its multifarious creations.
Out of this explanation there developed a reconstruc-
tion of traditional philosophy. Its primary concern was
not with abstract speculation but with reflection on
concrete problems of scientific method, education,
jurisprudence, and social ethics. Pragmatism thus pro-
vided a way of understanding how cultural evolution
is related to biological evolution. At the same time,
pragmatic evolutionism did involve a world view, a
predominantly empirical and naturalistic metaphysics,
in which no appeal was made to cosmic purposes,
vitalistic agencies, or mechanistic laws.

On the pragmatic approach, man is recognized to
be engaged, like every other living thing, in a constant
process of adapting to his environment. His mental
capacities are, therefore, adaptive devices which serve
him well or ill in this process. Ideas are instruments
for coping with the world, and must be tested by
observation and experiment to determine their worth.
Thought and action, when functioning properly, are
inseparable, for man adapts to an existing situation
either by making his behavior conform to it or by
actively changing the situation to meet his needs. This
pragmatic approach to mind had its roots not only in
Darwinism but also in Bain's conception of belief as
a “preparation to act,” in Chauncey Wright's view of
scientific principles as “working hypotheses,” and in
Peirce's contention in Collected Papers (8 vols.,
1931-58) that “the elements of every concept enter
into logical thought at the gate of perception and make
their exit at the gate of purposive action” (Collected
[1934], V, 212). John Dewey developed these
notions into a full-blown evolutionary logic in his
Logic: The Theory of Inquiry (1938). Another prag-
matist, G. H. Mead, put the matter strikingly when
he said that “the scientific method is, after all, only
the evolutionary process grown self-conscious” (Move-
ments of Thought in the Nineteenth Century
p. 364). For in the history of science ideas, like somatic
variations in the history of life, have been subject to
a selective process which has resulted in a survival of
the fittest.

The world view which pragmatic evolutionism in-
volved was, with one notable exception, pluralistic and
open-ended. “Nature” was the basic ontological cate-
gory which embraced the multiplicity of events whose
interactions are sometimes regular and sometimes ran-
dom. There is no fixed cosmic order and no overall
direction in cosmic history. Yet a cumulative, determi-
nate past is being built up by the actualization of some
events out of the array of indeterminate possibilities.
Wright compared the physical history of the universe
to meteorological phenomena, in his doctrine of “cos-
mic weather,” where what happens is causally deter-
mined but shows no dominant trend. William James,
in opposing the Hegelian “block universe,” suggested
that world events are “only strung along, not rounded
in and closed.” Dewey urged, in The Influence of
Darwin on Philosophy,
that a philosopher who has


learned the lesson of Darwinism will “forswear inquiry
after absolute origins and absolute finalities in order
to explore specific values and the specific conditions
that generate them” (1910, p. 13). Pragmatism can find
no meaning in a “wholesale theory” of first and last

The exception to all this was the speculative evolu-
tionism of Peirce. Although he had a sound grasp of
the logic of Darwinism, recognizing as few did its use
of the statistical method, he never accepted the theory
as a complete explanation of either biological or cul-
tural evolution. Thus he held that the diversification
which has occurred among organisms cannot be ac-
counted for by any lawlike mechanism such as natural
selection. It points rather to the operation of an in-
trinsic spontaneity in the universe. Furthermore, the
principle of continuity implies that evolution is growth
in the widest sense of the word. But whatever grows
must be present in the process from the start. Hence
such phenomena as feeling and thought, so far from
being late arrivals on the evolutionary scene, have
always been in existence, at least in an inchoate form,
throughout the cosmos. In man these phenomena have
developed through the forming of habits, especially
habits involving the use of signs and symbols, to their
present state. Accordingly, man's adaptation is primar-
ily to a semiotic environment and only secondarily to
a bio-physical one. An adequate pragmatism will
therefore conclude that the purposive action into
which thought passes, is directed to the increase of
concrete reasonableness, and is not simply a bodily

Peirce generalized these themes into a “cosmogonic”
evolutionism reminiscent of Schelling, to whom he
acknowledged his indebtedness. The universe is repre-
sented as growing from a state of total randomness in
the infinitely distant past towards a state of total order
in the infinitely distant future. Cosmic evolution is also
represented as beginning with “a chaos of unpersonal-
ized feeling” and ending with “an absolutely perfect,
rational, and symmetrical system” in which mind be-
comes “at last crystallized.” What happens in this
process is not causally necessitated. Yet it is destined
or “fated” to occur, partly because it involves a pro-
gressive unfolding of God's purpose in nature. These
and other descriptions can hardly be said to form a
perspicuous and logically consistent doctrine. In this
area of his thought, Peirce's transcendental and reli-
gious predilections often led him to make vague,
grandiose claims. These claims were not only at vari-
ance with the philosophical method he advocated else-
where, but were also at variance with the principles
that guided other pragmatic evolutionists (cf. Wiener,
1949; Goudge, 1950).