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Downe House

Darwin's Downe House Study


Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse come to Darwin from vastly different viewpoints. Richards, on the one hand, believes that Darwin was informed by the Romanic movement, and he traces Darwin's influences who include the poet-scientist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the philosopher Friedrich Schelling, and the naturalist-adventurer Alexander von Humbolt.

Ruse comes at Darwin from a decidedly different slant, arguing for a mechanistic Darwin influenced by the mechanistic philosophy of the seventeenth century, including the work of Newton, Boyle, and Hook, and the later work of Adam Smith and Darwin's grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

Richards and Ruse have already aired their disagreements in public, notably four years ago at a meeting of the International Society for the History, Philosophy and the Social Studies of Biology, and then in print in a pair of jointly published articles in the Journal of the History of Biology.  These encounters have occasioned much discussion among scholars and point to the fact that there would be a ready audience for a more extended treatment.  The authors believe also that apart from the obvious interest to trained historians and philosophers of science, such a treatment would be required reading for all who now presume to write on Darwinism and its history.

Debating Darwin

A textual exchange between Robert J. Richards and Michael Ruse

Richards and Ruse are currently in the process of coauthoring a project that puts their long-standing spirited and collegial debate in print for the first time. Fast friends for the past thirty years, this unique and fascinating study not only furthers an already established exchange on Darwin, but Richards and Ruse also invite the reader to contribute to it in unprecedented fashion.

Richards and Ruse invite the public to read and comment upon drafts of their new book, and to engage with one another as well in the spirit of extending their provocative debate. While each chapter will be singularly authored, the reader is invited to compare and contrast on an online forum. 

Each Chapter will be made available online when it is in draft form. A tentative outline is below:


This would deal with the general state of society including science in the century or more before Darwin, laying out the important influences (the Romantic Movement, the Industrial Revolution) that will come into play when Darwin starts to observe and to theorize.


The early years of Charles Darwin, his schooling, and the time spent on board HMS Beagle, from 1831 to 1836.  Topics to be included here would be the scientific training, the development of Darwin’s religious views, and his general philosophy of life.


When and why did Darwin become an evolutionist?  The route to natural selection, and the way in which Darwin expressed his ideas in his early unpublished writings (the Sketch of 1842 and the Essay of 1844).


Why did Darwin delay publication for so long?  What did he learn between 1844 and 1859, the year of the publication of the Origin?  What about the book itself, its content and its structure?


The work that Darwin did in the final twenty years of his life, especially including the work on our own species, Homo sapiens.  How did Darwin deal with issues like morality and religion?  How did natural selection fare as a mechanism in the thinking of Darwin and others?


Partly a continuation of the evolution story down to the present, but also a discussion of the achievements of Darwin and how they should be interpreted and regarded today.


OFF TO THE RACES: Pertinent Resources to Begin the Exchange

The Romantic Conception of Robert J. Richards (PDF)


Abstract: In his new book, The Romantic Conception of Life: Science and Philosophy in the Age of Goethe, Robert J Richards argues that Charles Darwin's true evolutionary roots lie in the German Romantic biology that flourished around the beginning of the nineteenth century. It is argued that Richards is quite wrong in this claim and that Darwin's roots are in the British society within which he was born, educated, and lived.

Darwinian Enchantment (PDF)


In this essay, I wish to investigate the state of Darwin's world. His theory has been cast by both supporters and opponents as replacing a mind-graced nature with a universal mechanism bereft of moral value; his theory, they suppose, rendered the modern world disenchanted.

Darwinianism and Mechanism: Metaphor in Science (PDF)


This is an essay about Charles Darwin, but my intent is philosophical rather than purely historical. I am interested in the nature of science. Is science a disinterested reflection of objective reality or is it a social construction, a subjective epiphenomenon on the culture of the day?

Darwin's Principles of Divergence and Natural Selection: Why Fodor
was Almost Right (PDF)


Darwin maintained that the principles of natural selection and divergence were the "keystones" of his theory. He introduced the principle of divergence to explain a fundamental feature of living nature: that organisms cluster into hierarchical groups, so as to be classifiable in the Linnaean taxonomic categories of variety, species, genus, and so on...

The Darwinian Revolution, as seen in 1979 and as seen twenty-five years later in 2004 (PDF)


A convenient and not-entirely-arbitrary starting point is 1959, one hundred years after the publication of the Origin. It was around that time that serious professional work started enriching our understanding of the Darwinian revolution...