Biology and politics: Some Victorian perspectives

  • Halliday R
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There is no general theory from which we can deduce what the relationships between biology and politics are or ought to be. Indeed, argument about these relationships has been clouded by dogmatic reductionism, by mere ideology, by unquestioned orthodoxies and by conceptual difficulties raised by the terminology of the life-sciences. Bearing this in mind, the author takes four arguments, each of which was particularly significant in Victorian thinking, assesses their strength and weakness and attempts to raise interesting issues both in the philosophy of science and in political theory. In general, he sees no absolute distinctions between biology and politics, opting instead for pragmatism and for eclecticism. After all, if there is no fixed or formal relationship between biology and politics, then common sense indicates that each argument can only stand up until it falls down. We should also remember that both in Darwinian biology and classical political argument survival is the test of success. The Victorians were at least great enough to realize that this apparently simple fact had revolutionary consequences both in biological science and political theory. © 1979.

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  • R. J. Halliday

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