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Alexander Moritzi, a Swiss Pre-Darwinian Evolutionist: Insights into the Creationist-Transmutationist Debates of the 1830s and 1840s.

Authors
  • Friedman, William E1, 2
  • Endress, Peter K3
  • 1 Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Cambridge, MA, 02138, USA. [email protected]
  • 2 Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University, Boston, MA, 02131, USA. [email protected]
  • 3 Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich, 8008, Zurich, Switzerland. , (Switzerland)
Type
Published Article
Journal
Journal of the history of biology
Publication Date
Dec 01, 2020
Volume
53
Issue
4
Pages
549–585
Identifiers
DOI: 10.1007/s10739-020-09619-0
PMID: 33242175
Source
Medline
Keywords
Language
English
License
Unknown

Abstract

Alexander Moritzi (1806-1850) is one of the most obscure figures in the early history of evolutionary thought. Best known for authoring a flora of Switzerland, Moritzi also published Réflexions sur l'espèce en histoire naturelle (1842), a remarkable book about evolution with an overtly materialist viewpoint. In this work, Moritzi argues that the (then) generally accepted line between species and varieties is artificial, that varieties can over time give rise to new species, and that deep time and turnover of species in the fossil record clearly support an evolutionary interpretation of biological diversity. Moritzi was also a gradualist and viewed relationships between taxa as best represented by a ramifying tree. Although Réflexions was the first full book to be written on the topic of evolution following Lamarck's Philosophie zoologique (1809), Moritzi's evolutionist contribution was stillborn, read by almost no one in his lifetime and ultimately absent from the many historiographies of evolutionary thought. This is unfortunate since many of the arguments Moritzi marshaled on behalf of an evolutionary explanation of life can be found in subsequent transmutationist writings by Frédéric Gérard, Robert Chambers, Henri Lecoq, Baden Powell, Charles Naudin, Herbert Spencer, Alfred Russel Wallace, and Charles Darwin-none of whom is likely to have ever known of the existence of Réflexions. Finally, Moritzi's arguments, along with those found in Darwin's private essay on evolution of the same year, provide an excellent window into the state of evolutionary thought and debate over the nature of species at the beginning of the 1840s.

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