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Pragmatism's EvolutionOrganism and Environment in American Philosophy$
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Trevor Pearce

Print publication date: 2020

Print ISBN-13: 9780226719887

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: May 2021

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226720081.001.0001

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Weismannism Comes to America: The Factors of Evolution

Weismannism Comes to America: The Factors of Evolution

(p.196) Five Weismannism Comes to America: The Factors of Evolution
Pragmatism's Evolution

Trevor Pearce

University of Chicago Press

This chapter examines how both first- and second-cohort pragmatists participated in the debates over the causal factors of evolution that accompanied the reception of August Weismann’s work in the 1890s. Weismann, a biologist, argued in the mid-1880s that the hereditary substance was confined to what he called the “germ-plasm,” which was isolated from the rest of the body. One implication was that acquired characteristics could not be inherited, undermining the neo-Lamarckian theories of American scientists such as Edward Drinker Cope and Henry Fairfield Osborn. These discussions were of interest to William James and Charles Sanders Peirce because of their opposition to Herbert Spencer (also a neo-Lamarckian) and Peirce’s 1893 essay “Evolutionary Love” should be interpreted as contributing to the factors of evolution debates. John Dewey also followed these debates, applying key concepts from an 1893–95 dispute between Spencer and Weismann to his early work in ethics and social psychology.

Keywords:   August Weismann, Herbert Spencer, Charles Sanders Peirce, William James, Edward Drinker Cope, Henry Fairfield Osborn, John Dewey, Lamarckism, Neo-Lamarckism, acquired characteristics

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