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Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

Gregory Radick: Race, Language and Darwinism since Darwin

14th June 2007, 17:15 to 18:45, Debating Chamber, Palace Green

Dr Gregory Radick, University of Leeds

This is the final seminar in 'The Darwinan Legacy: Earth, Life and Mind' Seminar Series.

The Darwinian tradition has evolved away from Darwin’s own views in a number of ways. One change that has been little noticed concerns race and language. In Darwin’s day, he faced creationist critics who argued that no up-from-the-ape theory of human origins could explain the existence of complex languages among otherwise primitive peoples. Darwin accepted this challenge, and in the Descent of Man (1871) tried to overcome it by showing that the languages in question were really primitive after all. In our day, by contrast, the idea that no race or language is more primitive than any other is as much a scientific commonplace as the up-from-the-ape theory; no tension or incompatibility is felt between these two. How and why did 'linguistic egalitarianism' and Darwinian theory cease to be antagonists? This presentation will sketch in some of the key scientific developments and their connections to wider intellectual, professional and social agenda, dwelling especially on the contributions of the anthropologist-linguists Franz Boas and Charles Hockett.

Gregory Radick studied history at Rutgers and history and philosophy of science (HPS) at Cambridge. Since 2000, he has been based in the Division of HPS at the University of Leeds, where he is Senior Lecturer and Chair of Division. He is co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to Darwin (2003).

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