This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
. 47, No. 2 (Apr. - Jun., 1986), pp. 215-233 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2709811 Accessed: 24/09/2009 01:54
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use, available at http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp. JSTOR's Terms and Conditions of Use provides, in part, that unless you have obtained prior permission, you may not download an entire issue of a journal or multiple copies of articles, and you may use content in the JSTOR archive only for your personal, non-commercial use. Please contact the publisher regarding any further use of this work. Publisher contact information may be obtained at http://www.jstor.org/action/showPublisher?publisherCode=upenn. Each copy of any part of a JSTOR transmission must contain the same copyright notice that appears on the screen or printed page of such transmission. JSTOR is a not-for-profit organization founded in 1995 to build trusted digital archives for scholarship. We work with the scholarly community to preserve their work and the materials they rely upon, and to build a common research platform that promotes the discovery and use of these resources. For more information about JSTOR, please contact email@example.com.
University of Pennsylvania Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to Journal of the History of Ideas.
BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY IN THE AGE OF ENLIGHTENMENT
I. Introduction. The movement of ideas which evolved and came to the fore in the eighteenth century under the generic definition of progress had many facets. A variety of concepts contributed to the formation of an image of progress: temporality, change, development, perfectibility, transformation.... These concepts were also applied to
different fields of knowledge within both the study of human behavior and the study of the phenomena of the material world. The new hypotheses which arose from the application of these concepts to the life sciences and the social sciences interacted and supplied conceptual models and working tools for both fields. Broadly speaking, in the eighteenth century the view of the history (progress) of mankind that developed portrayed the various ages linked in a chain of causes and effects such that the condition of mankind appeared as a continuous and logically directed whole. The corresponding picture of nature was composed of a continuous sequence of beings located in a hierarchy of a regular and consistent order. This correspondence was not, however, symmetrical, nor did the processes follow parallel lines; affinities did indeed exist, but there was also a sharp division between the "progressive" image in the field of social behavior and in the area of "natural" beings. A political-philosophical approach tended to dominate thinking about the phenomena of the human world, and here a dynamic model took precedence over a static one. Within the social world it became accepted, "new" phenomena may occur but not in the natural world. The ideas of the natural world remained static for a longer period, and the action of nature was thought only to reproduce and to develop a preordainedorder in which there was no place for either novelty or the unexpected. Throughout the eighteenth century the prevailing idea in the field of the life sciences was still that which Arthur O. Lovejoy included in the "great chain of being."' Although eighteenth-century thinkers tended on the whole to understand the structure of the universe through this metaphor, they must nevertheless be credited with having introduced an idea of capital importance: instead of a descending order of beings from the most perfect to the least developed, the Enlightenment conceived an ascending order, that is, from the most primitive to the most perfect. In elaborating this schema of perfectibility in their description of social and natural phenomena, the eighteenth-century naturalistic phi'A. O. Lovejoy, The Great Chain of Being (Cambridge, Mass., 1936), 64.
215 Copyright 1986 by JOURNALOF THE HISTORYOF IDEAS, INC.
who had offered a plenistic schema of the universe with vortices and who had also later accepted its behavior as mechanical and based on purely physical predicates. But since nothing occurs. These principles were clearly laid out in those works by Leibniz that had been read by the philosophes before the publication in 1765 of the Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain: the Theodicee. and the Monadology. the plenum. without a sufficient reason to determine why a thing has occurred thus and not otherwise. 3 G. the introduction of a Democritean discontinuity and void into the world would constitute a violation of Leibniz's principle of the need for a sufficient reason and would also accuse God of imperfect creation. Everything in nature is complete.4 The main concern of Leibniz was therefore in conceptual terms to eliminate from the universe every possible source of disorder and imperfection. Even the divine choice among infinite possible worlds has to be inspired by the principle of sufficient reason. L 'Hritage leibnizienau siecle des lumieres.Aspectsde l'homme et de l'oeuvre 1646-1716 (Paris. II. and everything is connected with all possible order and harmony (the present is "gros de l'avenir. many naturalists preferred Leibniz's paradigm. charge du passe. 209. The Leibnizian inheritance.ed.2In the latter work. based on the assumption of action by contact.-For many eighteenth-century naturalists the universe of natural phenomena was a full one. Morris (London. 1053. closely joined together in strict observance of the law of continuity and the plenum. Correspondence with Clarke. and the reason for the divine choice lies in the fitness and the degrees of perfection that these worlds contain. All possible perfection is provided by the principle of the greatest variety and order within the smallest compass.in Leibniz. "what is far off is expressed in what is near"). M." which can be read in the past. 1934). and harmony in the universe were guaranteed continuity. 4 The Monadology.3 The complete universe is that which contains the highest level of perfection. beings and the classes of beings are arranged as the ordinates of a single curve. Thus. Since the law of continuity Belaval. preestablished harmony. by the principle of sufficient reason. in Philosophical Papers and Letters (Chicago. and sufficient reason. the Correspondence with Clarke. since each one has the right to claim existence in proportion to the perfection it contains. in Leibniz' Philosophical Writings. . 1956). 253. W.216 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI losophers took a decisive step forward. 1968). II. the plenum." each monad is in the present "pregnantwith the future. In fact their inversion of the classical model not only led to the theory of evolution in the biological sciences but also provided the basis for those political doctrines which place the attainment of man's happiness and his fulfillment in the future. 2 Y. Leibniz. based on the principles of continuity. Against the theories of Descartes. according to Leibniz.
according to the preestablished schema. This is opposed to the epigenesist doctrine. Leibniz's belief in preformation. excluding miracles and chaos and in order to maintain the principles of harmony and the plenum. The Principles of Nature and of Grace. which held that the living being grows from the germ to the acquisition and subsequent formation of new parts.7as in a Russian doll enclosing a series of similar dolls. Tonelli. is bound to a static model of nature in which individuals and species are granted development but not a sudden transformationfrom the embryonic to the adult condition. the development of what is enveloped. ed. All the species alongisde or inside the border regions must be equivocal and endowed with characteristics that can be equally attributed to the neighboring species. in which the different classes are so closely joined to one another that the senses and the imagination cannot distinguish the exact point at which one begins or ends.8 A hypothesis that explains nature'sbecoming as a successive unfolding of a predetermined order. G. 8 Essais de theodicee. "The Law of Continuity in the Eighteenth Century. Gerhardt (Berlin. in Philosophical Papers. right back to the first seeds." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1963). when the essential determinations of one being resemble those of another. contained in those from which they have been born. 1621. so far as the reproduction of living beings is concerned. 886. 1885). it must be concluded that God preformed things so that new organizations should be only an automatic consequence of a previous organic constitution. II. admit the preformation of the seeds in the bodies that are born. in PhilosophischenSchriften. for Leibniz. 6 5 Letter to .6The schema of the structure of the universe derived from it is seemingly of a static type. II. W. Leibniz. Based on Reason.5 The law of continuity holds a central place in the methodological interests of Leibniz. in which the aspiration of potential beings to existence is fulfilled in the perfection of the present world and where the only dynamic process permitted is the development of an order preordained ab initio by God. and all the order of natural beings must form a single chain. 7 G. that is. 1037. all the properties of the first must draw close to those of the other. The perfection of the present world and preformist hypotheses might Varignon of 2nd February 1702. ibid. VI.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 217 requires that. and not as an autonomous generation of an order through the iteration and temporal continuity of the processes. Preformation is the doctrine which held that animal seed is encapsulated in the loins of the first progenitor. The reproductive mechanism must therefore.or evolution of the preformed. seems to contribute to the static nature of this structure. The notion of preformation. nothing new will be added to the created nature. Thus. the unwinding of what is wound up. in fact ensures that once the divine act of creation has taken place.
1) which represents the hypothesis of equal perfection. Between the spring and summer of 1715. (fig. The reply arrived after some months and was slightly ambiguous.2) . Bourguet had come to wonder whether it was possible to think of succession without conceiving an initial point from which all the successive states derive. on the question of the perfection of nature. If it is true that the primary notion of a unit-class is resolvable in the notion of units. Perplexed by the problem. In his meditation on nature. 1) I The second case (that nature always grows in perfection. a philosopher. a primal instant does not necessarily exist. which can be considered as a primary. with the ordinates . and naturalist of Geneva. in that one term in the universe does not have priority in nature over the other terms. in which it is more probable that there is no beginning: A IL (fig. Leibniz continued. 2). but there is. it does not follow that the notion of different instants must be resolved in a primal instant. The first case is shown by rectangle A (fig. whereas a preceding instant always has priority over the following instant. he asked Leibniz for clarification. a year before his death. there is no reason why it should be necessary to conceive an initial principal instant. at least to my knowledge. one point where the Leibnizian philosophy seems to waver and to be open to other hypotheses. Leibniz began to correspond with Louis Bourguet (1678-1742). Nevertheless.218 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI seem to be a sufficient foundation on which to base an indestructibly static view of nature. 2) (fig. Even if a difference between the instants and the terms does exist. or it grows continually in perfection. Leibniz formulated two hypotheses: either nature is already perfect. supposing that it is not possible for it to be endowed contemporaneously with all perfection) is further divided by Leibniz in two ways. even if we may not affirm the existence of a primal instant. Since in nature there is no term which is fundamental for all the others. no seat of God so to speak. we cannot deny it either. man of letters.of hyperbola B or with those of triangle C (fig. not only in time but also in nature.
and the instants would be growing in perfection from eternity. was the author of several works on geology written over the 1720s and '30s. he did not reject the idea of nature's growth in perfection. 1729). 12 "Lettre de M. a Monsieur Antoine Vallisnieri premier professeur de la medecine theoretique a Padoue. Bourguet claimed to be the first to set up the hypothesis of the scale of beings. and letter from Leibniz to Bourguet of 5th August. but. Plouquet. while not making too apodictic a declaration. PhilosophischenSchriften. Kdstner. 1715. in G. 282-83. It also provided a structured scale of perfectibility ascending from the embryo. with P. there would have been a beginning. The theoretical foundation inherited from Leibniz by the French biologists thus consisted of something more than a "panpsychism" according to which living nature is the sum and substance of infinite individual beings (the original monads) endowed with autonomous activity and sensitivity. even in the mineral kingdom. . Isely. which left room for transformist interpretations. Louis Bourguet. sur la gradation et l'echelle des fossiles. in L. L.-Leibniz's reply caused Bourguet some perplexity at the time. cit. for which he was best known. Mere reason. " L. But in the hypothesis of triangle C. yet the existing succession would be the most perfect of all possible successions because God always chooses the best possible.12His aim was to show the gradation of beings. 1742)." Bibliotheque italique. the world would have no beginning. leaving room in his construction (which for this reason we have regarded as apparently static) for the idea of perfection in time and therefore of change for the better. II (1728). Apparently unaware of the illustrious tradition that had preceded him on this subject.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 219 According to the hypothesis of hyperbola B. Boscovich.10even though he never fully realized the importance of Leibniz's intuitions. Traite des petrifications (Paris. Correspondance scientifique et philosophique (1707-1716). W. Cartier. Leibniz. III. 207. who conceived and contributed to the Bibliotheque italique.9 Leibniz retained divine choice in any case as the best possible.1 In these works his technical analysis and classification of fossils and crystals followed a logical schema based on the scale of beings."Bulletin de la Societe neuchatelaise des sciences naturelles (1903-04). The continuum theorist: Bourguet. from the most simple to the 9 Letter from Bourguet to Leibniz of 15th April 1715. op. III. although he admitted having been influenced by Leibniz. Bourguet. 102-03. Leibniz went on to say. 1729). but the following year he decided to make a definite statement on the triangle hypothesis. "Leibniz et Bourguet. 1716 in L. Memoire sur la theorie de la terre (Amsterdam. 202-05. does not enable us to make a definite choice. 10Letter from Bourguet to Leibniz of 16th March.. The only conclusion he felt able to draw was that. though according to the hypothesis of growth the state of the world at any given instant could never be absolutely perfect. B. Isely. Lettres philosophiquessur la formation des sels et des cristaux et sur la generationet le mechanismedesplantes et des animaux a I'occasionde lapierre belemnite et de la pierre lenticulaire (Amsterdam. P.
But difficulties also arise from the comparison of like with like and are not easily overcome. During the middle of the century these writers were concerned with the law of continuity in mathematics and physics in relation to the problem of hard bodies. as Leibniz maintained. Bourguet's doubt as to whether it might be possible to compose a gradation including immaterial beings more perfect than man and beings whose soul is tied to a body appears many years later in the writings of Plouquet (1716-1790). . 64. there must never be an intermediary discrete species between two others. since the Deity is infinite. and everything that exists apart from God is by definition finite. If unlike is compared with unlike. (Berlin. however. Plouquet's was entirely negative. In his writings Bourguet tried to avoid theological discussion. On the very basis of the lex continui. Despite the benefits of his correspondence with Leibniz (they wrote to each other from June 1709 to July 1716). as a scale that descends from the most perfect beings to the coarsest of natures. In this case also the lack of homogeneity mars the continuity of the gradation. excluding God from his scale as being too far above limited beings to be considered on the same level. 13 .14 de G. Dissertatio historico-cosmologica lege continuitatissive gradationibus leibnitiana (Tiibingen. 1761).13The error lies in the fact that the gradation of being takes on the category of the discrete.220 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI most complex. Analogous questions are discussed also in De Corporum organisatorumgeneratione disquisitiophilosophice . 14 G. which may just as easily be depicted going in the other direction. to say nothing of irregular and "eccentric" beings. But the very nature of the continuum forbids absolute proximity. from the least to the most perfect. 1749). Plouquet. in it. for if it is possible for the species to be plotted as the ordinates of a single curve. But whereas Bourguet's answer was affirmative. Plouquet's conclusion in the name of the defense of the law of continuity is categorical. This law cannot be transferred from the physical world to the behavior of the species for the two above-mentioned reasons: 1) It is impossible to construct a perfect system with dissimilar beings. much more critical of the possibility of applying the continuity principle to the study of the natural world.. Saying that nature ascends by degrees towards more perfect creations is only one way of interpreting gradation. which is confused with that of the continuous. we cannot free ourselves of contradiction. Dissertatio historico-cosmologica. Bourguet was still too conditioned by the creationist way of thinking to accept a single direction in the movement of nature. For the same reason it is not possible to fit God into the same continuous scale (although Bourguet had already thought of leaving God out). 2) It is equally impossible to imagine an absolute similarity between two species. Other authors were. Plouquet. Both these conditions would be in contradiction to the law of continuity.65. it is illogical to formulate a continuous sequence with nonhomogeneous elements like spirit and matter.
16 15 . Every single thing is the immediate effect of something that has preceded it and in turn determines the existence of what follows. tells in his memoires how he came into contact with Leibniz's thinking. CharlesBonnet.17Nature does not proceed by leaps and bounds. and from that moment he referred to the event as one of the most important in his intellectual life. individuals. Bonnet. half philosophers. "lex continui" means that anything that changes must go through all the changes necessary to reach the ultimate. VII. a Genevan. and since. the gap between creature and creator is unbridgeable).l5 When applied to changes in nature. Ch. chained together. 100. The enchanting prospect opened up by Leibniz's philosophy was rather one of nature proceeding by degrees from one creation to another.but it is contrary to Leibniz's view that nature makes no leaps (natura non facit saltus). Kistner (17191800) expressed a similar perplexity in his De Lege continui in natura. Bonnet's universe is systematic: everything contained in it is arranged. They were eccentric characters. G. since a few lines later.related.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 221 Towards the middle of the eighteenth century A. Bonnet himself candidly confesses that he had not understood either the monadology or the doctrine of preordained harmony. and society. linked. The Leipzig. Memoirs autobiographiques.-Bonnet and Robinet. These rigorous defenders of the law of continuity in mathematics and physics then maintained its inapplicability to the scale of nature and especially made use of it in the analysis of generation and of the development of the embryo into the adult individual. R. 17 Contemplationde la nature. declared themselves faithful disciples of Leibniz and champions of a law of continuity strictly applied to both the physical and the living world. In the winter of 1748 he first read Leibniz's Theodicee. however. His Leibnizian inspiration can therefore be reduced to the doctrine of the preexistence of germs and souls in particular. 1779-1783). half naturalists. 1948).16His enthusiastic statements should not be taken too literally. 1750. but their contributions to the reversal of the model of nature going from descending to ascending and to the conception of the perfectibility of nature. biologist and strong supporter of the performist thesis. in reality. without gaps on its way. in Oeuvresd'histoire naturelle et de philosophie (Neuchatel. Kistner observed. not only is it impossible to set up a chain without interruptions(since the distance between the most perfect created being and its creator is greater than that existing between the most perfect and the lowest of creatures. everything that exists has a sufficient reason.ed. 36. were of lasting influence. above all. Charles Bonnet (1770-1793). which for Bonnet was identified with the proximate and immediate cause. as well as to the hypothesis of the chain of being and the principle of continuity. IV. Savioz (Paris.
This differentiation of the species due to external climatic or environmental factors did not. Thus Maupertuis offered an explanation for the disappearanceof certain natural species for whose previous existence there was clear evidence. as the latter seems to have intuited. Bonnet wholly accepted the concept of the universal chain (from which its creator is excluded) that unites all beings.in Oeuvresd'histoire naturelle.his thinking remaineddevelopmentalist. . joins all worlds. and embraces all spheres from the lowest to the highest degree of bodily or spiritual perfection. however. so there is between one being and another. destructive intervention. it was only a question of ignorance when anyone believed there were breaks in the great chain of being. nothing is generated. In his Essai de cosmologie (1751) Maupertuis had in fact hypothesized that a natural catastrophe. a real and natural filiation of living beings. or to hybridization. V. as Maupertuis did. for nature has infinite creations about whose existence we know nothing and whose exact nomenclature we do not even possess. even though there is still a vast gulf between the most regular and plantlike fossil and the least organized plant. then and only then would we be able to state whether the scale of beings is really interrupted. Here Bonnet formed a hypothesis: the intermediary between plants and minerals might be fossils. When natural history.222 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI present state of a body is the result or product of its antecedent's state. Bonnet simply attributedthe differentiationof beings and their increase in number with respect to their original state to climate or diet. 191- 96. reached maturity and when we had the exact nomenclature for all the species contained in our globe. some other being would be discovered that bridges the gap that nature seems to have left in passing from plants to minerals. for fossils do not grow. alter the performist beliefs of Bonnet. Our knowledge. corroborating the wonderful gradation existing between all beings. But instead of imagining. However this might be. or even. Whether he was speaking in terms of evolution or preformation. still in its infancy.18 On this subject Bonnet engaged in controversy with Maupertuis (16981759). Bonnet concluded. What we improperly call generation is only the beginning of a devel18 Considerationssur les corps organises. however. is only just beginning to scratch the surface of the realm of nature. some catastrophic. preexistence of germs or preordination. so sooner or later. feed or reproduce. Just as Tremblay's (1700-1784) polyp had come to fill the apparent void between the animal and the plant world. As far as Bonnet was concerned. He held that everything had been formed ab initio. such as a collision with a comet. It is true that Bonnet admitted that the state of the present natural world might be different from the original one. for as there is a gradation in the growth of beings. 87-88. Bonnet stated. the void between plants and minerals would one day be filled. could have destroyed a part of the species.
emboltement or panspermia (original dissemination of germs in all the parts of nature). its own intellectual faculties. determined by the grade of perfectibility reached by each species. In perfecting its own limbs. (Geneve. Since this growth is inseparable from bodily and spiritual perfection. and gradation were included.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 223 opment which will make visible and palpable what is invisible and impalpable. which in the meantime will have undergone an analogous process. allowing the species immediately below it. conservation. .20 Amusement over the idea of monkey-like Newtons and Leibnizes and ideas such as Robinet's fish-men have often sidetracked us from grasping how great was the affinity between this chain of beings. As the scale and the linearity remain intact. or at least the image of a better future than the present. 20 Op. although he tended towards the first. is to be found in the naturalistic movement founded on continuity. 204-05. that each animal species is ordained to attain a perfection whose organic principles were foreseen at the beginning but whose development (which could rise to the knowledge of God) is ordained according to the future state of the globe. This is the only certitude deducible from the occurrence of two different orders of causation.19 Bonnet's schema seems to deny all sudden evolution. B. J. Bonnet concluded. to occupy the step previously filled by the first species. 198-99 and 203-04. the foundation of that striving towards perfection. ou idees sur l'tat passe et sur l'tat futur des etres La vivans etc. quivering with life and pointing towards a future perfection. whose writings 19 Palingenesie philosophique. and to neither of these two ideas did Bonnet adhere. Robinet (1735-1820).-Similar opinions were expressed by another naturalist-philosopher of the second half of the eighteenth century. 1769). V. Robinet or "la nature qui apprend a faire l'homme". The premise set out in the Palingenesie rests on the belief in the limitless perfectibility of animals. every animal species will achieve a step forward in quality which will enable it to go up one step in the scale of nature. I." in which progress. every break or interruption in continuity. t. Thus in the realm of immobilism the only change he permitted was a quite particular "perfectibility.I. so that the very gradation of beings will be maintained in the future but according to other degrees of proportion. together with the character of divine goodness that cannot but desire the growth of happiness of its creatures. its own senses. this metaphoric movement will allow a process of perfecting in time which is real even if imperceptible. cit. If the evolution-epigenesist movement (Maupertuis-Buffon-Diderot)gave history that dynamic and genetic sense that was to find full development in the nineteenth century.. all creative spontaneity. we may infer. and contemporary philosophies of history focussing on the triumph of mankind in constant progress towards betterment.
He seemed in fact even more obsessed by the problem of evil than Bonnet was. Comparing these pages of De la Nature with those in the same volume concerned with the study of society. The harmony of the latter had to correspond to the harmony of the former. and he tried to face the problem by tackling it from a metaphysical point of view.21and he tried to justify and offset its presence in the world by establishing the existence of an exactly equivalent proportion of good. De la Nature.224 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI Bonnet knew. it might be concluded that no condition existed which could really be defined as better or worse than another. 182. Robinet explained. Its variety equals the sum of the combinations of these two essences. the equilibrium of good and evil present in each species guarantees its perfect equality. If every social state possessed pleasure and pain in like measure. which are opposite yet always united. The harmony of nature is the perfect equilibrium of good and evil. did not consist in an excess of good in the highest ranks nor in a great amount of evil in the lowest but rather in the fact that the lowest classes are such because they are less "fortunate" as well as less "unfortunate" than the higher ones. I. Pure. although he did not share his opinions. but despite the subordination which places. If they had a less ignoble soul and if society contrived to increase their sensitivity and their education. For Robinet the hierarchic order of the scale of nature had its counterpartin the hierarchic order of society. Marx. which cannot be infinite. the only thing they enjoyed. 145. B. they would realize the degradation in which they lived and would no longer enjoy the simple pleasures with which they were content. 97. . Robinet was very concerned with a possible disturbance of the social order which might affect the equilibrium of good and evil which regulated the efficient working of society. Because of the acquisition of both in equal amounts. 22 J. it could easily be noted that growth occurred according to a proportionate increase of good and some evils (the shift from singular to plural here is significant).22In nature there exists a precise gradation of the species. The same thing would 21 See J. The inequality of ranks. Following the graduated arrangement of the ranks. at least in the finite field. we find a perfect parallelism between natural species and social ranks. however. they would refuse heavy work. the lowest below the highest. Robinet. "Charles Bonnet contre les lumieres (1738-1850). absolute evil cannot exist because it would be an imperfection in the total good. he became prescriptive. Robinet was descriptive. The quantity of evil is equal to the quantity of good. In concrete terms it was important for the happiness of society that its humble components remained in the condition in which they were born. whatever the distance between the two might be." Studies on Voltaire and the Eighteenth Century (1976). whereas when dealing with society. a preferablecondition would not exist. When writing of nature.
which can only be completely carried out by the same hand that traced it. and future phenomena and ensures in its permanence the duration of things. Considerationsphilosophiques de la gradation naturelle des formes de l'etre. for their condition would soon become unbearable for them. concluded Robinet. But who indeed. For Robinet the unity is even stronger. and they would stop at nothing to harm their masters. 114ff. cit. See also De la Nature. . in the behavior of nature. and everything would cease if this act were to end. traces the shapes. For Robinet the whole stands. 214-15. 23 Op. Robinet acknowledged that it had been Leibniz who first discussed the importance of the principle of continuity. Contemplationde la nature. ou les essais de la nature qui apprenda faire l'homme (Paris. Creation is an original but permanent impulse which makes the universe and the immense chain of different beings which compose it live and move eternally. Although Bonnet's acceptance of it was cautious. 24 J. and particularly. which embraces all the parts of earthly creation. They would no longer carry out humble tasks and hard work. Robinet embraced it more enthusiastically. VIII. which reflects the hierarchical organization of society. preventing the happiness of both. and the linking of all terrestial beings.24as well as the description of nature as an infinite scale bounded at one end by nothing and at the other by infinite existence. 25 Ch. Bonnet. had the normal requisites of classical Greek thinking. Anyone awakening their sensitivity. proportions. their knowledge.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 225 happen to the negro slaves.. which had been reaffirmed by Leibniz. 1768). B. or rather different points of a single section which.25The unity of the design is revealed first when the design itself is traced and then at the moment of deciphering. exists. Nature is a unique activity which comprises past. content in his vulgar pleasures. For Bonnet the various productions of nature are only different sections of the same general design. it may be noted that the hypothesis of a unity of design which directs the general plan of creation is very similar in both. Comparing the construction of Robinet with that conceived in the same period by Bonnet. and their good sense would be doing them a great disservice. with its infinitely varied circumvolutions. present. since it appears not only at the moment of the composition and description of the design but also. IV. Everything operates according to this single creative act. 7. Robinet. for the dramatic existence of the lord whose excess of sensual pleasures prevented him from enjoying even the sweetness of love?23 The scala naturae set up by Robinet. could possibly be so crazy as to wish to exchange the healthy life of the strong peasant. strong and stupid as Robinet assumed they were. Anyone thinking of bettering the French peasant or the American Negro would be upsetting the equilibriumof the individual and disturbing the harmony of the State. 8-9.
to break the chain and violate the law of continuity.26 A closer study of this unitary design leads us. 6. But the intermediary beings linking the two ought to be part of the two contraries which mutually exclude each other. . animate and inanimate. after questioning the validity of the methodical classifications based on the hypothesis of a real and absolute separation of the different orders which make up the scale of beings. The process of nature's becoming. I. however. 24. Robinet. or any other quality belonging to a certain number of beings were assumed to the exclusion of the others. this would be sufficient for the isolated class. This aroused Robinet's profound indignation. and graduated to inbasis of which finity. It mattered very little if Bonnet's taxonomy was based on a new criterion (the "organization" of beings).cit. and this is impossible. Storia della terra e storia delle nazioni da Hooke a Vico (Milano. Considerationsphilosophiques. in which Bonnet was the antagonist. 123. The cornerstones of Robinet's doctrine. Even if one single essential quality.is essentially a primitive design on the all beings are conceived.28Moreover. 27 As Paolo Rossi rightly points out in I Segni del tempo. a concept which Robinet introduced and discussed in the Considerations philosophiques. De la Nature. B. op. a continuous and unitary process which affirms the principle of the organic whole at every moment.226 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI and acts only by virtue of the mutual connection of its parts. such as organized and nonorganized. defined on the basis of any qualitative criterion. Robinet's objection was far from superficial. Considerations philosophiques."27Bonnet in fact. B. 1979). 28 J. 355-56. from that aforementioned single act of nature to the concept of the prototype. The prototype. the prototype is a principle of force that manifests 26J. in Robinet's schema. Each of the moments forming the process must be connected to the others. could be seen as a dialectic process which places importance on the element of continuity and unity over oppositions. The principle was stated several times in De la Nature. See also J. and it is inconceivable that one phenomenon be detached from the whole or one truth be affirmed independently of it. in their unwinding (in the literal sense of unravelling something previously wound up). in Bonnet's case organization. must indeed involve the others to be able to permit. puts forward in his turn a classification by classes. all aim at assuring the process of becoming that is connected to the substantial unity and identity of nature. 2. Robinet. links would have to be set up between non-homogeneous categories. On one point in particular the divergence is "abysmal. to understand the difference between Bonnet's and Robinet's standpoints. Marx. To be able to uphold the division into classes and at the same time maintain the principle of continuity. formed. I..
112. The unitary nature of this principle and the presence of this "quality. reproduce themselves through a fusion of male and female seed and thus undergo a process of growth from being soft to becoming gradually harder. so to speak. Robinet was faithful to the principle of the presence of a single quality possessed to a greater or lesser degree in all things. cannot relegate Robinet to the band of dreamers or failures. not all of the qualities of the other beings but the result-compatible in one essence-of all the combinations that the prototype has undergone in passing through all the degrees of the universal progression of being. They were supposed to represent the beings that link inferior animals to men in the same way that the "fibrousstones" form the transition between minerals and plants. however. As a guarantee of the law of continuity. Nature works on the original prototype. In so doing. if not that they are the first attempts of nature to express the human form? Nature has sowed the human form everywhere along the scale of beings to announce in an intelligible way in which direction the first metamorphoses of being are moving. in our study of eighteenthcentury naturalists. with yet another application of an evolutionistic criterion such as natural selection. and enriched as it is realized in matter. even if minimal." which is common to all beings. Every variation of the prototype gives rise to a new being. Robinet conjectured that minerals.. Robinet was merely drawing extreme consequences from principles which were almost universally accepted. and nature itself. And what else can we learn from fossils.29 also resorted he to the authority of writers such as Pliny. in the elaboration of its most perfect creation. Not content with basing this hypothesis on his a priori method founded on a strict esprit de systeme.cit. and passim. modified. so that every variation of the prototype seems to be a study carried out by nature in order to learn how to create man. which considers the legacy of Leibniz's 29 Op. he considered fossils and in general minerals as endowed with an organization and a level of life. enabled Robinet to present his strict affirmation of the fundamental law of continuity. thus. Athanasius Kircher. asked Robinet. Man will thus be composed from the prototype plus. Robinet supported his reasoning with dozens of accounts of fishermen and sailors who had witnessed amazing catches of mermen and mermaids. grows perfect. and Benoit de Maillet. . they may possess the same property as animals and plants. man. in its progress. Proceeding by analogy on the basis of that philosophical apriorism which was characteristic of all his research. His opinion on caudate men or sirens was even more implausible. La Mothe le Vayer. These eccentricities. whose life is undeniable. We are not concerned.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 227 itself as a tendency to change which is continuously and necessarily exerted. which is altered.
a book written for young people. the Tableau de la nature displays his acceptance of Bonnet's finalism. It is pointless to look for a true transformism arranged in chronological series in the biological writers of the second half of the eighteenth century. Marx. It is evident. De Beaurieu also wrote a lengthy Cours d'histoire naturelle ou tableau de la nature. published in seven volumes in 1770. eds. L. after having lived for fifteen years in a cave where he never saw the light of day nor spoke or heard people speak. But it is likewise evident that in Robinet the principle of perfectibility plays the central role. Glass. Everything begins its existence in its simplest and smallest form and grows larger by means of a uniform gradation until it reaches the point of perfection. primitive representations to our masterpieces) or to the series of natural numbers (which starts from a unit and increases by addition). .31 in a fashion analogous to art (which proceeds from the most explained. 357-58. the static concept of the chain of being Nature moves forward slowly and gradually. But it would be wrong to deny their positive contribution or fail to acknowledge the step forward from the simple to the complex by seeing their representation of the world as fixed and unchangeable. which were intended for a wide reading public. De Beaurieu. 32 See J. 1959). I. Diderot and Eighteenth-CenturyFrench Transformism. 135. he began to be aware of the world on a desert island. Jr. op.in Forerunnersof Darwin:1745-1859. and W. in fact. O. De Beaurieu. Within this pyramid the level of 30 They are all thesis of Francois Jacob presented in La Logique du vivant:une histoire de l'heredite (Paris. (Baltimore.. Whereas the first work reveals the writer's admiration for Locke and Rousseau (L'Eleve de la nature was often attributed to the latter). B. Delisle de Sales.cit. VI. Crocker. that there is no hypothesis of autogeneration. Gaspard-Guillardde Beaurieu (1728-1795) was the author of L'Eleve de la nature (1766).-The theme of the chain of being and of its unity of plan was continually taken up in the second half of the eighteenth century by writers who were more like Robinet in adopting literary-political-philosophical claims than like Bonnet in his experimentalistic attitude. according to which living forms are created through a progressive process of development which goes from the simple to the complex. 1970).32but who were nevertheless inspired by both and achieved a notable success with their works. Delille. Robinet became dynamic. Temkin. and the top by animals.228 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI lex continui as the blind alley in which the reproduction of a species incapable of adapting to its environment comes to an end. G. which tells the story of a young boy's acquisition of sense and reasoning. the center by plants. especially in the example of numbers. when. Strauss. 31 See L. adopted the schema of the scale of beings and represented it as a pyramid whose base is formed by the minerals.30 In Robinet as in Bonnet.
just as their infinite variety of forms testifies to the omnipotence of divine performance. its senses. The unity of design and of action intended by the divine order and wisdom is revealed in the general resemblance of creatures. He maintained no doubts about the immense lengths of time which must have passed between the first developments of organized nature in marine life and the birth of vegetation on the land after emerging from the sea. . 34 J. produces the immense chain of the whole universe which is perpetually in motion and whose links are never jumbled or crossed. Cours d'histoire naturelle ou tableau de la nature (Paris. was as well-known during his lifetime as he was presumptuous:Jean Baptiste Claude Isoard (1743?-1816) was the author of the Histoire philosophiquedu monde primitif in seven volumes (1780). his influence is even more evident in his positioning of man in the scale of beings. 7. and the author of the De la Philosophiede la nature (1766). so that anything said of its mechanism.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 229 organization and the esprit de vie gradually increase from the base to the top. Like Bonnet. 45-46. in his hierarchy. The vital thrust 33 G. de Beaurieu. From the different combinations of these two elements all possible beings are born. he postulated the need for the existence of an intermediary organization between the one realm and the next. reflecting the eternal order which is divine. but the divinity cannot properly be submitted to the eternal laws of nature. B. and between the development of plant life on earth and the birth of man. Delisle de Sales denied that the scale of beings could cover. since between a created intelligence and infinite intelligence there exists not only an interval of space too vast to be filled with a series of gradations but a real qualitative gap which demonstrates the disparity of the two. moving from the simple to the complex. In this study he recognized that nature proceeds by imperceptiblechanges and gradations.34Unlike Bonnet. living matter and dead matter. Delisle explained. 1770). while the quantity of materia bruta decreases. The human body can be graduated in its internal economy like the model that nature followed in the formation of all the other animals. The universe is composed of two elements. If a debt to Robinet can be discerned in de Beaurieu's insistence on the harmony of the universe. I. I. G.33 Another bio-philosopher and author. the entire range of existence up to divinity. he did deny the permanently dynamic character of the scale of beings. De la Philosophie de la nature (Amsterdam. and its other parts is a necessary introduction to the history of the other animals. Delisle de Sales. 1770). only in the sense that he holds the chain in his hands. which became the object of scandal and was burnt but which was nevertheless reprinted right up to the beginning of the nineteenth century. writing under the pseudonym of Delisle de Sales. The harmony of the universe. God is "chained" to the world.
The most famous of his poetic works. Les trois Regnes de la nature (1803).230 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI of nature. What were the consequences of the introduction of these principles on the questions concerning us here? One example may be taken from the application of Newtonianism to biology made by Maupertuis. stated Maupertuis. M. and with imperceptible gradations the scale will descend again from the most complex to the simplest being endowed with the most elementary structure. 1965). de Maupertuis. 174-75. a void in nature. The encounter with Newtonianism. Boscovich) upheld this concept of action by contact. The mathematicians and philosophers of continuity (Plouquet. . why then do some go to form the eye and others the ear? Why is there this wonderful arrangement?Why 35 P. there is. the chain of being had to operate within a full universe characterized by action through contact. of Cartesian-Leibnizian derivation. into affinity. prove that.35 which controls the behavior of bodies in space governs the formation of organic bodies. and Bonnet. Robinet. A uniform. blind attraction spread over the parts of matter would not explain how these parts are arranged to form the most rudimentary organized bodies. Kastner. nature's activity is much more reassuring. II. Delille. and that the bodies are scattered in space without The same force of gravitation-attraction any need for reciprocal contact. and the universe will move in downward gradation towards its end. Reason and experience. and Delisle de Sales modelled their scalae naturae on this assumption. In order to meet the requirements of gradation and continuity. VII. as the force of attraction is transformed. L. The poetry of this French Alexander Pope displayed before his readers' eyes the fluid unwinding of the great chain of being in its reassuring continuity. the Newtonian model of the void universe and action at a distance. In the portrayal of Jacques Delille (1738-1813). However. which brought about the development and the perfectioning of the world. Systeme de la nature in Oeuvres (Hildesheim. as opposed to the opinion that the whole of matter forms a continuum without interruptions between the parts. namely. If they all possess the same tendency and the same force to join them together. and the triumph of the polyp. however. But an opposing movement of thinking was being elaborated at the same time during the eighteenth century. on the contrary. it loses the characteristics of the simple mechanical phenomenon of the Newtonian model and gains "Leibnizian" qualities. proclaimed in verse the continuity and the gradation of the scala naturae. the quality of the "fibrous stones" which represent the link between the mineral realm and the plant world. The process through which the organization of nature has passed from the simple to the complex will one day be repeated in reverse. in Maupertuis's terminology. will sooner or later come to an end when the internal energy is exhausted.
psychic properties must be added to the physical properties of matter.38controlled in their distribution and behavior by that principle of force which Buffon called moule interieur. L. while the doctrine of preexistence implied the single and simultaneous creation of all beings. are comparable to the force of attraction. according to this model. de Buffon. for Maupertuis. 179. they are continually joining to form organized bodies. epigenism helped to modify theological-philosophical thinking by enriching it with the notion of creation extended in time. Buffon took as a model the Newtonian idea of a system of matter in motion in a void. in order to explain the formation of organized bodies. Each of them "knows" (so to speak) how and where it must join the others because it preserves a kind of memory of its previous situation. even if founded entirely on analogy. Moreover. having the capacity to permeate them thoroughly. aversion. and he takes from Leibniz the consciousness and the will of the simple substances that make up the world. memory. 146-47. G.cit. L. Les Epoques de la nature. by an external order but by an internal one within the parts themselves. The living organic molecules which animate all organized bodies and which are used to nourish and generate all beings are controlled in their movements by forces that. some principle of intelligence must be applied. of self-generatingand 36 37 Op." although for Buffon the power of Newtonian mechanics over the ambit of the organization of the living beings is even more explicit. 1952). Thus. In Buffon's case also we may notice how his rejection of the plenistic assumption led him to make formulations of a dynamic nature which can also be found in his account of the formation of an inhabitable world. A process is generated from the old one. . something similar to what we call desire. The molecules are indestructible and always active. the heredity of character.36 The arrangement of the parts is not made.37In formulating a theory of generation. which may preserve some characteristic of the previous one but which is new and different.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 231 do they not join haphazardly? If an explanation is to be attempted. J. the regularity of the unfolding of organic processes and even the existence of that otherwise inexplicable phenomenon. The role played by Maupertuis's "particles" in the world of living beings is similar to that of Buffon's "organic molecules. The theories of generation by epigenesis gave fundamental impetus to the development of a dynamic and transformist doctrine in eighteenthcentury biological science. can be explained. ed. 38 G. 1962). It was Diderot who seemed especially to have given the concept of nature the qualities of dynamism and individuality.. La Connaissance de la vie (Paris. Canguilhem. Roger (Paris. By endowing the "living particles"-which in Maupertuis's system represent the elementary units that make up living beings-with a kind of memory.
neither does society change. followed by the archbishops and bishops. s.). 31-33. one of the harshest critics of the theory of the perfect continuity of the scale of nature. then come the monks and the capuchins bring up the rear. Voltaire believed that the series of forms was interrupted and realized that the concept of the unbroken chain of being seemed designed to impress and please public imagination. 1753). while the classes themselves improved their position without any of them taking an inferior role or advancing at the expense of another. This purely descriptive value when limited to the biological sphere changes into a specifically normative one when grafted onto the social sphere. where a rigidly continuistic interpretation of phenomena excludes the least overlap. The maintenance of equilibrium and social harmony 39 D."40It must indeed be asked whether this emphasis on the definition of the world as an entity under the aegis of an overall providential harmony. when society was preparing for a revolution. nor must it. If nature does not change. so that the distances between classes might be strictly retained. was not in fact deliberately aimed at directing the behavior of a society which was in conflict-a society which was in conflict but which saw itself as immovable in its vertical cross-section.39But in his chain of being the links have become degrees. and also dynamic. in virtue of which it continuously recreates ("nature is still at work") and the results of which can be seen in the continuity of the great chain. . VIII. the process of temporalization has been fully completed. Nature performed a single act. In this sense the metaphor of the chain of being as applied to society is slightly altered to show a reality without conflicts or problems-certainly not a true image. the deacons and subdeacons. De l'Interpretationde la nature (Paris.-In a period when biological questions were treated within philosophy. much like Johnson and Blumenbach. We may thus ask whether this metaphorical portrayal was not intended to describe the world as it is but rather to suggest how it should be. it was easy to move from theories about the natural world to ideas of the social world and vice versa. curates and priests. Biology and society. 40Voltaire. The prescriptive aim seems to appear insistently whenever natural or scientific models are applied to the sphere of social behavior. 255.232 FRANCESCA RIGOTTI temporal process. His idea of nature can in fact be defined as unifying. it was natural for Robinet to move from the analysis of the hierarchy of natural beings to that of the human races. A Philosophical Dictionary (London. continuistic. I.d. or within which at most a sideways movement might be possible along an axis. subsuming concepts of both the Leibnizian and the Newtonian world systems in his thinking. For instance. particularly at that time. after whom are the vicars. Diderot. Description is formalized in norm. Voltaire was fully aware of this tendency and was. "Good people" like to recognize in this hierarchy "the pope and cardinals.
in which perfectibility is also possible. where they find equilibrium and the possibility of fulfillment. Gottingen.BIOLOGY AND SOCIETY 233 is attainable only when nature's example is followed. providence. . The social beings must do likewise. Living beings settle in the lines of the natural plot. God. or nature has already arranged for all beings the best condition for their existence. Georg-August-Universitat.