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Natural Science - Year II

Unit 44: Social Darwinism and soft sciences

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Science Web Assignment for Unit 44


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Science Lecture for Unit 44: Applying Darwin's Theory - Social Evolution

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Outline/Summary

Social Darwinism

The Image of Man

Many people read into Darwin's theory a mechanism for the theory of overpopulation as a cause of war and plague that Robert Thomas Malthus had proposed a generation before Darwin. Darwin was well aware of Malthus' dire predictions and had cited some of his works. Herbert Spencer took Darwin's theory of natural selection and Lamarck's sense that evolution led to "better" species, coined the phrase "survival of the fittest", and used it to justify economic competition among individuals, classes, and nations as the natural way in which social evolution occurs. He saw natural selection of human societies as a method by which human communities improve their own societies through elimination by less fit elements. It is Malthus's and Spencer's ideas that Charles Dickens echoes when Ebenezer Scrooge proposes that the poor should die out and decrease the surplus population (in A Christmas Carol). Other proponents of social Darwinism used these theories to justify racism or sexism, claiming that some group of the human population was inherently inferior. The extreme form of this idea is eugenics (originally outlined by Dalton's cousin Francis Dalton), controlling the population by identifying and promoting desirable traits and eliminating reproduction of undesirable traits.

The Study of Man

Another less obvious outcome of Darwin's theories and social Darwinism was the development of scientific disciplines using qualitative and quantitative methods to study human behavior. These drew on traditional areas that had not hitherto been considered "science", such as law, international relations, and political science, and fostered new areas of study in anthropology, economics, education, geography, psychology, sociology, and more recently, information sciences and communication. The Open Directory Project lists 33 main topics (as of 2009); the major ones are:

Most of the social sciences use statistical methods similar to those we will see developing in thermodynamics and radiation theory. These are based on the concept that while we may not be able to predict individual behavior for a single atom precisely, a large group of atoms will, on the average, behave a certain way under specific conditions. The key difference in applying these methods to groups of people is that like atoms all behave the same way, and presumably don't determine their own course of action. A physical cause always leads to a specific result: atoms can't suddenly chose to act differently on a whim. People, on the other hand, are self-motivated, have complex relationships with their peers, and must be dealt with on an individual basis.

Study/Discussion Questions:

Further Study On your Own (Optional)