NATURAL SELECTION SHADOWED FORTH
ARISTOTLE’S DE PARTIBUS ANIMALIUM AFTER DARWIN
Keywords:Darwin, Aristotle, Natural History, History of Science, Biology
Until the last years of his life, Charles Darwin had actually never read Aristotle. The sole reference he makes to his naturalist forebear in On the Origin of Species came in an addition to the fourth edition, published in 1866, in which he mistakenly refers to Aristotle’s summation of Empedocles’ position at Physica II 8, as Aristotle’s own, and notes that ‘we see here the principle of natural selection shadowed forth’ (while disputing the specific scientific point Aristotle – though actually Empedocles – was supposedly making). So when his friend William Ogle, a minor scientist and physician, and an evangelist Christian, published a translation of Aristotle’s De partibus animalium in 1882 and sent a copy to Darwin, he was able to declare that he felt “some self-importance in thus being a kind of formal introducer of the father of Naturalists [Aristotle] to his great modern successor [Darwin].” Ogle, who despite his religious inclinations was nevertheless a strong proponent of Darwin’s theories, did not agree with Aristotle’s scientific theories – not least because Aristotle’s teleological model of animal development, which had been adopted as a model by many post-classical Christian scientists and theologians for centuries, was dealt a serious blow by Darwin’s theory of natural selection. So it is perhaps surprising to see Ogle produce a translation of one of Aristotle’s major biological treatises. By looking at key passages of Aristotle and Ogle’s translation, this paper will examine the reasons for Ogle’s curious choice to publish his work, setting it into the wider scientific, and Darwinian, context of late-nineteenth century Britain, and explaining how Aristotle the teleologist was used by Ogle to re-enforce Darwin’s position as a modern natural historian.