Mr Darwin’s Birthday

19 February 2009 by Jeremy Bentham, posted in Uncategorized


My usual readers will forgive me if I do not address them, but instead address my fellow blogger, Mr Charles Darwin on his recent birthday. This is to wish you a very happy 200th birthday from one your senior. You may wonder at my knowledge of you and your writings, but I have plenty of time here in the box for reading. Physiurgic somatology (what others misleadingly call “natural history”) has long been one of my interests, and I have followed your discoveries in this field with pleasure.

You know my nephew George; he and you have enjoyed many profitable botanic exchanges. You might not know the extent to which he learned his systematic method of classification from me; he and young Mill also wrote their logical treatises based on my Logic and Evidence. Do I flatter myself by thinking that your bold speculations in Origin of Species required my clearing of the last of the debris of natural kinds and other Aristotelian nonsense? I am only sorry to see that in Descent of Man you give life to newer metaphysical ghosts with your insistence on a moral sense (is it love of matchless Constitution that makes you follow the lawyer Mackintosh into these thickets of ipsedixitism on ethics?).

But why call your greatest discovery “natural selection”? Your colleague Wallace was correct in thinking this a very poor choice of phrases. Surely you understand that nature is not an agent; but some of your epigone seem less certain. I see some of Reverend Paley in your followers’ talk of “design.” Should you perhaps have read my books in your youth rather than his? You would have learned to have been as careful in handling words as you are in handling specimens, especially when generating names of new fictitious entities necessary to the advancement of learning. The work is hard, but as I wrote in 1789 (long before a famous contemporary of yours), “there is no King’s Road, no Stadtholder’s Gate, to science.”

Allow me a word of praise, however, for this your greatest achievement: the theory of descent with modification. This great edifice, long since confirmed by evidence, promises a revolution in physical and moral science. You yourself have glimpsed an enlarged sympathy in the prospect of a community of all sensitive creatures. It can reasonably be hoped that a study of your writings will continue to shed light across the globe, banish superstition, and awaken men to the real conditions of their misery and felicity. Combined with legislative art based on the greatest happiness principle we can make, if not paradise, an earthly garden out of our present wilderness.

Respectfully yours,

Jeremy Bentham

One Response to “Mr Darwin’s Birthday”

  1. Heather Etchevers Reply | Permalink

    Dear Mr. Bentham,
    If study of Mr. Darwin’s writings have not banished superstition in the last 200 years, how much longer do you think it will take?
    Physiurgic somatology, indeed. Pshaw.
    Ms. Etchevers

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