Descent of Darwin: Race, Sex, and Human Nature
In 1871, Charles Darwin published Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, a text that extended, elaborated and completed his On the Origin of Species (1859). When he had published Origin, Darwin sought, albeit unsuccessfully, to skirt controversy; in Descent he waded into the fray on near-innumerable issues. Readers could find explicit the claim that humans had descended from apes, in addition to explorations of the similarities and apparent gulfs between ‘man’ and other animals. They also found Darwin's opinions on issues ranging from the origin and hierarchy of races to the question of women's education, from the source of altruistic bravery to the biological importance of aesthetic judgement, from his views on what his cousin would term ‘eugenics’ to the history of monogamy. In the last 150 years these ideas have been variously contested, rejected and recovered, so that the shadow of Descent extended into debates over the development of languages, the evolution of human sexualities, the ongoing possibilities of eugenics and the question of women's equality. In this volume, appearing during the sesquicentennial of the text's first appearance, one finds papers dedicated to all of these themes and more, laying out the roots and fruits of Darwin's Descent.