Darwin on Variation and Heredity

Journal of the History of Biology 33 (3):425-455 (2000)
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Darwin's ideas on variation, heredity, and development differ significantly from twentieth-century views. First, Darwin held that environmental changes, acting either on the reproductive organs or the body, were necessary to generate variation. Second, heredity was a developmental, not a transmissional, process; variation was a change in the developmental process of change. An analysis of Darwin's elaboration and modification of these two positions from his early notebooks (1836-1844) to the last edition of the /Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication/ (1875) complements previous Darwin scholarship on these issues. Included in this analysis is a description of the way Darwin employed the distinction between transmission and development, as well as the conceptual relationship he saw between heredity and variation. This paper is part of a larger project comparing commitments regarding variation during the latter half of the nineteenth century.

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Rasmus Grønfeldt Winther
University of California, Santa Cruz


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