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The British Society for the Philosophy of Science

Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality?

Author(s): Ronald C. Curtis
Source: The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 37, No. 1 (Mar., 1986), pp.
Published by: Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Society for the
Philosophy of Science
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Brit. J. Phil. Sci. 37 (1986), 135-16x Printed in Great Britain 135

Are Methodologies Theories

of Scientific Rationality?'

Historians should not use their own up-to-date methodologies to judge the
rationality or correctness of the research strategies of scientists in history. For the
history of science is, in part, the history of the rational growth of methodology and
the historian's own up-to-date methodology is, in part, a product of the scientific
revolutions of the past. Historians who use their own methodologies to judge the
rationality of past research strategies are being too wise after the event. I show, using
the case of Charles Darwin, how we can judge the rationality and correctness of
research strategies and revolutions without being too wise after the event. I do this by
rejecting the idea that methodologies double as rationality theories and by drawing
instead on Popper's competing view of rationality as critical debate.

i Introduction
2 Darwin's Problem-Situation: The Lyellian Background
3 Darwin's Problem-Situation: The Whewellian Background
4 The Logic of Darwin's Changing Preferences
5 The Darwinian Revolution in Metascience: How Darwin Learned fr
Metascientific Mistakes
6 Conclusion


Are methodologies theories of scientific rational

such? Imre Lakatos thought so. He thought f

Popper's 'logic of scientific discovery' (or, 'methodol

'demarcation criterion'.. .) is a theory of scientific

And, in general, he thought that 'the rational as

fully accounted for by one's logic of scienti
ology]' ([1971], p. io6). Lakatos used this idea
methodologies against history, but it has been ac
of his programme alike. Kulka, for example, t
Lakatos' method for evaluating rival meth

Received 9 July 1984

I am grateful to an anonymous referee for helpful com


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136 Ronald C. Curtis

methodology provides a rationality theory' ([1977], p. 338). Musgrave

thinks various methodologies provide 'canons of rationality' ([1976], pp.
I8I and zo6). Fricke thinks they provide 'principles of rationality' ([1976],
p. 299). Koertge seems to agree ([1976], p. 366). So does J. J. C. Smart who
says, 'different philosophers have different ideas as to what constitutes
rationality (what is the correct methodology)' ([1972], p. 267). Worrall
thinks 'a methodology pronounces directly on the "rationality" or "irration-
ality" ... of scientists' appraisals of existing theories' ([1976], p. 164).' And
Watkins accepts this all-purpose view of methodologies when he says that
'Popper's methodology is a theory of scientific rationality or of scientific
progress or of rational appraisal of scientific hypotheses' ([1974], P. 400).
But if we use our methodologies in this way, must we not also conclude
that when history is 'dissonant' with a methodology we accept, it is not
rational history. This is the conclusion Imre Lakatos drew. Having found,
for example, that Popper's falsificationism was dissonant with history, he

[I]f the history of science does not bear out our theory of scientific rationality [i.e. our
methodology], we have two alternatives. One alternative is to abandon efforts to give
a rational explanation of the success of science. Scientific method ... conceived as the
discipline of rational appraisal of scientific theories . . . vanishes. .... The other
alternative is to try . .. to . . . [change our methodology, in this case to alter]
falsificationism (Lakatos [I970o], pp. 115-16).

Many of Lakatos' readers, myself included, would not wish to abandon our
efforts to give a rational explanation for the history of science. Have we no
alternative but to reject any methodology whose appraisals are dissonant
with history?2
I will develop another alternative here, using the Darwinian revolution as
an example. Drawing on the theory of rationality of Popper ([1945], [19591,
[1963]) and Jarvie and Agassi ([1967], [19731, [1978]) and using situational
logic, the schema of explanation recommended by them (Popper [19571,

Worrall perhaps has second thoughts on this question for he places 'rationality' in inverted
commas and says the term 'correctness' would be better (ibid.). But my argument in the
following pages, that our methodologies cannot pronounce in an unqualified way on the
rationality of scientists's appraisals in many historical cases, holds also if we replace
'rationality' with 'correctness'.
2 Actually, Lakatos himself suggested another alternative: if a methodology is dissonant with
the appraisals of working scientists 'one should allow the scientific community time to ponder
the clash; they may give up their . . .judgement and submit to the general rule' ([xi97], p.
But this suggestion is unworkable in most cases, certainly in those studied by Lakatos and
his followers (e.g. Zahar [1973], Lakatos and Zahar [1975], Clark [1976], Fricke [1976],
Musgrave [1976]) for the simple reason that the scientists in question are dead. Moreover,
Lakatos' rule would seem, to those of us who find rationality in critical debate, to have a
distinctly irrationalist flavour, for Lakatos fails to provide a seS of rules to limit the
arbitrariness of scientists deleting or accepting their basic value judgements and thus
unintentionally throws his quasi-empirical method overboard. Perhaps this is why Wo. all
([1976]) does not mention this alternative in his version of Lakatos' programme.

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 137

Agassi [1963], Jarvie [1972]),1 I will argue that even though the scientific
preferences of Charles Darwin and his colleagues were in important ways
dissonant with the values which the present-day historian might embody in
his own methodology, these preferences were perfectly rational-and
correct-when considered in the light of their intellectual problem-situation
as a whole. For they were based on the critically held and rationally changing
metascience of the day.
Darwin was not 'intuitively' following the methodology of one or another
of our contemporary historian/philosophers.2 Rather, he made a critical
decision in the late 183os, to try to satisfy a well-articulated methodology
which we now think is in many ways mistaken, the partly Baconian, partly
Kantian methodology of his scientific colleague, William Whewell. By
accepting Whewellian metascience, initially, as part of the unproblematic
background to his scientific problem-the problem of species
distribution-Darwin did what was necessary to promote a critical discus-
sion of the relative merits of his own solution, evolutionism, and its mai
rival, creationism. But eventually this led him into a debate about the merits
of Whewellian metascience itself. The result was that after I86o Darwin
gave us good arguments against some of the values which had guided the
scientific community until then.


To-appreciate the rationality of Darwin's approach

problem-situation shortly after his return in 1836
Beagle. Although by mid-1837 he was convinced th
productions' (Darwin [1958], p. 130), Darwin had
creationist (ibid., p. 85) throughout much of the
believed in the permanence of species (Darwin [19
embarked on the Beagle in December of 183x he t
Lyell's Principles of Geology ([ 1830]) which he 'stu
[1958], p. 77) and late in 1832 he received the sec
July of 1835, because of his successes with Lyell
become, as he reported, 'a zealous disciple of Mr. L
his admirable book' ([18871, I, p. 225).
This meant, among other things, that he had becom

'This schema differs in important ways from the one rec

situational logic we reconstruct the problem-situation in which
and show how their actions, for example their preferences for
adequate to their situation as they saw it (Popper [1972], p. 179)
the other hand, examine the scientists' situation as Lakat
programmes would have seen it. (See for example, Worrall
2 Zahar thinks scientist- apply 'intuitive methodological princip
'MSRP provides the best ... rational reconstruction of the in
some of the best scientists have acted on' (ibid.). Like Lakatos he
articulated methodologies in history (ibid.).

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138 Ronald C. Curtis
creationism. For Lyell had begun his [1832] with an extended argument
against evolutionism (pp. 1-65) which he concluded with a statement of his
belief in the stability and Divine creation of species: 'Species have a real
existence in nature and ... each was endowed at the time of its creation with
the ... organization by which it is now distinguished' (ibid., p. 65).
As a creationist, however, Lyell was troubled by some well-known facts of
species distribution; in particular by the
remarkable . .. division of the globe into distinct provinces with reference to the
distribution of animal and vegetable familes (Whewell [1832], p. 130).

Although these provinces had different inhabitants, they were nevertheless

at many points physically identical. As Lyell and his contemporaries
understood it, one could easily find

two points in equinoctial America and Africa [for example] which present all the
same circumstances as for example the same temperature . . . elevation, soil,
humidity, yet nearly all, perhaps all the plants in these two districts are distinct
species (Lyell [1832], p. 68, quoting Decandolle).
The same was true of African and South American animals.
This meant that creationists could not provide a complete explanation for
species distribution using only the traditional premise that a benevolent
Deity designs and distributes species in perfect adaptation to their
environments. Creationists like Paley and Whewell did try to argue that
'some creatures are constructed on a... plan which ... is exactly the single
one suited to their place on earth' (Whewell [1833], P. i9; similarly, Paley
[1825], p. I37). But since identical habitats in different provinces were
populated by quite different species it was clear they could not use this as a
general explanation for global distribution. They needed additional pre-
mises describing the 'other unknown causes' (Whewell [1832], p. 130)1
which had produced the great biological provinces of the world.
Charles Lyell tried to provide these premises in a new, stronger version of
the creationist programme. To the traditional premise of a benevolent
Designer he added the following 'simple hypothesis':
Each species may have had its origin in a single pair or individual where an individual
was sufficient to propagate the species ([1832], p. 65).
Each species is created only once: there are no multiple creations. Using this
assumption Lyell could explain, for example, why zebras inhabit the

1In saying this, I am not of course saying that the observations refuted creationism.
Creationism in fact ruled out no observable state of affairs for creationists argued that the
'indisputable evidence of design' in the world was 'combined with connexions we cannot
comprehend and a causation beyond visible causation' (Whewell [x846], p. 13). Any
observation report which might have been considered inconsistent with creationist premises
was treated as a further indication of Divine incomprehensibility-and hence, greatness
(ibid., p. 23). Creationism was thus, one might say, spuriously confirmable-spuriously
because it was unfalsifiable (cf. Watkins [1958]). But though unfalsifiable, it was criticisable.
And Darwin, as we shall see, gave us good, partly philosophical, partly empirical reasons to
reject it.

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 139

grasslands of Africa but not identical stations in America. For zebra

distribution must be the result of the migration of the offspring of an
original pair from their original centre of creation. And as we know there are
barriers to their migration. The Atlantic ocean, for example, prevents their
migration from Africa to America and, assuming the zebra was created in
Africa, it will not therefore be found in suitable stations in America. Lyell
was able to sketch explanations like this for the distribution of many species
and was thus able to account for what Whewell considered the most
remarkable facts brought to light by naturalists of his day ([1832], p.
There are numerous examples in Darwin's notebooks of his success
with Lyell's hypothesis on the Beagle voyage. (For example, Darwin [19
p. xiv; [1945], p. 178; [1967], p. 257). Darwin is in these notebooks (as
Popper says) 'brim full of problems' ([I970], p. 54), and many of them are
easily resolved within Lyell's creationist biogeography. A few months
before his visit to the Galapagos Islands, for example, in March of 1835,
Darwin set out from Valparaiso on an expedition across the Andes. As he
crossed the mountains he was

much struck with the marked difference between the vegetation in the eastern valle
and those on the.. .western side, yet the climate as well as the soil is nearly the sam
and the difference in longitude is very trifling (Darwin [1839], p. 370).

This is the sort of creationist anomaly-similar stations, dissimilar

inhabitants-which Lyell's hypothesis was designed to resolve. And,
drawing on Lyell, Darwin was able to argue that his observations were 'in
perfect accordance with the geological history of the Andes' (ibid.). These
mountains had long been a barrier to migration and

unless we suppose the same species to have been created in two different places we
ought not to expect any closer similarity between the organic beings on the opposite
sides of the Andes than on the opposite sides of the ocean (ibid.).

It was in part his success with problems like this which made Darwin a
'zealous Lyellian'. But when he arrived on the Galapagos Islands in the
autumn of 1835 he discovered to his immense surprise that his Lyellian
biogeography broke down. He could not explain some facts of distribution
he discovered there and thus he found them 'remarkable'. As he later said,

never dreamed . . . the different islands of the archipelago . . .would have been
differently tenanted ([1839], p. 446).

But this is what he found. He found for example that all the mocking-

from Charles Island belong to one species..., all from Albemarle to [another] ..., all
from James and Chatham to ... [yet another] (ibid., pp. 446-7.)

All were distinct species of genus Mimus. This was true even though their
habitats were apparently identical.

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14o Ronald C. Curtis

The obvious Lyellian solution to this problem was to find a barrier to bird
migration and Darwin argued that the expanse of ocean separating the
islands was for various reasons a more effective barrier than it would appear
to be on a map ([18391, p. 450). This would explain why Charles Island, for
example, had only one of the three Galapagos species of mocking-thrush
even though all were apparently adapted to it. Lyell's hypothesis thus threw
'some light' on the problem.
But the problem was not simply that similar islands had distinct species, it
was also that the species were of a similar type even though they were
distinct. Darwin calls this the 'most remarkable feature in the natural

history of the archipelago' ([1839], p. 445). He says it struck him wit

wonder. Why? Darwin, who tends to ignore the creationist background
his problems in his own historiography of the Darwinian revolution, do
not give a complete explanation for his surprise upon noticing this feature.
But we can understand it if we reconstruct the creationist background.
The fact that similar islands had distinct but similar species was no
inconsistent with Lyell's single-creations hypothesis;' but that hypothe
could not explain it. We can see this if we apply Darwin's comment on t
trans-Andes distribution to his observations of the distribution on, sa
Albemarle and Charles Islands. We can say here: 'Given Lyell's assump
tions we ought not to expect any closer similarity between the birds o
Albemarle and Charles Islands than between those on opposite sides of t
ocean.' Since these islands are separated by a barrier to migration, Ly
gives us no reason to expect close similarity; his hypothesis does not im
close similarity; therefore he cannot explain close similarity.2 This is w
the Galapagos Islands came as such a surprise to Darwin. He arrived ther
zealous Lyellian and discovered the explanatory weakness of a hypothes
with which he had until then been having great success.3
The most that Darwin could do with his observations within a creationist

i Although Lyell strengthened creationism, he did not make it falsifiable. Since Lyell forbids
multiple creations one might wonder whether his theory has potential falsifiers. A report of an
apparent instance of multiple creations would take the following form: 'Individuals of species
A, an alpine plant, were observed on two distant mountain ranges separated by an
impenetrable barrier to migration, a huge desert.' But Lyell did not rule out statements like
this. He dealt with this sort of evidence by pointing to his ignorance of global conditions in
earlier eras when a different climate and geology might have permitted migration between
points now separated. Darwin himself adopted this approach to apparent examples of
multiple origins and eventually carried it over into his evolutionism. (See, for example, his
[18591, P. 354-)
2 Notice, Lyell's hypothesis did not say we ought to expect not to find close similarity. Had it
done so it would have been inconsistent with Darwin's observations. But instead, it was
independent of them and thus could not explain them.
I have explained Darwin's surprise, drawing on Popperian historiography (and in particular
on Agassi's [1959b], [1963] and [1964]), as occasioned by his discovery of serious problems
confronting creationist metaphysics. This sort of account was not available to Darwin himself
who, drawing on Whewellian historiography, always maintained that he had established the
low-level facts of species distribution before engaging in high-level speculations. (See, for
example, Darwin [1958], p. 11 9.) As a result Darwin himself was unable in his [18391 to give a
full explanation for his surprise.

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 141

framework was, to borrow a phrase he later used, 'to restate the facts in
dignified language' ([18591, p. I86). Thus we find an entry in his Beagle
notebooks written after the Galapagos visit:

Volcanic islands elevated. Then peculiar [organisms] created . . . yet new creation
affected by halo ... as if any creation taken place over certain area must have peculiar
character ([1945], p. 263).

But as he found himself unable to explain the Galapagos distribution and

some other facts which struck him on the voyage (described in his [1958], p.
I 18) with his creationist assumptions, Darwin began to consider rejecting
one of them. Within months of his visit to the islands, he wrote: 'If there is
the slightest foundation' for my observations on Galapagos distribution
'such facts would undermine the stability of species' ([1967], p. 262).
By mid-I837, he had rejected much more of the creationist programme
and in his private notebooks had begun to develop an evolutionist theory.
With his 'idea of the propagation of species', as he called it, we find him
sketching very early on in the first of his four transmutation notebooks
(which he began in July, 1837) an evolutionist explanation for the Galapagos
distribution, as well as for other facts he had found inexplicable on
creationist premises ([196ob], no. 2, pp. 42 ff.).



By mid-1837, then, Darwin was engaged in his pri

systematic attempt to revive an eighteenth-century ide
those in his professional circle-which was the Geological Society of
London (see Cannon [1976], p. 377)-considered to be a dead horse
(Whewell [18371, III, pp. 478-9). If he was to succeed where others had
failed and present an evolutionist explanation for species distribution which
would stand up to critical debate in the Geological Society he would need a
reply to the well-rehearsed anti-evolutionist arguments of Lyell, Whewell
and other Fellows of the Society. He could easily anticipate what some of
these arguments would be from his reading of Lyell's [1832] ('Lyell's
Principles must be abstracted and answered', he wrote in his notebooks early
in 1838 ([1967], p. 143)), of Whewell's [1832], [1833] and [1837] (see
Cannon [1976], pp. 377ff. for a discussion) and from some of the arguments
Whewell was repeating at Society meetings in 1837 and 1838.'

(a) Whewell's creationist epistemology

While Darwin was working on his transmutation notebooks, Whewell was

using his philosophy of science in a new epistemological version of the

1 When Whewell succeeded Lyell as President of the Society early in 1838, Darwin became
Recording Secretary at Whewell's insistence.

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142 Ronald C. Curtis
argument from design. According to Whewell, the certain knowledge of
necessary truths which we find in some of the most successful sciences-in
astronomy, mechanics and optics for example-is knowledge which ex-
perience alone cannot give. We must trace it to the Fundamental Ideas of
these sciences-Ideas of Matter, Force, Polarity and so on. These ideas do
not arise out of experience; rather, they 'reside in the constitution of the
mind'; they are 'laws of thought' which regulate the mind's activity ([1840],
I, p. 29). This means, for Whewell, that they originate, ultimately, with God

The mind of man with all its intellectual endowments is the work of the same artist by
whose hands his bodily frame was fashioned ([18331, p. 256).
Because God is the creator both of the Fundamental Ideas and of the
material world, Ideas are as nicely adapted to the world as are our physical
characteristics. This is why they function as sources of necessary truth.
For Whewell, the success of sciences like astronomy provided a decisive
argument against evolutionism and in particular against any hypothesis that
man had evolved from 'some creature of the ape or baboon tribe' ([18371],
III, p. 480). For to accept evolutionism would be to abandon the view that
species were perfectly adapted to their environments; this would include
abandoning the view that the human intellect with its Fundamental Ideas
was adapted to the world (ibid., p. 477). And this would contradict the
evident success of the sciences.
Whewell repeated his argument in February 1838 in his Presidential
Address to the Geological Society ([1838], p. 642) as he summarised the
Society debates of the previous year. It posed a serious problem for Darwin
and the theory of evolution he was then developing in his notebooks. For if
Darwin were to publish a theory which could not account for the human
intellect, Whewell, who since his [1830] had been calling this the 'greatest
anomaly' for the evolutionist programme (p. 467), would be able to declare
his project a failure. Darwin, unlike the creationists, would be unable to
account for 'the most important feature in . . . the great subject of man's
origin' (ibid.). As he put the problem to himself in mid-I838: 'Nearly all
would exclaim: your arguments are good, but look at the immense difference
between man' ([I974a], p. 296). You cannot explain his intellectual origins.
As he tried to solve his problem of species distribution, then, Darwin
discovered that parts of his developing scientific theory were inconsistent
with Whewell's epistemology. If he was to succeed, he had to offer a critical
alternative to the creationist elements in Whewell. In doing so, he was
actually able to leave much of Whewell's philosophy intact. He retained the
Fundamental Ideas which continued to be the source of necessary truth but
in Darwin's version these Ideas had evolved out of animal instincts.
We can pick up Darwin's response to Whewell's [1838] in his notebooks
beginning in March 1838 and developing over the next two years. He denied
that the existence of Fundamental Ideas was fatal to evolutionism ([i 960b],

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 143

no. 3, p. 87). Whewell himself had argued that animals possess something
like our ideas, he noted, paraphrasing Whewell's [1837]:

All science is reason acting/systematizing on principles which even animals

practically know . .. in balancing a body an ass knows one side of a triangle is shorter
than two. V. Whewell Induct. Sci. I, 334 (Darwin [1974b], p. 333).

Speculative scientific knowledge is the product of human reason acting

according to Fundamental Ideas or, as they are called here, principles. But
animals have an analogous sort of practical knowledge. In animals, Whewell
is saying, 'Instinct produces ... actions regulated by Ideas or at least which
take place as if they were regulated by Ideas' ([1840o], I, p. 617).
If Whewell himself could find something very much like our Ideas in
animals, then, Darwin concluded, the origin of the human intellect was not
so obviously an event requiring Divine intervention as Whewell thought.
Speculative reason does not represent a great departure from the ordinary
course of nature: 'Reason and instinct ... these faculties [can be] viewed as
replacing each other; it is hiatus not saltus' ([196ob], no. 3, p. io6). It is not
difficult to imagine a gradual historical transition, from the practical
knowledge of, say, friction among animals to the speculative theory of
friction of the mechanical sciences ([1974a], p. 293).
To show that his evolutionary mechanism could produce human Ideas by
a series of small steps out of animal instincts, Darwin had to show there was:
(i) variability in the mental constitutions on which Ideas or near-Ideas are
based; (2) heritability of mental constitutions; and (3) a natural preservation
of the 'best fitted' minds. We find him developing all three points in his
notebooks as he sketches his evolutionary epistemology (e.g., (i) [I 974b], p.
341; (2) ibid., p. 335; (3) [I96ob], no. 5, p. x66).
The result of Darwin's evolutionary process, as of Whewell's Divine
creation, was that man was born with knowledge-Ideas-which did not
arise out of experience but were inherited variations on the instincts of
animals. Thus although his theory of evolution was inconsistent with the
creationism of Whewell's epistemology, Darwin was able to adopt an anti-
empiricism similar to Whewell's. Whewell had been arguing since 1834 that

most of my contemporaries have been ... in the habit of understanding the maxim
'all our knowledge is derived from experience' in such a sense as to overlook the
importance of Ideas (quoted in Todhunter [1876], II, p. 268).

When he had satisfied himself that he could sketch an evolutionist origin for
Ideas, Darwin was able to combine his evolutionism with Whewellian a
priorism' and say on this point:

1A priorism in the sense that Whewell's Ideas precede experience and are necessary for
experience, though they are not a priori valid since they must be developed in experience
(Whewell [184o], I, p. 44).

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144 Ronald C. Curtis
is this not almost a question whether we have any instincts-surely in animals ...
there is much knowledge without experience, so there may be in men ([I974c], p.

Thus we can see that Whewell's epistemology led to the critical growth of
evolutionary biology. Darwin treated it not as extraneous background noise
external to his scientific problem but as a reasonable theory to be met with
critical arguments. And he was forced to develop and extend his theory into
areas quite remote from his original problem even though he felt, as he later
said, that he was 'not at all fitted for such studies' ([1958], p. 84). We can see
the critical legacy of Whewell's epistemology in books which Darwin
published much later, in the Descent of Man ([1871]), for example, the fifth
chapter of which discusses 'the advancement of intellectual powers through
natural selection'.

(b) Whewell's Baconian ladder

In the late i83os there was general agreement in Darwin's professional circle
that all published theories of evolution had failed-Darwin himself found
Lamarck's theory absurd ([I96ob], no. 2, p. 67)-and Whewell had
developed a theory to account for these failures. In the section of his [18371
dealing with 'palaetiological theories' (III, pp. 393 ff.)-these are general,
historical theories which seek to explain how the present state of the world
arose out of an earlier state by a series of 'intelligible causes'-Whewell
argued that in all their attempts at palaetiology, scientists had not noticed
the one thing of value in Bacon's philosophy-his condemnation of the
'anticipation of nature'. They had been premature in publishing their very
general, high-level historical speculations before establishing truths of 'a
narrower compass'.
Whewell said that this was a moral he drew from his study of history.
Scientists who had succeeded, astronomers, for example, who had estab-
lished 'a vast ... assemblage of undisputed truths' (ibid., I, p. 4), had begun
not with general cosmological theories, but with particular observations-of
eclipses, the retrograde movements of planets and so on. They had then
risen 'not by a leap but by small steps, by successive advances' ([1840o], II, p.
248) up the hierarchy of generalisation, verifying their theories at each step
in the ascent ([1837], I, p. i i). Thus, for example, only when the truth of
Kepler's laws of planetary motion had been established did Newton proceed
to a higher level and speculate about a theory which might explain them
([1837], II, p. 139). Astronomers had followed a sort of Baconian ladder of
inductive ascent.
In applying this theory to the evolutionists' situation as he saw it,
Whewell warned that if evolutionists were to succeed they must not rise to
quickly. They should, among other things, complete a verified science of th
causes of organic change (an aetiology) before speculating about a gener
historical explanation for the present state of the organic world. Befo

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 145

speculating that, say, climate, diet and habitual action had operated in the
past to produce the species distribution seen today, they should first prove
what sorts of changes these causes can produce and prove also that they are
always at work in a natural setting. Aetiology must precede palaetiology.
Whewell developed his theory in his [1832], [18351, [1837] and in his final
address as President of the Geological Society where he summarised the
arguments he had used at Society meetings throughout I838. 'It is not an
advance to suggest one or another hypothetical cause of change' when we try
to explain the present state of the organic world, he said ([18391, p. 96, my
italics). We must first 'obtain ... from adequate facts the laws of change of
the organic . .. creation; this alone can lead us to discoveries' (ibid).
In seeking a rational explanation for Darwin's scientific behaviour in the
late I830s we must recognise that Whewell's Baconian metatheory, like his
creationist epistemology, was part of Darwin's problem-situation as he saw
it. In 1838, Darwin had no arguments against Whewell's theory (these came
later as we shall see) and if he was to succeed in his aim of publishing a
critically defensible evolutionist explanation for species distribution, one
which Whewell would not label 'premature' and 'not an advance', he had no
choice but to try to satisfy it.
It was not until September of 1838 that he decided he could do this. For
several months before this date Darwin's preference continued to be for
creationism as the publicly defensible theory even though he had all the
material premises of his theory on paper, as many historians have pointed
out (e.g. Smith [1960], p. 392; DeBeer [1963], p. io; Ruse [1979], pp. 175ff.;
Mayr [1982], pp. 491 ff.). In the first half of 1838, Darwin was writing about
Malthusian superfecundity (e.g., [I96ob], no. 3, p. 98), limited subsistence,
and the consequent struggle for existence in which the survival of the better
adapted leads to the formation of species (e.g., ibid., p. 88). But as he applied
his Whewellian values to his theory, he realised that his major cause of
organic change was not a proven power. Rather as he said sometime before
the middle of 1838, the assumption that selection operated in a natural
setting to produce species was 'the most hypothetical part of my theory'
([I96ob], no. 3, p. 84). Clearly, his theory was not an advance.
This formal problem was still with him on the evening of 28 September.
And as he was mulling over once again the Malthusian premises of his
theory-we know from his notes that he was doing this ([1I967b], pp. 162-
3)-a solution struck him. He had by this time 'acquired a just idea of the
power of selection' (Darwin [1958], p. I 19) by studying the great changes
animal breeders had been able to produce under domestication and he now
realised he could use his Malthusian premises to construct a proof for the
fact that 'natural selection was the inevitable result of the rapid increase of all
organic beings' (Darwin [1868], p. io, my italics). This meant that he had
the makings of a publicly defensible evolutionist theory-now he 'had at last
got a theory by which to work', he decided (Darwin [1958], p. I20)-for he
could argue: breeders have demonstrated the power of selection; and the

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146 Ronald C. Curtis
Malthusian tendency to increase (itself a well-established law of nature (cf.
Ruse [1979], pp. I74ff.)) proves that selection must always be steadily at
work in a natural setting, for it means that each organism is involved in a
recurrent struggle to maintain its place. From now on he was able to claim,
as he did until the 86os, that selection was 'a vera causa from the struggle
for existence' ([1887], II, p. z2o). By this he meant that his cause was 'justly
and rigorously inferred from the phenomena' (Whewell [I840o], II, p. 284).
It was not a hypothetical power.

(c) Whewell's theory of explanation

Whewell's theory of explanation is anti-empiricist. He rejects the idea (to be

found, for example, in the work of J. F. W. Herschel ([1831], sect. 86)) that
explanatory premises are simply summary statements, or perhaps generalis-
ations, of the facts of experience. Rather, they go beyond the facts and add to
our knowledge for they offer new ideas with an origin separate from and
independent of experience ([1 8331, p. 328). These 'bind together' or connect
previously disconnected facts and, in doing so, explain them. Newton, for
example, with his idea of universal gravitation, gave us a conception which
could not have been derived 'by a simple course of reasoning' from the facts
of experience and by thus adding to our knowledge he was able to connect
and explain Kepler's laws (ibid.).
Darwin drew on Whewell's theory in his criticisms of creationism in his
transmutation notebooks and continued to use it throughout his career.
Darwin's continuing argument was not that creationism is inconsistent with
the facts of observation. (As Kleiner ([forthcoming]) argues, 'the phenomena
cannot by themselves be regarded as refuting . . . Lyell's scheme'.) His
argument was, rather, that creationism-unlike his own theory--cannot
explain them, in Whewell's sense of 'explain'. In his [1859] and [1868], he
says, for example, that on the ordinary view of each species having been
independently created we gain no scientific explanation for many 'great
classes of facts' because in creationist accounts 'nothing is added to our
knowledge' ([18591, p. 413). Creationists 'only restate the facts in dignified
language' (ibid., p. I86). They offer no new conceptions to 'connect together
facts and laws' ([I 868], p. 9).
Darwin had developed this argument in his transmutation notebooks by
the middle of 1838. He called the creationist explanation for the South
American character of Galapagos species a 'mere statement' of the facts in
which 'nothing is explained' ([f1967b], p. I5i). Creationism adds nothing to
our knowledge; no facts are connected ([I96ob], no. 2, p. 53). But his own
theory adds something new; it gives us what he describes in Whewellian
terms as 'the idea of propagation of species' (ibid., p. 42)--by this he means
the origin of new species from others by descent. This idea connects and
thus explains several facts of species distribution (ibid.).

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? x47
(d) Whewell's logic of justification

I have steadily endeavoured to give up any hypothesis, however much beloved (and I
cannot resist forming one on every subject) as soon as the facts are shown to be
opposed to it.

So said Darwin ([1958], p. 140), echoing Whewell's view that those who
would advance knowledge must combine a 'license in guessing' with a
willingness to reject 'the most favourite production of their ingenuity' if it
proves under trial to be false ([1840], II, pp. 55-6). But it would be wrong to
conclude from this that Darwin and Whewell were naive falsificationists.
Whewell found it legitimate to try to develop some theories which were
apparently inconsistent with observed facts. These were theories which
despite their problems, 'bear marks of truth which could hardly be fallacious'
([1837], II, p. 354). When a theory explained or predicted not only facts o
the same kind as it was invented to explain, but also facts not contemplated
by its author in its formation, scientists had an indication of its basic truth,
though some error might have to be 'pared away' ([1840], II, p. 65).
To satisfy Whewell's criterion a theory did not have to predict novel facts.
It might simply explain well-known phenomena-like the tides in Newton's
day-if these were not contemplated by the author in forming it. But if it did
predict novel facts it gave particularly striking evidence of its truth. The
wave theory of light did this and Whewell argued for continuing work on it
in spite of its many 'apparent difficulties and contradictions'. Scientists
could rest assured that it was 'in the main true' and that its difficulties would
be resolved for it had, for example, predicted the previously unknown fact
that under certain specified circumstances 'a ray of light must be refracted
into a conical pencil' ([1833], p. xvi).
Darwin sought to establish that his theory bore these marks of truth. In
the I 84os and 50s, he derived some predictions about previously unknown
facts from his theory.

Guided by theoretical considerations . . .that is, from looking at species as only

strongly marked varieties I was led to anticipate that species of the larger genera in
each country would oftener present varieties than species of smaller genera ([I1859],
PP. 53 and 55).

This was because on his theory a large genus, one with many species, can
evolve only if there is a lot of variation for selection to work on: the many
species must evolve out of an even larger number of varieties. If there is a
large genus today, there must have been a lot of variation in the past: and
also, we should be able to find a lot of this variation still occurring because
'where the manufactory of species has been active, we ought generally to find
the manufactory still in action' (ibid., p. 50).
Darwin tested this prediction by setting up lists of plants from twelve
different countries and dividing each list into two nearly equal groups, one
of large and one of small genera. When publishing his results, he said he
would have regarded some possible findings as 'fatal to my theory' (ibid., p.

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148 Ronald C. Curtis

56). It would of course have been fatal if he had found that small genera, on
average, vary most. But it would also have been fatal if he had found that the
species of all large genera were varying a great deal (and thus presumably
increasing in size) or that no small genera were varying (this would mean
none were increasing). Either of these results would have been fatal (ibid.)
because the geological record 'plainly shows' that small genera have in many
cases increased in size over time and large genera have declined and
Darwin's correspondence in the I84os and 50s, when he was carrying out
his tests, bears out his claim. He says in a letter to Hooker, who was helping
with the test:

I am now working several of the large local floras .... [W]hen I have... seen what the
sections of the largest genera say ... I must come to some definite conclusion whether
or not entirely to give up the ghost. I shall ... show how the facts stand, then ... yield
entirely or defend the case as far as I can ([1903], I, p. Io5).

But as he reported subsequently (ibid., p. 135), the results were as predicted.

By 1859, Darwin's critical attitude towards his theory had turned to
dogmatism. He now declared himself unwilling to reject it despite its many
difficulties which, as he said, 'stagger me' ([I887], II, p. I5). When Hooker
sent him what looked like clear evidence of multiple centres of 'creation',
something ruled out by his theory ([1859], pp. 351-55), Darwin had no
reply: 'I am quite shut up and can only damn the whole case', he said ([1887],
II, p. 142). But he continued, nevertheless to believe his theory was in the
main true. Because of its predictive successes, he 'cannot believe... it false'
(ibid., I, p. 373); he believes rather that its many 'difficulties will slowly
disappear' (ibid.).
We might say, then, that Darwin was a falsificationist before 1859, and a
dogmatist and anti-falsificationist thereafter. But we should realize that
behind this changing treatment of his theory there was an underlying unity
of approach, a unity we can trace to Whewellian methodology. In the 184os
and 5os Darwin's theory had potential falsifiers; he was willing to specify
observable states of affairs which, if observed, would lead him to reject his
evolutionism completely. In doing so he was following Whewell's warning
that the scientist must give up 'the most favourite production of his
ingenuity' if it fails under test. But in the 186os he was following Whewell
too. For by then he thought on Whewellian grounds that his theory must be
in the main true. According to Whewell's logic of justification it had
characteristics which had 'never yet been produced in favour of falsehood'
([1840], II, p. 67).
Thus, historians who treat their own methodologies as theories of
scientific rationality will meet with problems in discussing Darwin.
Falsificationists will find his willingness, before 1859, to reject his theory in
the face of unfavourable empirical results a paradigm of scientific ratio-
nality. But they will be troubled by his dogmatism after I 860 (and by that of
his Whewellian supporters such as Hutton in his [ 860]). On the other hand,

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? x49
historians who accept Lakatos' MSRP will find confirmation for their
methodology in Darwin's post-x86o dogmatism; they will probably be able
to describe an irrefutable hard core in the programme which was clearly
progressing as a result of the 'large genera' predictions. But they will have to
ignore his pre-i 86o falsificationism; or perhaps they will call it irrational,
the result of external influences. For Darwin was willing to 'give up the
ghost entirely' even though his theory was progressing (on the progressive-
ness of Darwin's programme, see below).
The situation is different for the historian who declines to use his own
methodology as a rationality theory. He can treat both Darwin's falsifi-
cationism of the I 84os and his dogmatism of the I 86os as eminently rational,
since Darwin's whole approach can be traced to his critically held and
rationally changing Whewellian metascience which specified when scepti-
cism and when dogmatism was appropriate.


Having sketched some of the theoretical background to Darw

we are now in a position to explore the rationality of his ap
understand the limitations of our own methodologies for e
research strategies of scientists in history.

(a) Methodologies as theories of scientific rationality

As we have seen, although Darwin had his theory on paper before

September I838, he did not think it could be defended in public for his
evolutionary mechanism was, he thought, only a hypothetical cause. Until
late September, his 'basic value judgement' was that his theory was not an
advance over creationism.

Darwin's judgement was, I think, dissonant with various methodolog

which modern historians might want to accept-with falsificationism,
example. For his theory as we find it in his notebooks by April of 1838-it
essentially the same as the theory we find in his [1842], [1844] a
[I859]-was falsifiable, as we have seen, but creationism was not. His
judgement was dissonant also with conventionalism, which judges the
simpler theory to be preferable. For as he himself recognised ([196ob], no. 5,
p. 165), with just a few assumptions (heritable organic variation combined
with great fertility), he could explain a wide range of facts in biogeography,
embryology and so on. He had a much simpler theory than creationism
which could account for many observations only by, as he said, restating
them in 'dignified language'. (On Darwin's appreciation, in his notebooks,
of the greater simplicity of his own system, see also Kleiner [forthcoming].)
His judgement was dissonant also with the appraisals yielded by the
methodology of scientific research programmes. For (as Darwin himself
complained early in 1838 ([196ob], no. 2, p. 65)) Lyell's creationism

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150 Ronald C. Curtis
contradicted the traditional assumption of Divine omnipotence by limiting
the Diety to single creations. Lyell's hypothesis was, in Lakatos' ter-
minology, ad hoc3 ([1970o], pp. 175-6) for Lyell had abandoned the central
'unifying idea' of the creationist programme. And I think, in general, that if
one undertook a detailed appraisal of creationism and evolutionism as they
stood before mid-x838 one would find that creationism was
degenerating-it could account for many newly discovered facts only b
saying in an ad hoc way that each was the will of God-and that Darwin'
theory was empirically progressive, in Zahar's sense ([1973], p. Io3). Fo
although his theory was designed to explain the facts of distribution which
struck him on the Beagle ([1958], pp. I I8-zo), by late I837, he was able t
explain other facts which did not belong to the problem-situation governing
the construction of his theory: for example, the great gaps in structur
between the vertebrates and articulata ([196ob], no. 2, pp. 36ff.).
Thus, historians who treat their own methodology, be it falsificationism,
conventionalism or the MSRP, as a rationality theory will have to find
Darwin guilty of an 'irrational delay" in refusing to regard his evolutionism
as a publicly defensible advance over creationism until September 1838
Nor could they avoid this conclusion by looking for a new methodolog
whose appraisals would be consistent with Darwin's. For, except fo
Darwin's discovery of a way of arranging the premises he already had into a
formal, Whewellian proof of the power of selection, nothing changed in
September. Anyone trying a Lakatos-style rational reconstruction o
Darwin's behaviour in which he looks for new empirical successes or
changes in theory content-these are the sorts of substantive or material
considerations Lakatos and his followers have an eye for-will have to
conclude that whatever force the arguments for his evolutionism had at the
end of September, they had for some months before; and whatever
weaknesses they had before September they had after that date.2 Darwin

Cf. Worrall ([1976]) who asks: if falsificationists are right in thinking the wave theory of light
was better than the particle theory by 1807, then why did most physicists wait until the 182os
to accept the wave theory: 'why this irrational delay?' (p. 109).
2 This is a paraphrase of A. O. Lovejoy's appraisal of evolutionism in I840, when most
scientists rejected it, and in the i86os, when most began to accept it. In his [i959], Lovejoy
attempted what was, in effect, a Lakatos-style rational reconstruction of the switch to
evolutionism, but he was forced to find the community guilty of an irrational delay. Lovejoy
was of course aware of the reasons the scientists themselves gave for their delay between I84o
and I86o-these were precisely analogous to the reasons I have given for Darwin's delay in
1838. And indeed the history of Darwin's changing preferences in 1838 was re-enacted by the
scientific community as a whole after I859. As Huxley says, he and many of his colleagues
could not accept evolutionism until they had a mechanism 'which could be proved to be
actually at work' ([I887], p. 540).
But Lovejoy refused to treat this as a rational explanation for the switch because-and here
his approach is like Lakatos'-the metascience on which Huxley based his demand was a
mistake. Lovejoy calls it 'wholly non-logical' ([i9591, P. 36o) and 'contrary to all sound ideas
of scientific method' (ibid.). It was, one might say, an irrational external influence, a
'prejudice' (ibid., p. 41 3) which 'retarded and confused intellectual processes' (ibid.). Thus,
like various students of Lakatos (see for example, Clark [1976], p. 43), Lovejoy equates
irrationality with metascientific error.

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 15
added no new premises to his theory in September; his notes record no new
empirical successes. He was aware by the beginning of I838 that he could
derive many well-known observations from his theory (e.g., [I96ob], no. 2,
pp. 42ff.) and problems which had been with him from the beginning, such
as the absence of intermediate links between representative species (ibid. p.
70) were still with him after September ([1859], p. I74). Nor did he discover
any new problems facing creationism.
The Whewellian metatheory which led Darwin to his decision that he had
the makings of a publicly defensible theory will not be part of the modern
historian's methodology. For Darwin himself gave us a generally accepted
refutation of it, after I86o. (I show how he did this, below.) The historian
who thinks his own methodology fully accounts for the rational aspect of
scientific growth (Lakatos [1971], p. xo6) will have no choice but to regard
Whewell's theory as 'irrational in the light of his rationality theory' (ibid).
Just as Clark, in following through the logic of Lakatos' position, was led to
call sensationalism (for him, a metascientific error) 'an extra-scientific,
external influence' ([I976], p. 43) and just as Worrall was led to regard
Henry Brougham's positivism (another error) as external to his scientific
work, not a reason for his choices ([1976], p. i i8n),' those who accept this
general approach will be forced to treat Whewell's theory as external and
non-rational. But in doing so, they will deprive themselves of any rational
explanation for Darwin's changing appraisal of evolutionism.
We can, however, give a rational explanation, if we refuse to treat our own
methodologies as rationality theories.

(b) The rationality of Darwin's research strategy

Darwin's research strategy was, in my view, rational-and correct. He did

what he ought to have done given his aims and the intricate logic of his
problem-situation as he saw it. This is the conclusion I will draw in applying
Popper's situational logic and theory of rationality to the history of Darwin's

As we have seen, Darwin began by accepting a set of creationist theories

but eventually discovered he could not explain species distribution within
the creationist programme. To solve this problem he began to criticise and
reject some of the theories which gave rise to it. These are some of the
theories which made up his problem-situation as he saw it in 1837-8:
(r) God is the Benevolent Designer of each species in perfect adaptation to its
(2) Each species has a single centre of creation.

1 Worrall refused to treat Brougham's positivism as part of internal, rational history because
'after all, Brougham certainly accepted some "unobservable" forces' ([1976], p. I I8n). Or, in
other words: because Brougham's metascience was muddled, a mistake. Once again we see
nonrationality or irrationality identified with metascientific error.

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152 Ronald C. Curtis

(3) Species distribution on the globe can be explained in terms of migration from a
single centre of origin.
(4) Species have a real existence in nature and no transmutation of species is
(5) Whewell's theory of the Divine origin of Fundamental Ideas.
(6) Whewell's a priorist epistemology and theory of explanation.
(7) Whewell's Baconian ban on hypothetical causes in palaetiology.
(8) The critical tradition: Any attempt to replace creationism with evolutionism will
have to be defensible in the debates of the Geological Society whose membership
includes Lyell and Whewell, formidable opponents of evolutionism. (Whewell
is a 'talking giant', Darwin [1887], I, p. 235.)

Darwin was faced here with a typical, 'inherently-mixed' problem-

situation-to use a term of Ian Jarvie's ([1979], p. 497)--one which cut
across the boundaries of several traditional disciplines. The history of
science is the history of such problem-situations (cf. Popper [1963], p. 67),
but I do not think we should attempt a Lakatos-style division of this
situation into scientific, rational elements on the one hand and 'extra-
scientific', non-rational elements on the other, for there were logical, critical
and therefore rational continuities amongst all the elements I have listed.1
In particular-to choose the most obvious potential candidate-I do not
think we should relegate Whewell's Baconian theory to external history. It
is, of course, a theory at the meta-level-it has a 'methodological
character' 2-and most of us would now agree it is a mistake. But this in itself
should not lead us to treat it as an irrational, external influence on Darwin.
We have done away with the old Baconian idea that those who accept false
scientific theories are prejudiced and irrational, and if we are fallibilists at
the meta-level I see no grounds for applying a stricter standard of rationality
to Darwin's work there. If we accept that 'one element of... rationality ... is
the critical examination of our theories' (Popper [1974]; see also Jarvie and
Agassi [1967], [1973], [1979], [I980]), we could agree that Darwin's
treatment of the (false, we now think) object-level theory (4) was rational, for
he accepted Lyell's defence ([1832]) of it until he was able to criticise it. I
think we should also regard Darwin's treatment of theory (7) as eminently
1 Lakatos' attempt to divide problem-situations into external, non-rational and internal,
rational parts is a new version of what Gellner described in another context as the dogma of
the apartheid of form and content, of the conceptual and substantive issues in any field
([1958], p. 23o; for a refutation of this dogma see Agassi's [1959a], now in his [1981], pp.
45-54). Because they try to separate content (which for them is part of internal history) from
form (which for them is part of external history-see, for example, Clark [1976], p. 43 and
Worrall [ 1976], p. I 18n), Lakatos and his followers cannot give a rational account of scientific
change as a whole; a rational account of the development of scientific and metascientific
theories, the content and form of science. In the actual course of history these develop in
conjunction. (For an example, see my account of the critical development of the form and
content of Darwin's science after 186o, below.) There is no apartheid of form and content in
the actual history of science and as Ian Jarvie points out ([1979], p. 490), the development of
science involves not just the growth of knowledge of the empirical world, but also the growth
of knowledge about methodology.
2 This essentialist-sounding phrase is John Worrall's. Worrall is reluctant to treat Brougham's
positivist metatheories as reasons for his scientific preferences because positivism has a
'methodological character' ([1976], p. I i8n).

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? I53

rational for he (and many of his professional colleagues) accepted it too until
he developed good criticisms of it.
We must remember also that Darwin could not distinguish between
theories (7) and (I)-(4) as we who are wise after the event are able to, for he
did not have the idea of a metalanguage. He had in fact no general way of
distinguishing between the epistemological and scientific theories in his
problem-situation for as a Whewellian he would have thought that the
'philosophy of science is a science like any other' (Whewell [1840], II, p.
i I8). It must be developed like any other science by criticising successive
conjectural attempts at a true theory (ibid.). To require Darwin to treat the
metatheories in his situation differently from the others as a condition of
rationality would be to require him to make distinctions which were
unavailable to him-it would be to ask of him the impossible.
Thus, I see no reason why we should not extend Popper's theory of the
rational choice of scientific theories for practical action to Darwin's choices
of the metatheories which guided his preferences. Popper asks:

Which theory should we prefer for practical action from a rational point of view? We
should prefer ... the one which in the light of our critical discussion appears to be the
best so far ... this will be rational in the most obvious sense of the word. ... I do not
know of anything more rational than a well-conducted critical discussion ([19741, P.

In applying Popper's theory to Darwin's metascientific preferences, we

must consider the methodological discussion of the day. Aside from
accepting theory (7) as a guide, there were, so far as I can see, three
alternatives open to Darwin in 1838. Theory (7) was Whewell's answer to J.
F. W. Herschel's vera causa doctrine. Herschel, in his [183 ], had argued
that the scientist must employ only causes of which he has a 'direct
perception' or which bear a strong analogy to causes directly perceived (p.
149). Whewell replied that this requirement was impossible to satisfy since
we cannot in fact have a direct perception of anything. All observation
involves an inference based on an idea, an interpretation by the mind of the
matter of observation ([1837], I, PP. 6-7). In place of Herschel's demand
Whewell substituted the weaker demand for causes whose powers have been

One alternative open to Darwin might have been to reject Whe

argument and try to satisfy Herschel instead. (This is what Lye
example, was trying to do in his Principles (Laudan [1982], pp. zzz
had Darwin tried this, he would have had to reject other theori
problem-situation, in particular, Whewell's anti-empiricist epist
which denies there can be direct perceptions. Darwin thought, h
that Whewell's epistemology had fared better than its competitor
critical debates of the day' and he was beginning to bring elements of
1 Darwin continued to criticise the demand for the separation of observation an
throughout his life. 'I have an old belief that a good observer really means a good th
said in i86o ([1903], I, p. 176).

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154 Ronald C. Curtis

his own evolutionist epistemology, as we have seen. Further, had he rejected

Whewell's philosophy he would have been unable to give the Whewellian
defence of his theory of evolution and the criticism of creationism which he
was developing in his notebooks. So this alternative was not open to him.
Alternatively, Darwin might have decided simply to trust in his scientific
instincts, his 'instinctive value judgement', to use a phrase of Lakatos (Zahar
thinks scientists do this all the time ([1978], p. 73)). After all, Whewell
himself thought (as did Lakatos1) that a really good scientist 'need not come
to the teachers of inductive philosophy to learn to exercise the faculties
nature has given him' ([1840o], II, p. z ). Darwin might have adopted this
quasi-Lakatosian approach, we might call it: he might have decided to
publish his theory, thinking any objections methodologists might raise
against hypothetical causes would 'tend to disappear' when others who
shared his instincts saw the theory was a good one.2
But this would have amounted to a dogmatic, unargued rejection of
Whewell. And Darwin could have foreseen that if he published a theory
which ignored (7), it would be subjected to Whewell's most testing
criticisms and that in criticising Darwin Whewell would be free to make use
of his own critically-held theories. Whewell could in fact have argued that
Darwin's instinctive judgements were not reliable since he preferred a
theory which violated (7). In 1838 Darwin would have had no response to
this since he had no criticisms of (7). Thus in simply ignoring methodology,
Darwin would have failed to meet his objective.
The only other alternative would have been to construct a new method-
ology which his theory could satisfy, perhaps one in which there were no
restrictions on the causes employed. But this would have been a major
digression from his aim. Whewell had had a difficult enough task criticising
the empiricist vera causa doctrine. His a priorism was found by many of his
contemporaries to be 'unconquerably obnoxious' (Whewell [I833], p. xx)
even though he was a formidable advocate of his views. Darwin would have
had a very difficult time carrying the critical discussion of causal theory any
further in 1838.
Darwin and his supporters did carry it further in I86o when new
arguments against Whewell's theory emerged quite unexpectedly in the
debate following the publication of the Origin. But Darwin was able to
criticise Whewell in I86o, as we shall see, only because in I838 he accepted

1 'Methodological progress still lags far behind common scientific wisdom' ([1971], p. z21).
2 John Worrall thinks 'positivist attitudes ... tend to disappear if the theories involving the
disputed hypothetical entities are good enough' ([1976], p. I i8n). Positivist metatheories are
not criticised and rejected if they do not stand up, on this view. They just fade away. Here we
see the meta-level irrationalism of Lakatos' approach. Scientists apply certain values (e.g.
those of the MSRP in the case of the physicists in Worrall's [1976]) instinctively or
intuitively, and therefore uncritically, to their object-level theories. But this often leads, in
effect, to an intuitive and therefore uncritical rejection of other values or metatheories (e.g.
positivism) which happen to conflict with the theories they instinctively accept. (For an
opposing, rational view of the history of metascience, see Agassi [1959a] and [197I].)

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 155

most of Whewell's philosophy as part of the unproblematic background to

his problem. Because he preferred a tentative acceptance of the uncriticised
parts of theories (5), (6) and (7) in the I83os and 4os to a dogmatic rejection
of them, he was able to produce a critical rejection of (7) after 186o. We
should not be so wise after the event as to turn what we have learned from
Darwin against him and call (7) external and irrational.
In reconstructing the general outlines of Darwin's approach, we can say
that he began with theories (I) to (8) and then proceeded to knock some of
them out with critical arguments as he tried to solve his problem of
explanation. To solve his problem he criticised and rejected theory (i) and
theory (4). He had to do this in order to present his evolutionist solution. But
having rejected these theories, Darwin seems to have tried to alter the others
as little as possible: he made only those changes required by his evolution-
ism. Thus, while rejecting (I) and (4), he continued to accept as much as
possible of (z) and carried over into his evolutionism Lyell's view that each
species has a single centre of origin (Darwin [ 1859], p. 352). He also retained
Lyell's theory (3) and tried to explain species distribution in terms of
migration from these centres (ibid., p. 353).
His treatment of the Whewellian elements in his situation was the same.
He was forced to reject Whewell's creationist theory of the origin of
Fundamental Ideas and to sketch an evolutionist substitute, as we have seen.
But in doing so, he made as little alteration to the rest of Whewell's
philosophy as possible: he retained the Fundamental Ideas while giving
them an evolutionist origin; thus he retained Whewell's a priorist epistem-
ology, his theory of explanation and left his anti-empiricist methodology

Or, in short, Darwin's criticism of the set of theories with which he began
was piecemeal. This strategy seems rational-and correct-in view of the
fact that, as Popper points out, all criticism must be piecemeal ([I963], p.
238). Criticism cannot begin without some assumptions (which may be
criticised later). We cannot start from scratch.
Darwin did what was necessary for the critical discussion to proceed: he
did not try to start from scratch and reject all the theories with which he had
begun. This would have put an end to the debate. Rather, while rejecting
theory (i), the separate, Divine creation of each species, he accepted theory
(6) and was thus able to argue that creationism, unlike his own theory, could
not explain species distribution (in Whewell's sense of 'explain'). Similarly,
because he accepted theory (7), having no arguments against it and because
he argued he could satisfy it, his evolutionism was not immediately thrown
out of court. T. H. Huxley and many others found Darwin's theory, unlike
earlier evolutionist theories, worthy of serious, critical study precisely
because Darwin had attempted to verify his causes (Huxley [1887]).
In arguing that Darwin's strategy was rational and correct even though
dissonant with our own methodologies, I am of course rejecting the
generally accepted idea that our methodologies can tell us what choices

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156 Ronald C. Curtis
rational scientists ought to have made in historical situations. I am rejecting
the idea at the heart of Lakatos' programme for testing methodologies
against history, the idea that the rational aspect of scientific growth can be
fully accounted for by the historian's own methodology ([1971], p. io6). For
we can show instead that it is accounted for in part by scientists' critical
treatment of their own fallible epistemologies. We can show how we have
learned from their metascientific mistakes and how, in the words of Agassi's
[1959], epistemology is an aid to science. This is the subject of the next



If we relegate the history of metascientific error to the

history of science as, for example, Lakatos and Zah
simplicism ([19751, p. 363) or as Clark does with Ost
([1976], pp. 42-3) or as Worrall does with Brougham's
I 18n) we shall miss an important part of the history of
growth of metascience.' If there is no place for rational
in the historian's scheme of things, then there is no
changing metascience. There is no place for the epis
describe, -Darwin's refutation, after 1859, of the B
Whewell's ban on hypothetical causes did not simply 'disappear' in the
face of a good scientific theory. Rather, it (and Herschel's analogous vera
causa doctrine) continued to guide scientists until Darwin was able to offer
decisive criticisms. In the years following the publication of the Origin,
Darwin found himself, quite unexpectedly, in possession of good arguments
against Whewell. He was able, in effect, to use arguments based on
Whewell's logic of justification in conjunction with factual premises, to
refute Whewell's Baconian theory.
The argument against Whewell came into his hands in the following way.
First of all, he published the Origin thinking that his major cause, selection,
was not a hypothetical power ([18591, p. 30). Some reviewers agreed.
Carpenter, in a favourable Whewellian review, accepted Darwin's proof
verbatim. Since there was 'no ... doubt that each organism was striving to
increase in a geometrical ratio', Darwin had, he thought, 'assigned a vera
causa for evolution' ([i86o], p. o09). Huxley accepted this and wrote to
Darwin: 'I think you have demonstrated a true cause for the production of
species' (Quoted in Darwin [1887], II, p. 49). He later explained that he
accepted Darwin's theory because it, unlike other evolutionist theories,

1 Agassi asks, 'Do we learn scientific method, and if so how?' ([1981], p. 223). My answer is
'yes', and in this section I give one example of how we have learned.

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Are Methodologies Theories of Scientific Rationality? 157

'assumed the operation of no causes but such as could be proved to be

actually at work' ([1887], p. 550).
Darwin published the Origin thinking also, as we have seen, that his
theory bore Whewellian marks of truth. It had great explanatory power and
had passed important tests, successfully predicting previously unknown
facts. This gave him a new line of argument against those who denied that he
had demonstrated a true cause of evolution.
Whewell himself thought Darwin had been unsuccessful in his attempt to
prove his aetiology.' 'Most of his hypotheses are quite unproved by fact', he
said (Todhunter [1876], II, p. 434; similarly Whewell [1864], p. xvii) and for
this reason, Darwin's theory like the other palaetiological theories discussed
in his [1837], was, he thought, premature. Several reviewers-Pictet
([I86o]), Gray (see Darwin [18871, II, p. 83) and Hopkins ([i86o]), for
example-agreed. In answer to this line of criticism Darwin began to
criticise and reject the demand for proven causes itself. Darwin had new,
strong arguments against Whewell.
We can reconstruct Darwin's argument as follows. If the critics were in
fact right in saying he had published a theory employing only hypothetical
causes, then Whewell's theory that the scientist can succeed in palaetiology
only if he avoids hypothetical causes must be false. For according to
Whewell's own logic of justification Darwin had succeeded-his theory bore
the marks of truth.
We can see Darwin beginning to reject Whewell's theory as early as 186o.
In correspondence, he began to say that his theory of evolution should be
accepted if it explained large classes of facts, and that he did not rate very
highly the 'necessity of natural selection being shown to be a vera causa
always in action' ([ 1903], I, p. 135). This line of argument was also advanced
by some of his supporters (for example, Fawcett [I86o]; Hutton [1I960]). By
April of 1862, Darwin was telling Hooker that his theory should be judged
solely on the basis of its explanatory power (which showed it to be true,
Darwin 'cannot believe ... it false' ([1887], I, p. 373)) and that the power of
selection to produce species cannot be 'directly proved' ([1887], II, p. I56).
Darwin summarized this whole argument at the beginning of his [I868]:
In scientific investigations it is permitted to invent any hypothesis ... [we do not
need to limit ourselves in palaetiology to causes whose powers have been proved].
[T]he principle of natural selection may be looked on as a mere hypothesis ...
[contrary to what I said in my [18591, P. 30.] [T]he only fair and legitimate manner of
considering the whole question is by trying whether [my theory of evolution]
explains several large classes of facts. . . . It is the consideration of such facts which
has convinced me that the theory of descent with modification by means of natural
selection is in the main true ([1868], p. 9, my italics).

'But Whewell also found Darwin's theory, unlike some of its evolutionist predecessors,
worthy of criticism: there was 'much of thought and fact [in the Origin] that is not to be
contradicted without careful selection of the ground and manner of dissent' (quoted in
Darwin [18871, II, p. 54).

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158 Ronald C. Curtis

Thus, as Darwin learned about science he learned-and tau

metascience. The vera causa doctrine, which in one form or
scientists' preferences and prevented the community as
accepting evolutionism until 1859 (Huxley [1887], pp. 550
[19591, PP. 363 ff.) no longer guides our thinking on these
because Darwin was able to criticise the doctrine. By accep
philosophy until he was able to criticise some parts of it, Darw
show us with good arguments that the vera causa require
mistake. This was not simply a case of bad Baconian philoso
ing' in the face of a good scientific theory. Darwin relied on a
premises in his criticism. Some were factual-his theor
number of tests. Some were epistemological--on Whewell's
theory bore the marks of truth.
There was, it is fair to say, a Darwinian revolution in metasc
as in science. And the whole episode-the delay in the overthrow of
creationism until Darwin published a proven cause of evolution, followed
by Darwin's overthrow of the requirement for proven causes itself-the
whole episode was, it seems to me, pace Lovejoy's [I959], a rational affair.
But we can see this only if we decline to use our own methodologies, which
are, in part, a product of this revolution, as theories by which we appraise the
rationality and correctness of the revolution as a whole. We can see this only
if we take into account the rationally changing methodologies of the
participants themselves.

York University, Ontario


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