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Evolution was not a new idea. The Greeks speculated on it. In the century before Darwin many different evolutionary theories were proposed, among them notable efforts by Buffon, Lamarck, and Goethe. Their common thread was the concept that the succession of biological changes in geological time represented a fact, if not a natural law. The stumbling block was for all of them, as it had been for Cuvier, the concept of fixed species, which clashed with the vision of a distant past populated with races of plants and animals now extinct. It became evident that the idea of fixed species could not explain this. What was needed was a theory which could account for both permanence and impermanence in the natural world. This Charles Darwin supplied. [excerpt]


This is a part of Section XV: Biology and the Rise of the Social Sciences. The Contemporary Civilization page lists all additional sections of Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, as well as the Table of Contents for both volumes.

More About Contemporary Civilization:

From 1947 through 1969, all first-year Gettysburg College students took a two-semester course called Contemporary Civilization. The course was developed at President Henry W.A. Hanson’s request with the goal of “introducing the student to the backgrounds of contemporary social problems through the major concepts, ideals, hopes and motivations of western culture since the Middle Ages.”

Gettysburg College professors from the history, philosophy, and religion departments developed a textbook for the course. The first edition, published in 1955, was called An Introduction to Contemporary Civilization and Its Problems. A second edition, retitled Ideas and Institutions of Western Man, was published in 1958 and 1960. It is this second edition that we include here. The copy we digitized is from the Gary T. Hawbaker ’66 Collection and the marginalia are his.