Giuliano Pancaldi, “Darwin’s Technology of Life”, Isis 110, no. 4 (December 2019): 680-700.
Some of Darwin’s views on descent with modification were developed alongside his adoption of a number of concepts inspired by the domain that we would now call science and technology. Focusing on the period from Darwin’s circumnavigation journey to the publication of the Origin in 1859, this essay explores the rich manuscript and published documentation left by Darwin to trace in detail his exposure to contemporary technologies and notions of invention. It argues that the parallel Darwin established on several occasions between the history of life on earth and human inventions was more than a metaphor. According to Darwin’s radical evolutionary perspective, life and invention—including his own theory explaining descent with modification—belonged to the same domain. It further argues that Darwin’s technology of life approach allowed him to make room for a plurality of causes driving evolutionary change, while at the same time avoiding the question of the origin of life. This same approach helped him to mold his scientific persona, while marking his distance from a mixed population of naturalists that included materialists as well as exponents of speculative German natural philosophy, although these were all frequent sources of reflection during his most creative years.