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Charles Darwin and Psychology

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Charles Darwin and Psychology

Arianna Sinclaire Pendergrass

Gateway Community College



This paper will look at the life of philosopher-psychologist Charles Darwin, 1809-1882, through the works of five various journal articles and books. Charles Darwin was a philosopher who studied his own theory of evolution and origin of species through many years of conducted research. He contributed many ideas to physiology & psychology, which has strong biological underpinnings that trace back to Darwin (Bettany & Anderson, 1887). This paper will also look at his life through his own autobiography, which gives information on his education, family life and voyages that led his to his psychological discoveries. A major part of this paper is how he has impacted psychology today. Through works like (Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859) you will learn that these contributions vary from natural selection and sexual selection. These theories have great analytical value, guiding psychologists to classes of adaptive problems linked with survival and reproduction (Lieberman & Haselton).

Charles Robert Darwin was born in Shropshire, England, in February 1809 at his family's home. When he was already as young as eight years old, Darwin already had an interest in natural history and collecting (Darwin, 1887). During the summer of 1825 Darwin was an apprentice doctor. Then in the summer of 1825 he began to attend the University of Edinburgh Medical School with his brother Erasmus (Darwin, 1887). Darwin would always get bored with his classes at the University. He found pleasure assisting Robert Edmond Grant with investigations of marine invertebrates, and in 1827 we presented his own discovery about marine invertebrates. The discovery was about black spores found in oyster shells (Darwin, 1887). His father was displeased with his boredom in his studies and sent him away to Christs’ College, Cambridge. Darwin was still tired and uninterested in his classes there, but he was gaining a deeper passion for natural theology (Darwin, 1887).

In 1831 Darwin accepted the opportunity to go on a voyage on the HMS Beagle. He was sought after because of his knowledge and skill in natural theology. On the voyage Darwin’s passion for natural theology and geology grew even more and by the end of the voyage he had already made his mark as a geologist and fossil collector. While on the voyage he also published a journal called The Voyage of the Beagle, which made him a well-known writer (Bettany & Anderson, 1887). This all would eventually lead up to his theory of evolution by natural selection.

Darwin worked with Charles Lyell and Richard Owen to study all of his findings from the Beagle voyage. This included his discovery of the twelve different species of finches found on the Galapagos Islands. In 1837 after presenting his studies and findings to many different geological societies, Darwin was elected to the Council of the Geological Society (Bettany & Anderson, 1887). By the end of that year Darwin had come up with his famous theory of evolution.

All of the work Darwin was doing started to give him health problems. In 1837 he suffered from an uncomfortable palpitation of the heart. Because of this his doctor advised him to take a break from his work (Bettany & Anderson, 1887). Darwin pushed on anyway and in 1838 he accepted a role as the Secretary of the Geological Society. The added stress from all this work caused him to have more health problems, such as headaches, stomach problems and heart issues. These health problems followed him for the rest of his life and their exact cause always remained unknown (Bettany & Anderson, 1887). It was around this time that Darwin started to come up with his theory of natural selection. He stated in his autobiography, “In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species” (Darwin, 1887). The following year Darwin got married to his cousin Emma Wedgwood and moved to London. After this he made his main hobby working on his new theory of natural selection. In 1855, he began working towards publication of his theory of natural selection. By 1856 Darwin went on to investigate whether eggs and seeds could survive travel across seawater to spread species across oceans. ‘On the Origin of Species’ became unexpectedly popular, with the entire stock of 1,250 copies sold out when it went on sale to booksellers on the 22 of November 1859 (Bettany & Anderson, 1887).  In his book Darwin discussed sexual selection, he hinted that it could explain differences between human races. He avoided discussing human origins in one sentence; “Light will be thrown on the origin of man and his history.” (Darwin, The Origin of Species, 1859) The book aroused international interest, although Darwin was absent for most of the public debates.  Darwin still eagerly scrutinized the scientific response, commenting on press cuttings, reviews, articles, satires and caricatures, and discussed it with colleagues worldwide. In 1882 he was diagnosed with what was called angina pectoris which then meant coronary thrombosis and disease of the heart. At the time of his death the physicians diagnosed angina attacks and heart-failure (Bettany & Anderson, 1887).



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