Darwinism and the Theory of Social Evolution

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The purpose of this article is to understand Darwinism as a construct of logic and to reveal its sociological potential. Darwinism is a theory of reproductive systems and the consequences of their survival process, i.e. “evolution”. In this sense, Darwinism can refer to phenomena other than the biological; it can describe how a certain constituent of culture and a certain type of social organization will reproduce itself and survive. The important turning point of evolutionary theory was from Lamarckism to Darwinism. This article, at first, clarifies the nature of this conversion. The Lamarckians claim that a system selects choices for its own future, while the Darwinians claim that environment selects a certain kind of system. The former explains the change of a certain system on the level of an individual system, while the latter explains it as a replacement of individual systems. This suggests that social evolution theories about a system like Luhmann's have no relation to Darwinism even though they in many cases have Darwinism-like outlooks. Here, this article examines the meaning of the phrase “survival of the fittest,” a proposition about reproductive efficiency, and points out some inadequacies in existing applications of this phrase in sociology. The concepts, ‘survival’ and ‘adaptation’, are on a different level from ‘development’ in the ordinary sense. The following concepts in social evolution theories are criticised: ‘selection,’ ‘differentiation,’ and ‘stages of development’. This article also throws light on some other aspects of Darwinism. Darwinism explains change of a certain system on the aggregate level as a replacement of individual systems. Thus Darwinism is a kind of micro-macrolinking theory. Here, this article refers to the theories of niche and altruism. These can be understood as theories about the process in which the character of the individual system is determined on the aggregate level. In this way, Darwinism expresses an emergent property. It may be possible to apply these considerations to persons whose characters are determined under social processes. This article proposes the reconstruction of Darwinism as a theory for considering the alienation of people under such conditions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)77-92
Number of pages16
JournalSociological Theory and Methods
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1989
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Sociology and Political Science


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