ANTH1001a September 25, 2013 Lecture #3
The Great Chain of Being
- Refers to the ways in which the world was perceived in the 18 century by Christians in
the Western World.
- It was assumed that Earth had not changed since its creation by God (a few thousand
years earlier) and that it was characterized by a fixed, hierarchical order.
- Change would only occur as a result of major catastrophe (believed to be God
Charles Darwin and Theory of Evolution
- The Origins of Species (1859) by Charles Darwin: elaborates a theory about biological
change or evolution (influenced by Lyell’s findings on gradually changing geological
- Natural Selection: “The complex process of adaptation to change in the physical
environment, which depends, on its most basic level, on reproduction and variability”
o For a living organism to adapt to a changing environment, it first needs biological
diversity and the capacity to reproduce.
o Biological change, or evolution, is not the same as progress (e.g: the peppered
- Darwin’s idea was very important because his ideas were subsequently taken into
o Survival of the fittest: the idea that human social progress result from more fit
human societies (Herbert Spencer). “The better fit will survive”.
o Led to Social Darwinism
- Also known as evolutionism or unilineal evolution
- Refers to the idea that all human ways of life pass through a similar sequence or stage
of development (Lassiter).
o E.g Lewis Henry Morgan: savagery – barbarism – civilization.
o Gave rise to systems of classifications meant to order ‘races’ from the highest to
the lowest with 1) white Europeans on top 2) Indigenous and some Asian
populations in the middle and 3) Africans with dark skinned tone at the bottom.
- Social Darwinism:
o A form of social evolution, but it further “holds that so-called savages are not just
technologically or materially inferior (as was argued of evolutionism) but mentally
or biologically inferior as well” (Lassiter). o It draws on the notion of “survival of the fittest” and had an important effect on
ideas about ‘race’ as inferior/superior and as natural kinds of human beings