Patrick Matthew: Origins of a Theory

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On 08 June 1874, Patrick Matthew (1790–1874) passed away at Edinburgh, Scotland. A farmer,  biologist and merchant, he is considered by some historians to have anticipated Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection.

Beginning with the 3rd edition of Origin of Species and following in subsequent editions, acknowledgments of Patrick Matthew’s theory, as expressed in the appendices and addendum of his 1831 book, ‘On Naval Timber and Arboriculture’, were included in Darwin’s publications.

“In answer to a letter of mine (published in Gard. Chron., April 13th), fully acknowledging that Mr. Matthew had anticipated me, he with generous candour wrote a letter (Gard. Chron. May 12th) containing the following passage: —‘To me the conception of this law of Nature came intuitively as a self-evident fact, almost without an effort of concentrated thought. Mr. Darwin here seems to have more merit in the discovery than I have had; to me it did not appear a discovery. He seems to have worked it out by inductive reason, slowly and with due caution to have made his way synthetically from fact to fact onwards; while with me it was by a general glance at the scheme of Nature that I estimated this select production of species as an à priori recognisable fact—an axiom requiring only to be pointed out to be admitted by unprejudiced minds of sufficient grasp.’”

A recent article in Zygon discusses both this influence of Patrick Matthew’s theory as well as Darwin’s use of the metaphor of an ‘architect’ in biological development to explain chance and free will.

Reference: Noguera‐Solano, Ricardo. “The Metaphor of the Architect in Darwin: Chance and Free Will.” Zygon 48.4 (2013): 859-874.

Image: Amazon.

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