Darwin-L Message Log 6:18 (February 1994)

Academic Discussion on the History and Theory of the Historical Sciences

This is one message from the Archives of Darwin-L (1993–1997), a professional discussion group on the history and theory of the historical sciences.

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<6:18>From KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu  Fri Feb  4 14:09:31 1994

From: KIMLER@social.chass.ncsu.edu
To: darwin-l@ukanaix.cc.ukans.edu
Date: Fri, 4 Feb 1994 14:45:52 EST5EDT
Subject: Adam Smith quotation

Once again DARWIN-L serendipitously provides valuable service!  Peter
Stevens ended his posting with the remark:

    But Adam Smith long ago recognised that the direct linkage of
    facts was the procedure adopted by the common man, as opposed to
    the philosopher...

This is just the point about causation and explanations that I was
trying to make today in my History of Darwinism class.  I think this
is the most powerful insight of Smith's -- that indirect causation
can be the organizing force, e.g., the "invisible hand" providing
order to economic systems by the operation of self-interested
interactors, thus needing no divine, designing, intervening force or
mind, nor minds aware of the full consequences of what they
individually do.  Furthermore, this kind of causal model seems far
more important for Darwin's thinking than the pop-history story of
him "seeing English economics (competition) in the world of biology."
Evolution by natural selection is also a model of indirect,
unintended consequences.  As Robert Stauffer pointed out in a paper
in 1960 (_Proc. Amer. Phil. Soc._ 104: 235-41), this model of
interaction and balance is to be found in Linnaeus's ecological
writings (albeit with an emphasis on the Designer), even before
Smith's _Wealth of Nations_.  Darwin studied Linnaeus more
closely and directly than his readings about Smith's economics.

A query to Peter Stevens: can you provide the exact citation for the
Smith remark?  Thanks.

William Kimler
Dept. History, North Carolina State University

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