Jean Baptist de Lamarck

(1744-1829)
Jean Baptist de Lamarck

Lamarck was a French naturalist who published Zoological Philosophy in 1809.  He was the first thinker to come up with a reasonable theory of organic evolution. He believed that species could change through time by passing on traits acquired during an individual's life to their offspring - the so-called "acquired characteristics".

In Lamarck's view organic beings constituted a ladder of life from simplest to complex animals, with humans at the top rung. In this way all variation now and in the past were united by a "Great Chain of Being". This was the Scala Naturae in motion.  Lamarck did not really explain the origin of this ladder, nor did he acknowledge the possibility of a species becoming extinct.  But he did offer an explanation for how organisms change over time, thus turning the ladder into what we might call an escalator of being.

Lamarckian inheritance: The inheritance of acquired characteristics. Until the late nineteenth century, it was generally believed that characteristics acquired by organisms in response to the conditions of life or as a result of their own habits could be inherited by their descendents, and both Lamarck and Darwin shared this general opinion. The possibility of this type of inheritance is denied on theoretical grounds by the current orthodoxy of genetics

ref.external linkGlossary - Rupert Sheldrake on-line

Interestingly modern advances in DNA sequencing and other aspects of molecular biology reveal that certain acquired structures of the immune system may be transferred from parent to child, defying commonly held evolutionary beliefs and recalling Lamarck assertion of the inheritence of acquired characteristics resulting from environmental factors. - see the book Lamarck's Signature, by Edward J. Steele, Robyn A. Lindley, and Robert V. Blanden (Perseus Books, 1998)



Web links Links Web links

UCMP page Jean-Baptiste Lamarck (1744-1829)

web page Lamarck and His Theory of Evolution

web page Chevalier de Lamarck

web page "Lamarck's method and metaphysics" ["O método e a metafísica de Lamarck"] - short bilingual abstract of acadamic paper


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page uploaded 6 June 1999
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