Authors
Trevor Pearce
University of North Carolina, Charlotte
Abstract
The word ‘environment’ has a history. Before the mid-nineteenth century, the idea of a singular, abstract entity—the organism—interacting with another singular, abstract entity—the environment—was virtually unknown. In this paper I trace how the idea of a plurality of external conditions or circumstances was replaced by the idea of a singular environment. The central figure behind this shift, at least in Anglo-American intellectual life, was the philosopher Herbert Spencer. I examine Spencer’s work from 1840 to 1855, demonstrating that he was exposed to a variety of discussions of the ‘force of circumstances’ in this period, and was decisively influenced by the ideas of Auguste Comte in the years preceding the publication of Principles of psychology (1855). It is this latter work that popularized the word ‘environment’ and the corresponding idea of organism–environment interaction—an idea with important metaphysical and methodological implications. Spencer introduced into the English-speaking world one of our most enduring dichotomies: organism and environment.
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DOI 10.1016/j.shpsc.2010.07.003
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References found in this work BETA

The Reflex Arc Concept in Psychology.John Dewey - 1896 - Psychological Review 3:357-370.
Great Men and Their Environment.William James - 1880 - Atlantic Monthly 46 (Oct.):441-449.

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Citations of this work BETA

Disentangling Life: Darwin, Selectionism, and the Postgenomic Return of the Environment.Maurizio Meloni - 2017 - Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part C: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences 62:10-19.
Environment as Abstraction.Denis Walsh - 2022 - Biological Theory 17 (1):68-79.
Ecosystem Engineering, Experiment, and Evolution.Trevor Pearce - 2011 - Biology and Philosophy 26 (6):793-812.
William Benjamin Carpenter and the Emerging Science of Heredity.John Lidwell-Durnin - 2020 - Journal of the History of Biology 53 (1):81-103.

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