The Cuvier-Geoffrey Debate: French Biology in the Decades before Darwin

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For scientists, no event better represents the contest between form and function as the chief organizing principle of life as the debate between Georges Cuvier and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire. This book presents the first comprehensive study of the celebrated French scientific controversy that focused the attention of naturalists in the first decades of the nineteenth century on the conflicting claims of teleology, morphology, and evolution, which ultimately contributed to the making of Darwin's theory. This history describes not only the scientific dimensions of the controversy and its impact on individuals and institutions, but also examines the meaning of the debate for culture and society in the years before Darwin.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Appel has illuminated brilliantly the French intellectual scene in the 19th century...Under consideration are not only biological aspects of the debate, but also its religious, social and political backgrounds, and its later influence on evolutionary theory and other modalities of culture and intellect...This beautifully organized, elegantly written book, based on sound research, is recommended strongly to readers interested in the forms and functions of the organism that is science."—The Scientist

"The most thorough analysis we have of the controversy at issue; it will also no doubt become a required reading for historians of French biology in the first half of the last century, as well as for sociologists interested in unravelling the intricacies of scientific controversies."—Science

"The dispute between the zoologists Georges Cuvier (1769-1832) and Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire (1772-1844)... has long been recognized as an important episode in the history of the life sciences....The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate raises many issues of general historical interest relating to science, culture and society in early 19th-century France."—Times Higher Education Supplement

"Appel in her long-awaited and exhilarating study has cut through older historiography to provide the definitive modern account....She shows that both men actually defended more extreme positions than later commentators admitted. But she does much more, and embeds this scientific analysis in a rich study of contemporary institutional politics....Appel's masterly study is destined to become a landmark."—Nature

"A first-class piece of work. The author covers an area of science's history about which we have long known something, but not enough; she balances judiciously the straight science and all of the other factors, especially the politics of biology; and, above all else, she tells a rattling good yarn about the clash between two of the greatest prima donnas in the story of nineteenth-century France." —American Historical Review

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Product Details

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: A Classic Confrontation and Its Interpretations
2. Cuvier and Geoffroy: Collaborators on a New Science
3. "Le Législateur de la Science"" Cuvier and Functionalist Anatomy
4. Geoffroy and the Emergence of Philosophical Anatomy
5. The Battle Lines are Drawn: 1820-1829
6. The Debate Before the Académie
7. Beyond the Académie: The Many Uses of the Debate
8. Teleology, Morphology, and Evolution: The Debate and the Future of Zoology

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