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British Idealism and Social ExplanationA Study in Late Victorian Thought$
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Sandra M. den Otter

Print publication date: 1996

Print ISBN-13: 9780198206002

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: October 2011

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198206002.001.0001

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Nature, Evolution and Society: The Idealists as Social Evolutionists

Nature, Evolution and Society: The Idealists as Social Evolutionists

(p.88) 3 Nature, Evolution and Society: The Idealists as Social Evolutionists
British Idealism and Social Explanation

Sandra M. Den Otter

Oxford University Press

This chapter offers an insight into the most extraordinarily influential late 19th-century doctrine, social evolution. Beginning with a discussion of Ritchie's interpretation of Darwinism and Bosanquet's idiosyncratic application of evolutionary ideas to citizenship, the chapter examines how idealists responded to such questions as whether evolution could be guided or influenced by the social reformer; whether the process was wholly immanent, unfolding independently of human contrivances. The profound impact which evolutionary ideas presented for ethical theory is then addressed in an exploration of how idealists reinterpreted utilitarianism in evolutionary terms, and thereby harnessed a doctrine which had inspired several decades of reform. Finally, the implications of social evolution for political issues, not least state intervention — the subject of lively debate in the 1880s and 1890s — is considered.

Keywords:   social evolution, Darwinism, citizenship, ethical theory, doctrine

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