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Darwin's Explanation of Races by Means of Sexual Selection

Millstein, Roberta L. (2012) Darwin's Explanation of Races by Means of Sexual Selection. [Published Article]

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    In _Darwin's Sacred Cause_, Adrian Desmond and James Moore contend that "Darwin would put his utmost into sexual selection because the subject intrigued him, no doubt, but also for a deeper reason: the theory vindicated his lifelong commitment to human brotherhood" (2009: p. 360). Without questioning Desmond and Moore’s evidence, I will raise some puzzles for their view. I will show that attention to the structure of Darwin's arguments in the Descent of Man shows that they are far from straightforward. As Desmond and Moore note, Darwin seems to have intended sexual selection in non-human animals to serve as evidence for sexual selection in humans. However, Darwin's account of sexual selection in humans was different from the canonical cases that Darwin described at great length. If explaining the origin of human races was the main reason for introducing sexual selection, and if sexual selection was a key piece of Darwin's anti-slavery arguments, then it is puzzling why Darwin would have spent so much time discussing cases that did not really support his argument for the origin of human races, and it is also puzzling that his argument for the origin of human races would be so (atypically) poor.

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    Item Type: Published Article
    Keywords: Descent of Man; Adrian Desmond; female choice vs. male choice; James Moore; race; sexual selection
    Subjects: Specific Sciences > Biology
    Specific Sciences > Biology > Evolutionary Theory
    Depositing User: Dr. Roberta L. Millstein
    Date Deposited: 10 Jun 2012 09:07
    Last Modified: 10 Jun 2012 09:07
    Item ID: 9152
    Journal or Publication Title: Studies in History and Philosophy of Biological and Biomedical Sciences
    Publisher: Elsevier
    Official URL:
    DOI or Unique Handle.:

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