- freely available
Genealogy 2017, 1(2), 9; https://doi.org/10.3390/genealogy1020009
“Our classifications will come to be, as far as they can be so made, genealogies; and will then truly give what may be called the plan of creation. The rules for classifying will no doubt become simpler when we have a definite object in view. We possess no pedigrees or armorial bearings; and we have to discover and trace the many diverging lines of descent in our natural genealogies, by characters of any kind which have long been inherited. Rudimentary organs will speak infallibly with respect to the nature of long-lost structures. […]. When we can feel assured that all the individuals of the same species, and all the closely allied species of most genera, have within a not very remote period descended from one parent, and have migrated from some one birth-place; and when we better know the many means of migration, then, by the light which geology now throws, and will continue to throw, on former changes of climate and of the level of the land, we shall surely be enabled to trace in an admirable manner the former migrations of the inhabitants of the whole world”.
1. Darwin’s Genealogical Tree of Life
“Who can say, how much structure is due to external agency, without final cause either in present or past generation—thus cabbages growing like Nepenthes—cases of pidgeons with tufts &c. &c. here there is no final cause yet it must be effect of some condition of external circumstances, results of complicated laws of organization […]. All that we can say in such cases is that the plumage has not been so injurious to bird as to allow any other kind of animal to usurp its place—& therefore the degree of injuriousness must have been exceedingly small.—This is far more probable way of explaining, much structure, than attempting anything about habits—No one can be shocked at absence of final cause. Mammae in man & wings under united elytra”.
2. Comparing Darwin and Foucault’s Genealogical Methods
“Where the soul pretends unification or the self fabricates a coherent identity, the genealogist sets out to study the beginning—numberless beginnings [des commencements innombrables] whose faint traces and hints of color are readily seen by an historical eye […]. The analysis of descent permits the dissociation of the self, its recognition and displacement as an empty synthesis, in liberating a profusion of lost events. An examination of descent also permits the discovery, under the unique aspect of a trait or a concept, of the myriad events through which—thanks to which, against which—they were formed. Genealogy does not pretend to go back in time to restore an unbroken continuity that operates beyond the dispersion of forgotten things; its duty is not to demonstrate that the past actively exists in the present, that it continues secretly to animate the present, having imposed a predetermined form [une forme dessinée dès le départ] to all its vicissitudes. Genealogy does not resemble the evolution of a species and does not map the destiny of a people [Rien qui ressemblerait à l’évolution d’une espèce, au destin d’un peuple]. On the contrary, to follow the complex course of descent [la filière complexe de la provenance] is to maintain passing events in their proper dispersion; it is to identify the accidents, the minute deviations—or conversely, the complete reversals—the errors, the false appraisals, and the faulty calculations that gave birth to those things that continue to exist and have value for us; it is to discover that truth or being do not lie at the root of what we know and what we are, but the exteriority of accidents [l’extériorité de l’accident]”.
“History also teaches how to laugh at the solemnities of the origin. The lofty origin is no more than ‘a metaphysical extension which arises from the belief that things are most precious and essential at the moment of birth’ (Nietzsche, The Wanderer and his Shadow). We tend to think that this is the moment of their greatest perfection, when they emerged dazzling from the hands of a creator or in the shadowless light of a first morning. The origin always precedes the Fall. It comes before the body, before the world and time; it is associated with the gods, and its story is always sung as a theogony. But historical beginnings are lowly [Mais le commencement historique est bas]: not in the sense of modest or discreet like the steps of a dove, but derisive and ironic, capable of undoing every infatuation. ‘We wished to awaken the feeling of man’s sovereignty by showing his divine birth: this path is now forbidden, since a monkey stands at the entrance’ (Nietzsche, The Dawn). Man originated with a grimace over his future development”.
Conflicts of Interest
References and Notes
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“As all the organic beings, extinct and recent, which have ever lived, can be arranged within a few great classes; and as all within each class have, according to our theory, been connected together by fine gradations, the best, and, if our collections were nearly perfect, the only possible arrangement, would be genealogical; descent being the hidden bond of connexion which naturalists have been seeking under the term of the Natural System.”
“We use the element of descent in classing the individuals of both sexes and of all ages under one species, although they may have but few characters in common; we use descent in classing acknowledged varieties, however different they may be from their parents; and I believe that this element of descent is the hidden bond of connexion which naturalists have sought under the term of the Natural System. On this idea of the natural system being, in so far as it has been perfected, genealogical in its arrangement, with the grades of difference expressed by the terms genera, families, orders, &c., we can understand the rules which we are compelled to follow in our classification. We can understand why we value certain resemblances far more than others; why we use rudimentary and useless organs, or others of trifling physiological importance; why, in finding the relations between one group and another, we summarily reject analogical or adaptive characters, and yet use these same characters within the limits of the same group.”, emphasis mine.
where there is a deep comparison of Foucault’s genealogy and Darwin’s genealogical method.
“Organized beings represent a tree irregularly branched some branches far more branched—Hence Genera.—) As many terminal buds dying as new ones generated. There is nothing stranger in death of species than individuals If we suppose monad definite existence, as we may suppose in this case, their creation being dependent on definite laws, then those which have changed most owing to the accident of positions must in each state of existence have shortest life. Hence shortness of life of Mammalia. Would there not be a triple branching in the tree of life owing to three elements air, land & water, & the endeavour of each typical class to extend his domain into the other domains, and subdivision three more, double arrangement.—if each main stem of the tree is adapted for these three elements, there will be certainly points of affinity in each branch […]. We need not think that fish & penguins really pass into each other.—The tree of life should perhaps be called the coral of life, base of branches dead; so that passages cannot be seen. —this again offers contradiction to constant succession of germs in progress”.
After the quoted passage, Darwin drew a first sketch and writes: “is it thus fish can be traced right down to simple organization. birds—Not.”; then Darwin drew a second sketch; see the reproduction of page 26 of the Notebook B, cit.
“Case must be that one generation then should be as many living as now. To do this & to have many species in same genus (as is) requires extinction. Thus between A & B immense gap of relation. C & B the finest gradation, B & D rather greater distinction. Thus genera would be formed.—bearing relation to ancient types.—with several extinct forms for if each species an ancient (1) is capable of making 13 recent forms [In the diagram there are 13 lines that have a perpendicular line at the end], twelve of the contemporaries must have left no offspring at all [In the diagram there are 12 lines that are without a perpendicular line at the end], so as to keep number of species constant.—With respect to extinction we can easy see that variety of ostrich, Petise may not be well adapted, and thus perish out, or on other hand like Orpheus being favourable many might be produced.—This requires principle that the permanent varieties produced by confined breeding & changing circumstances are continued & produced according to the adaptation of such circumstances, & therefore that death of species is a consequence (contrary to what would appear from America) of non-adaptation of circumstances”, source of the reproduction: The Complete Works of Charles Darwin. Available online: www.darwin-online.org.uk.
Darwin, at the same time, highlights that he does “not suppose that the process ever goes on so regularly as is represented in the diagram, though in itself made somewhat irregular, nor that it goes on continuously; it is far more probable that each form remains for long periods unaltered, and then again undergoes modification”.
“But during the process of modification, represented in the diagram, another of our principles, namely that of extinction, will have played an important part. As in each fully stocked country natural selection necessarily acts by the selected form having some advantage in the struggle for life over other forms, there will be a constant tendency in the improved descendants of any one species to supplant and exterminate in each stage of descent their predecessors and their original progenitor. For it should be remembered that the competition will generally be most severe between those forms which are most nearly related to each other in habits, constitution, and structure. Hence all the intermediate forms between the earlier and later states, that is between the less and more improved states of the same species, as well as the original parent-species itself, will generally tend to become extinct. So it probably will be with many whole collateral lines of descent, which will be conquered by later and improved lines. If, however, the modified offspring of a species get into some distinct country, or become quickly adapted to some quite new station, in which offspring and progenitor do not come into competition, both may continue to exist”
“the process of modification must be slow, and will generally affect only a few species at the same time; for the variability of each species is independent of that of all others. Whether such variations or individual differences as may arise will be accumulated through natural selection in a greater or less degree, thus causing a greater or less amount of permanent modification, will depend on many complex contingencies—on the variations being of a beneficial nature, on the freedom of intercrossing, on the slowly changing physical conditions of the country, on the immigration of new colonists, and on the nature of the other inhabitants with which the varying species come into competition.”, emphasis mine.
“Progressive development gives final cause for enormous periods anterior to man”.
“I can scarcely doubt final cause is the adaptation of species to circumstances by principles, which I have given”.
“– The final cause of all this wedging, must be to sort out proper structure, & adapt it to changes.—to do that for form, which Malthus shows is the final effect (by means however of volition) of this populousness on the energy of man. One may say there is a force like a hundred thousand wedges trying force into [sic] every kind of adapted structure into the gaps of [sic] in the oeconomy of nature, or rather forming gaps by thrusting out weaker ones”.
“THE practical doctrine of nature we likewise necessarily divide into two parts, corresponding to those of speculative; for physics, or the inquiry of efficient and material causes produces mechanics; and metaphysics, the inquiry of forms, produces magic; while the while the inquiry of final causes is a barren thing, or as a virgin consecrated to God”.
“Bacon’s comparison of final causes to the vestal virgins is one of those poignant sayings, so frequent in his writings, which it is not easy to forget. ‘Like them,’ he says, ‘they are dedicated to God, and are barren.’ But to any one who reads his work it will appear in what spirit this was meant. ‘Not because those final causes are not true and worthy to be inquired, being kept within their own province.’ (Of the Advancement of Learning, b. ii, p. 142.)”.
On the singularity and emergence (a the methodological level) see, e.g., also (Foucault 1969, p. 31): “In fact, the systematic erasure of all given unities enables us first of all to restore to the statement the specificity of its occurrence, and to show that discontinuity is one of those great accidents that create cracks not only in the geology of history, but also in the simple fact of the statement; it emerges in its historical irruption; what we try to examine is the incision that it makes, that irreducible—and very often tiny—emergence.”
“He must be able to recognize the events of history, its jolts, its surprises, its unsteady victories and unpalatable defeats—the basis of all beginnings, atavisms, and heredities”; and p. 154: “An event [Événement], consequently is not a decision, a treaty, a reign, or a battle, but the reversal of a relationship of forces, […]. The forces operating in history are not controlled by destiny or regulative mechanism, but respond haphazard conflicts [mais bien au hasard de la lutte] (The Genealogy, II, 12)”.
“And this critique will be genealogical in the sense that it will not deduce from the form of what we are what it is impossible for us to do and to know; but it will separate out, from the contingency that has made us what we are, the possibility of no longer being, doing, or thinking what we are, do, or think. It is not seeking to make possible a metaphysics that has finally become a science; it is seeking to give new impetus, as far and wide as possible, to the undefined work of freedom”, emphasis mine.
“This history assumed that human society all follow the same evolutionary curve, going from the simplest forms to the most complex. The evolution did not vary from one society to another except in the speed of transformations. Further, the great social forms such as marriage rules or agricultural techniques were seen basically as kinds of biological species, and their extensions, their growth, their development, and their distribution were thought to obey the same laws and patterns as the growth and spread of biological species. In any case, the model that Tylor used to analyze the development and history of societies was the biological one. Tylor referred to Darwin, and more generally to evolutionism, in order to tell the story of societies.”
“And just as there is no violent revolution in life, but simply a slow accumulation of tiny mutations, in the same way human history cannot really have the potential for a violent revolution; it can never harbor within itself anything more than imperceptible changes. By metaphorizing history on the analogy of life, one thus guaranteed that human societies would be incapable of a revolution. I think that structuralism and history make it possible to abandon this great biological mythology of history and duration. Structuralism, by defining transformations, and history, by descripting types of events and different types of duration, make possible both the appearance of discontinuities in history and the appearance of regular, coherent transformations.”
“The Natural System is a genealogical arrangement, with the acquired grades of difference, marked by the terms, varieties, species, genera, families, etc.; and we have to discover the lines of descent by the most permanent characters whatever they may be and of however slight vital importance.”
“The many slights differences which appear in the offspring from the same parents, or which it may be presumed have thus arisen, from being observed in the individuals of the same species inhabiting the same confined locality, may be called individual differences. No one supposes that all individuals of the same species are cast in the same actual mould. These individual differences are of the highest importance for us, for they are often inherited, as must be familiar to every one […]. These individual differences generally affect what naturalists consider unimportant parts; but I could show by a long catalogue of facts, that parts which must be called important, whether viewed under a physiological or classificatory point of view, sometimes vary in the individuals of the same species.”
“[…] similar changes of conditions might and do occur under nature. Let it also be borne in mind how infinitely complex and close-fitting are the mutual relations of all organic beings to each other and to their physical conditions of life; and consequently what infinitely varied diversities of structure might be of use to each being under changing conditions of life.”
“The body—and everything that touches it: diet, climate, and soil—is the domain of the Herkunft. The body manifests the stigmata of past experience and also gives rise to desires, failings, and errors.”
On the relevance of the bodies and of the singular randomness of events see e.g., Thomas Flynn. Foucault’s Mapping History.
The end citation is taken from Nietzsche’s The Dawn.
“To the decentering operated by the Nietzschean genealogy, it opposed the search for an original foundation that would make rationality the telos of mankind, and link the whole history of thought to the preservation of this rationality, to the maintenance of this teleology, and to the ever necessary return to this foundation”.
“Yet what is distinctive about genealogy is not its interest in origins, but the form its interest takes, and the kind of origins it isolates for analysis. Genealogy does not look to origins to capture the essence of things, or to search for some ‘immobile form’ that has developed throughout history; the secret disclosed by genealogy is that there is no essence or original unity to be discovered. When genealogy looks to beginnings, it looks for accidents, chance, passion, petty malice, surprises, feverish agitation, unsteady victories, and power. As Foucault says in his essay on Nietzsche, a crucial essay in understanding his own thought, ‘historical beginnings are lowly […].”
“What makes Lamarck’s thought possible is not the distant apprehension of a future evolutionism; it is the continuity of beings as discovered and presupposed by the ‘methods’ of natural history. Lamarck is a contemporary of A-L. de Jussieu, not of Cuvier. For the latter introduced a radical discontinuity into the Classical scale of beings; and by that very fact he gave rise to such notions as biological incompatibility, relations with external elements, and conditions of existence; he also caused the emergence of a certain energy, necessary to maintain life, and a certain threat, which imposes upon it the sanction of death; here, we find gathered together several of the conditions that make possible something like the idea of evolution. The discontinuity of living forms made it possible to conceive of a great temporal current for which the continuity of structures and characters, despite the superficial analogies, could not provide a basis. With spatial discontinuity, the breaking up of the great table, and the fragmentation of the surface upon which all natural beings had taken their ordered places, it became possible to replace natural history with a ‘history’ of nature.”
“Foucault makes a similar use of the history of concepts in The Order of Things when he argues that the Darwinian idea of an evolution of species is implicit in Cuvier but not in Lamarck. […] Foucault argues, it is Cuvier and not Lamarck who introduces the fundamental idea that biological species are productions of historical forces rather than instantiations of timeless, a priori possibilities. Lamarckian “evolution” is merely a matter of living things successively occupying preestablished niches that are quite independent of historical forces, such as natural selection. […] Lamarckian change is just a superficial play of organisms above the eternally fixed structure of species; Cuvier’s fixism is a historical stability produced by radically temporal biological processes. Accordingly, Foucault maintains that Cuvier rather than Lamarck provides the conceptual framework that makes Darwin’s theory of evolution possible.”
“There are the notions of development and evolution: they make it possible to group a succession of dispersed events, to link them to one and the same organizing principle, to subject them to the exemplary power of life (with its adaptations, its capacity for innovation the incessant correlation of its different elements, its systems of assimilation and exchange), to discover, already at work in each beginning, a principle of coherence and the outline of a future unity, to master time through a perpetually reversible relation between an origin and a term that are never given, but are always at work.”; see also here p. 28: “It may be, for example, that the notions of ‘influence’ or ‘evolution’ belong to a criticism that puts them—for the foreseeable future—out of use.”; see also here pp. 157–58 on “the continuous line of an evolution”; and p. 183 on the “schemata of evolution”, then pp. 191, 230.
“As if, in that field where we had become used to seeking origins, to pushing back further and further the line of antecedents, to reconstituting traditions, to following evolutive curves, to projecting teleologies, and to having constant recourse to metaphors of life, we felt a particular repugnance to conceiving of difference, to describing separations and dispersions, to dissociating the reassuring form of the identical”.
“to describe a group of statements, in order to rediscover not the moment or the trace of their origin, but the specific forms of an accumulation, is certainly not to uncover an interpretation, to discover a foundation, or to free constituent acts; nor is it to decide on a rationality, or to embrace a teleology”.
“In the eighteenth century, the evolutionist idea is defined on the basis of a kinship of species forming a continuum laid down at the outset (interrupted only by natural catastrophes) or gradually built up by the passing of time. In the nineteenth century the evolutionist theme concerns not so much the constitution of a continuous table of species, as the description of discontinuous groups and the analysis of the modes of interaction between an organism whose elements are interdependent and an environment that provides its real conditions of life”.
then at the page 171 he uses again the term “evolutionism” without to put it between single quotation marks; see also here, p. 71: “a theme, in the eighteenth century, of an evolution of the species deploying in time the continuity of nature, and explaining the present gaps in the taxonomic table”; on the different meanings of the different forms of evolutionism, see also pp. 116–17, 159–60.
“The problem is to know how this configuration of classical taxonomy will be transformed. How one will be able to find, in individuals who from then on will be known across species and genus, the same single thread of reality (for Darwin, this thread will be genealogy.) How Darwin will, on the one hand, eradicate the epistemological threshold and show that, in fact, we have to begin by knowing the individual with its individual variations; on the other, he will show how, beginning with the individual, what will be established as its species, its order, or its class will be the reality of its genealogy: a succession of individuals. We have, then, a uniform table, without a system, with a double threshold”.
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