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Elwick, James M.(James Matthew),1973-
Compound individuality in Victorian biology, 1830-1872.
Ph. D. -- University of Toronto, 2004
Ottawa :Library and Archives Canada = Bibliothèque et Archives Canada,[2005]
5 microfiches.
Includes bibliographical references.
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an influential Victorian polymath, a popularizer of the term "evolution" who likened societies to organisms, and organisms to societies. His reputation declined even before his death, partly due to the judgment that he was a "bad scientist." I propose that Spencer's science was far more respected and influential than has been hitherto suspected, but that around 1872 its primary assumption became alien to us. The mid-century biology informing Spencer assumed that organisms were not only compounds of smaller units, but that these units were nominally independent Like Gogol's fable about the nose that left its owner one morning, each unit--nervous ganglia, cells, body parts--had an amount of "agency" and even "interests." So these constituent units were proposed to be 'individuals' themselves. Spencer's work synthesized this. The dissertation examines the questions which past researchers tried to solve at mid-century, linking different fields where the question of ' compound individuality' and, conversely, the 'disunity of the organism' was a real one. It discusses four specific research questions all assuming compound individuality. First, whether cells were the true "seats" of life. Second, vivisections and comparative anatomy that investigated how body parts and physiological systems communicated. Third, embryologists' assumption that certain organisms were truly individuals because of their centralized nervous systems. Fourth, investigations of the link between regeneration and reproduction, exemplified in Richard Owen's 1849 "parthenogenesis". The dissertation concludes with Spencer's answers to these questions in his ' System of Synthetic Philosophy'. The view about the disunity of the organism was supplanted by an historicist definition of an individual; questions about body parts' nominal independence and agency were supplanted by this temporal definition. Spencer's libertarian biology--cited by both Gilded Age robber barons and Kropotkinesque anarchists--lost ground to new arguments that spoke of unitary biological individuals governed by a single "brain" or "will." I suggest that these notions were welcomed and used by emerging Weberian status groups of professionals and experts who near the end of the nineteenth century deemed themselves well placed to take on the role of governing the "social organism."
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