Darwin and Design

We will explore some of the many origins of evolutionary thought in classic works of literature and intellectual history, with special attention to the themes of agency. Design, the adaptation of means to ends, will be a central concern, as we examine narratives of autonomous agency, atavism, and feedback in works like Hume’s Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, Smith’s Wealth of Nations, Voltaire’s Candide, Malthus’s Essay on Population, Darwin’s Origin of Species, Samuel Butler’s Erewhon, Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Wells’ The Time Machine, Wiener’s God and Golem, and William Gibson’s Neuromancer. We will discover the evolutionary thread that leads from Aristotle through speculative fiction and nonfiction to modern feedback theory.