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New Left Review I/79, May-June 1973


Gareth Stedman Jones

Engels and the End of Classical German Philosophy

Every science has a beginning. Every new science must come from somewhere. It is usually easy enough to discover forerunners and anticipations. What is more difficult is to pinpoint and clarify what is new and original to the science in its course of elaboration. It is clear for example that one of the basic propositions of Galileo—that the language of nature is written in mathematical symbols—is platonic in inspiration and can be traced back through a whole philosophical tradition. It is clear also that whatever it is that Galileo takes from Plato is transformed in the act of constructing Galilean physics, and that the end result is something authentically new which cannot be reduced to the sum total of its sources. A similar problem arises in the relationship between Darwin and Malthus. We know from Darwin’s own confession that the initial inspiration of his theory came from Malthus. Yet whatever it is that Darwin takes over from Malthus, is so transformed in the course of the elaboration of the theory of evolution, that we can quite consistently both reject the Malthusian theory of population and accept in broad outlines the Darwinian theory of the evolution of the species.

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