Although Darwin died a year before the term "eugenics" was coined by his cousin, Francis Galton, Galton had already been working on the idea of using selective breeding to improve humans genetically for many years.

Presumably, Darwin was aware of Galton's work, as it was inspired in part by his work on evolution. Did Darwin ever express his views on Galton's ideas before his death? If so, what were they?

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    $\begingroup$ Personally, I do not see any problem with this question since eugenics was directly associated with the evolution theory at the time, some even considered it a practical application of evolution theory, and evolution theory was Darwin's primary scientific achievement. $\endgroup$
    – Conifold
    Commented Jan 16, 2016 at 3:18

2 Answers 2


Even Weikart, whose book From Darwin to Hitler: Evolutionary Ethics, Eugenics and Racism in Germany greatly overplays the connection, admits that Darwin generally tried to stay away from discussions of social, political and economic issues. In an 1869 letter to Hugo Thiel Darwin wrote "you apply to moral and social questions analogous views to those which I have used in regard to the modification of species. It did not occur to me formerly that my views could be extended to such widely different, and most important subjects". In an 1873 letter to Marx, thanking him for a copy of Das Kapital, he mentions that he was ignorant of economics.

This being said, Darwin did express some views that can be interpreted as sympathetic to social Darwinism and eugenics. There is a passage from Descent of Man (1871) oft quoted by opponents of evolution:"There is reason to believe that vaccination has preserved thousands, who from a weak constitution would formerly have succumbed to small-pox. Thus the weak members of civilised societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. It is surprising how soon a want of care, or care wrongly directed, leads to the degeneration of a domestic race; but excepting in the case of man himself, hardly any one is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed...".

Interpretation of this passage is controversial, and Darwin goes on to write:"...but if we were intentionally to neglect the weak and helpless, it could only be for a contingent benefit, with an overwhelming present evil. Hence we must bear without complaining the undoubtedly bad effects of the weak surviving and propagating their kind; but there appears to be at least one check in steady action, namely the weaker and inferior members of society not marrying so freely as the sound; and this check might be indefinitely increased, though this is more to be hoped for than expected". See Wikiquote for the full context and discussion.

Weikart also makes much of 1872 letter that reads "I fear that Cooperative Societies, which many look at as the main hope for the future, likewise exclude competition. This seems to me a great evil for the future progress of mankind. Nevertheless under any system, temperate and rugal workmen will have an advantage and leave more offspring than the drunken and reckless." See Recently Discovered Darwin Letter on Social Darwinism for the full text.

The bottom line is that Darwin was not particularly interested in these issues, but he did make passing comments that look offensive today.


Unfortunately, Darwin was a Victorian, and while he did not view the races as arising from different genetic origins (monogenic versus polygenic), he did view the white races as evolutionarily more advanced than the black races. He had similar Victorian values on gender norms as well.

This short article, Darwin, race and gender, by Steven Rose provides a detailed overview on Darwin's stance, and some of his writing on the issue. It states

He enthusiastically endorsed his cousin Francis Galton's view of hereditary genius transmitted down the male line, and nodded cautiously towards eugenics.

However, Darwin's views on race are no longer the official views of the scientific community. In the American Association of Physical Anthropology's position statement on the Biological Aspects of Race, it outlines what science understands about the human species today and states that there is no scientific foundation for the ideas that were perpetuated in the 19th and early 20th century with regards to races. In their analysis, then do not feel that one can clearly define what a race is scientifically and differs from how we would be able to categorize breeds in domesticated animals.


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