MIA: Encyclopedia of Marxism: Glossary of People
Authors: Pavel Yudin and Mark Rosenthal
First published: 1954 in A Short Philosophical Dictionary, fifth edition
Translated by: Anton P.
Lamarck, Jean-Baptiste (1744-1829)
Lamarck Jean Baptiste (1744-1829) – an outstanding French naturalist and biologist, who substantiated the doctrine of the evolution of living nature in biology before Darwin. Lamarck’s life and work proceeded during the preparation and deployment of the French Revolution of 1789, which Lamarck greeted with enthusiasm. The formation of Lamarck’s worldview as a scientist was influenced by Jean-Jacques Rousseau and French materialists, as well as major naturalists of that time (Buffon, Jussieu, etc.). In his philosophical views, Lamarck was mainly a materialist, but his materialism was inconsistent and limited. Lamarck believed that the basis of the world, all bodies and things of nature is formed by matter, but it is inert in itself and needs the first impetus, which will give it motion. He argued that there is a certain established order of natural laws and reasons why nature exists and develops.
However, in order not to incur persecution from the church, he claimed that this strict order of the laws of nature was established by the creator. This was his deism. Lamarck played a progressive role in the history of biology as the science of the general laws of the development of life on earth. The very term “biology” was introduced into science by Lamarck. Lamarck pioneered the creation of a method for the study of nature. The evolutionary method of Lamarck and especially Darwin summed up the scientific basis of iodine biology. The essence of Lamarck’s method is characterized by the idea of ??the unity and continuity of the evolution of nature and the idea of ??the changeability of species under the influence of the conditions of their life and the external environment. True, long before Lamarck, the doctrine of the evolution and variability of species was systematically presented by the Russian scientist Afanasy Kaverznev. However, Kaverznev’s book Philosophical Discourse on the Rebirth of Animals was published during his stay in Leipzig in 1775 in a small edition in German, and the author considered it necessary to keep silent about it, knowing that its content would not meet with sympathy in reactionary circles in Russia. The book and its author were forgotten and remained unknown to this day.
Releasing his main work Philosophy of Zoology (1809), Lamarck accomplished a kind of feat, as he had to oppose the reigning metaphysical ideas about living nature. On the basis of a number of facts obtained in the field of classification and systematics of plants and animals, the study of fossil species, observation of the variability of domestic animals, agricultural plants, etc., Lamarck resolutely rejected the metaphysical doctrine of the constancy of species. He also criticized Cuvier’s reactionary, idealistic catastrophe theory. There were no catastrophes in nature, Lamarck declared, and in everything and everywhere, nature developed slowly and gradually, without leaps.
Lamarck made attempts to answer the question of the causes of changes in living organisms; he put forward the position that the direct cause of changes in organisms is the impact of the external environment. If the influence of external factors affects plants directly and causes corresponding changes, then in animals, Lamarck believed, having a nervous system and a more complex organization, the influence of external factors occurs indirectly, through a change in the skills and habits of animals and the emergence of new needs. Due to new needs, animals begin to use some organs more and, conversely, stop using others. As a result of the exercise of some and not the exercise of other organs, changes occur in the whole organism and its functions.
Lamarck's teachings drew bitter criticism from reactionaries. Harassment of him as a supposedly baseless dreamer continued later. The Weismann-Morganists furiously attacked Lamarck’s materialistic theses on the role of the external environment in the variability of organisms and on the inheritance of acquired traits. All progressive scientists spoke in defense of Lamarck: Darwin, Timiryazev, Mechnikov, etc.
Reactionary bourgeois biologists falsified the materialistic foundations of Lamarck’s teachings. These, for example, included a group of psycholamarckists (Cope, Pauli, France, etc.), who developed idealistic views about the leading role of the psyche in evolution, about the “striving” of organisms for “perfection”, etc. In defense of the progressive materialistic propositions of Lamarck, expressed by him in the form of ingenious guesses and assumptions, Michurinist biology acted. Michurinist biology deeply developed a theory about the significance of living conditions in changing the nature of organisms and discovered the most important law of biology about the possibility and necessity of inheriting acquired characters, about which Lamarck spoke only in the most general form.
As for Lamarck’s theory of development itself, it is purely evolutionary: Lamarck considered evolution only as a gradual and continuous process, without leaps and revolutions. The theory of evolution of Lamarck is also characterized by the features of mechanism. Lamarck did not rise to a dialectical understanding of evolution. Only Michurinist biology was the first to fully consciously and consistently apply dialectical materialism to the study of the objective laws of the development of living nature.