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Darwin Correspondence Project

From F. J. Wedgwood   [August–September? 1873]

To suppose that Language presents any difficulty in the way of the Darwinian theory is to misunderstand what that theory or indeed any theory of Evolution undertakes to explain.

MM virtually asks “Why, if man is the descendant of a speechless being, do not some other descendants of that speechless being sometimes speak?” This is not a question CD has undertaken to answer. He is not investigating the connection of organisation & capacity. He is dealing with the order of succession of specific differences, & not with their cause.

MM is turning a physical question into a metaphysical question. It forms no part of the task of a person who says things happened so & so, to point out why they should not have happened otherwise.

2. “We have no right according to the rules of the positive philosophy, to assert anything about the so-called mind of animals”. (This sentence or something very like it occurs twice) This sentence can only gain meaning by such a definition of the word “mind” as wd make it (the sentence) irrelevant. We have a right to assert that animals have feelings, hopes, fears, suspicions expectations, wishes, doubts & certainties. If you say we cannot be sure of these till besides all other signs of them we have them put into words you are putting some peculiar meaning on the word sure. We can only say we are not more sure of anything in Physical Science. This is based on the assumption that when signs have been ascertained to denote things in one place they shall be supposed to denote them in another till proof is shewn to the contrary.

Or again if you say these feelings hopes fears &c do not constitute a mind you are putting a peculiar meaning on the word mind. With mind in that sense the theory has nothing to do.

3 Do infants form Concepts or do they not?

If they do, concepts can be formed without language.

If they do not, beings who have once been unable to form concepts, at last are able to speak.

Either assertion vitiates MM’s argument & one is inevitable

Of course the case is still stronger with regard to the deaf & dumb.

MM’s view of animals seems to me an incomplete fragment from the automatism of Descartes.


Notes criticising Max Müller’s views on language and Darwinism.

Letter details

Letter no.
Frances Julia (Snow) Wedgwood
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Source of text
DAR 87: 87–9

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 8994,” accessed on 9 April 2020,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 21