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The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner

CHARLOTTE WEISSMAN
Journal of the History of Biology
Vol. 43, No. 4 (Winter 2010), pp. 727-766
Published by: Springer
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40984883
Page Count: 40
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The Origins of Species: The Debate between August Weismann and Moritz Wagner
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Abstract

Weismann's ideas on species transmutation were first expressed in his famous debate with Moritz Wagner on the mechanism of speciation. Wagner suggested that the isolation of a colony from its original source is a preliminary and necessary factor for speciation. Weismann accepted a secondary, facilitating role for isolation, but argued that natural and sexual selection are the primary driving forces of species transmutation, and are always necessary and often sufficient causes for its occurrence. The debate with Wagner, which occurred between 1868 and 1872 within the framework of Darwin's discussions of geographical distribution, was Weismann's first public battle over the mechanism of evolution. This paper, which offers the first comprehensive analysis of this debate, extends previous analyses and throws light on the underlying beliefs and motivations of these early evolutionists, focusing mainly on Weismann's views and showing his commitment to what he later called "the all sufficiency of Natural Selection." It led to the crystallization of his ideas on the central and essential role of selection, both natural and sexual, in all processes of evolution, and, already at this early stage in his theoretical thinking, was coupled with sophisticated and nuanced approach to biological organization. The paper also discusses Ernst Mayr's analysis of the debate and highlights aspects of Weismann's views that were overlooked by Mayr and were peripheral to the discussions of other historians of biology.

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