Digest of terms

Social Darwinism

term used to characterise the scientific theory that human behaviour replicates that of the 'survival of the fittest' in natural evolution. The extent of its debt to Charles Darwin is disputed. In sociological terms the link is more explicit to the thinking of Herbert Spencer. He suggests that there are sequential patterns in human social progress comparable to those in biology. During the century from 1850-1950 the theory came to be applied to health care, economics and race relations.

Applied descriptively, the term refers to attempt to account for the way in which societies have developed. Applied normatively, it becomes dangerously prescriptive. Thus, it is one thing to remark that some babies are more frail than others at birth because of home circumstances, it's quite another to then suggest that weaker ones should be terminated or their parenting forbidden (eugenics). Similarly with economic reality, that wealth can create wealth and poverty lead to greater poverty does not justify indifference of haves to have-nots (unrestricted capitalism). And so too with race, that different racial groups may have different behavioural characteristics is no basis for asserting the superiority of one over another (racism). The ideology of Nazi supremacy with its determination to exterminate the Jew as inferior human 'virus' is an horrific moral perversion of social science. It exemplifies that human evolution has not lost its capacity to self-destruct.

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