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The Penultimate CuriosityHow Science Swims in the Slipstream of Ultimate Questions$
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Roger Wagner and Andrew Briggs

Print publication date: 2016

Print ISBN-13: 9780198747956

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: March 2016

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780198747956.001.0001

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The Mystery of Mysteries

The Mystery of Mysteries

(p.304) Chapter Thirty-Six The Mystery of Mysteries
The Penultimate Curiosity

Roger Wagner

Andrew Briggs

Oxford University Press

This chapter first presents Darwin’s descriptions about meeting John Herschel in 1836. It then details how Darwin consulted Herschel’s Preliminary Discourse in developing his theory on the origin of species. Herschel’s advice included writing out a sketch of the theory in a series of steps, ‘first giving the established facts about nature, followed by an analogy or extrapolation into theory, and then ending with the reasons why he thought that his view was correct or at least a worthwhile hypothesis’. When On the Origin of Species was published, Darwin stated in his opening sentence that his observations in South America ‘seemed to throw some light on the origin of species—that mystery of mysteries, as it has been called by one of our greatest philosophers’, quoting from the letter that Herschel had written more than twenty years earlier.

Keywords:   Charles Darwin, Sir John Herschel, evolution, origin of species, Preliminary Discourse

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