2

The full title of Darwin's work "On the origin of species" is:

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life".

My question is:

Regarding the second part of the title (i.e. the subtitle), "the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life", is it parallel to "the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection", or, is it parallel to "Means of Natural Selection"?

To put in another way, should we understand the title as

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or on the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"

or

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or by Means of Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life"?

EDIT:

I forgot a third way of interpretation:

"On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life)"

In this last case, "Natural Selection" = "the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life". It is somewhat similar to the second one.

Note that my question is not about the scientific meaning of the title, and I am not sure which way of interpretation is more scientifically sound.

  • 2
    Well, I imagine we can forget any commas reproduced elsewhere, since presumably there aren't any in the actual book title. So syntactically we could just as easily allow a fourth interpretation - that "On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection" and "[On] the Preservation of Favoured Races" are two alternative elements Darwin explores in the context of a treatise primarily concerned with "the Struggle for Life". You can only rule that one out by taking account of the "scientific meaning" of the work as a whole. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '14 at 4:02
  • @FumbleFingers You comment is amusing, and makes me wonder whether there exists a language that does not have such problems. – FJDU Jan 27 '14 at 4:08
  • If there was, it wouldn't be half so much fun to learn (about)! – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '14 at 4:11
  • @FumbleFingers your presumption is incorrect: books.google.com/… – phoog Jun 23 '15 at 3:54
  • @phoog: You're quite correct. But apart from my initial comment above, none of the comments or answers (including mine) refer to commas again. In fact, the only other mention of punctuation is another comment by me referring to the [semi]colon sometimes added after species in other contexts. Looking at the original title page I see it uses at least four (and possibly as many as six) different typefaces within the complete title. So one could argue there's potentially more to explore in the typography than in the basic punctuation. – FumbleFingers Jun 23 '15 at 12:58
4

In terms of the mechanics of grammar (punctuation) and type-setting styles, the title seems open to different interpretations (each with grammatical or mechanical justification).

If we put ourselves in Darwin's context, it is likely that the phrase "the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" modifies or clarifies "Natural Selection" (by means of which new species arise in Darwin's view).

Darwin's central issues focused on the origin of species. The origin of species "by means of Natural Selection" was the actual thesis of the book. Origin of species (as a term, not as a process attributable to "natural selection") was at the time already familiar to the learned circle. However, Natural Selection was a new concept (except to Wallace) and was not at the time familiar to the learned circle.
   To Darwin, it was Natural Selection that needs to be 'expanded or further explained' linguistically (and scientifically).

Therefore, though grammatical mechanics may leave the door open to different interpretations, the social/cultural/scientific context favors equating "the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life" with Natural Selection, and not with the Origin of Species. This contextual argument seems more appropriate (to me) than arguing from the angle of the actual scientific validity based on modern day hind-sight, just as one cannot argue for the precise scientific meaning of Darwin's "favored races" before the arrival of modern day concepts involving biological species, populations etc.

  • Does OP stand for "Origin of Species"? Why? – Peter Shor Jan 27 '14 at 12:23
  • @Peter,RipplesOnly: I've changed all instances of OP in the answer to speciation. If that's not what you wanted to say, feel free to revert the edit. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '14 at 13:28
  • 1
    I've replaced all the instances of NS with Natural Selection and also tried to format the answer so it wasn't just a giant block of text (paragraphs help). Otherwise, the argument is sound. – Doc Jan 27 '14 at 15:45
  • @Doc Use-mention distinction is done with italics, though. But it does make sense. – Andrew Leach Jan 27 '14 at 16:10
  • @AndrewLeach Yeah, I wasn't sure about that. I used both, kept going back and forth before I just decided to hell with it and kept whatever iteration I was on. – Doc Jan 27 '14 at 16:15
3

At the very least, I will comment on which option makes the most sense scientifically (since both seem acceptable grammatically).

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

Since Darwin is describing natural selection, which is both a means of speciation and a means by which certain species are able to survive for many eons, I would say that this is an alternate title (so parallelism with the entire first clause). I would argue that describing the means by which a given species is preserved does not describe how the species came about, and so this isn't just an alternative object of the preposition.

Thanks for the question, this is not a detail that I had thought about until today.

  • 1
    This seems clearly correct to me. As John Lawler mentioned, "or" commonly indicates an alternate title. NOTE: I edited wil3's post above to write in the title for clarity. – Chris Sunami Jan 27 '14 at 16:23
2

If you scroll down to the second page of this link you'll see it's transcribed as...

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES: By Means of Natural Selection, or The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

This I think reflects the intended parsing. The basic title On the Origin of Species is supplemented by two possible alternatives...

By Means of Natural Selection
or
[By] The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life

That's to say, OP's second interpretation is correct "grammatically" (and "scientifically", IMHO).

  • If you look at the original title page of the 1859 edition, the parsing is much less clear. – Peter Shor Jan 27 '14 at 0:52
  • 3
    I rather suspect that the phrase following or is an alternate title. Like The Hobbit, or There And Back Again. – John Lawler Jan 27 '14 at 0:53
  • @Peter: As it happens, I don't actually possess a first edition! Seriously, I did try to find a suitable image on Google, but there are so many (different) copies I gave up. The link I gave was just the first one I came across where the typesetter had obviously given the matter some thought - and as luck would have it, I agreed with what I assume was his intention (if not Darwin's) when he added the semicolon and used capitalisation in that specific way. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '14 at 1:00
  • @John: I suspect not, since Darwin presumably wasn't primarily writing about The Preservation of Favoured Races - I think that was just the mechanism by which he postulated speciation might occur. But in the end, either interpretation is "grammatically" valid (whatever that means in such a context). So whether we like it or not, we can't address OP's question without touching upon the "scientific" rational for one over another. – FumbleFingers Jan 27 '14 at 1:03
  • 2
    That's what natural selection means: the preservation of favoured races. Today we'd say the successful reproduction of certain phenotypes. – John Lawler Jan 27 '14 at 1:06
1

On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life was published in London by John Murray in 1859. As you can see from the title page reproduced at Wikipedia, the title appears in all-capital letters in at least five different font sizes: the largest font is used for the words "THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES"; the second-largest for "BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION"; the third-largest for the opening word "ON"; the fourth-largest for "PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE"; and the fifth-largest (that is, the smallest) for "OR THE."

Viewed in isolation, the title might be read in a number of ways, including one reading in which the words "BY MEANS OF" are assumed to be implicitly repeated between "OR" and "THE" in the fourth line of the title page:

ON THE ORIGIN OF SPECIES BY MEANS OF NATURAL SELECTION, OR [BY MEANS OF] THE PRESERVATION OF FAVOURED RACES IN THE STRUGGLE FOR LIFE.

But titles in the alternative are common in books published between 1600 and 1900, and they show no tendency to use implicit parallelism and phrase sharing between alternatives. A Google Books search for the simple phrase "or the" yields hundreds of matches for book titles that use the words as a transition device between the lead title and its alternative. Here are sixteen examples that appeared at roughly 20-year intervals between 1600 and 1900 (inclusive):

Nicholas Breton, PASQVILS Mistresse: Or THE WORTHIE AND vnworthie woman (1600)

Charles Butler, The Feminine Monarchie: OR THE HISTORIE OF BEES· SHEWING Their admirable Nature, and Properties, Their Generation, and Colonies, Their Gouernment, Loyaltie, Art, Inductrie, Enemies, Warres, Magnanimitie, &c. Together With the right ordering of them from time to time : And the sweet profit arising thereof. (1623)

James Howell, ΔΕΝΔΡΟΛΟΓΙΑ. DODONA'S GROVE, OR, THE VOCALL FORREST (1640)

John Reeve & Lodowick Muggleton, A DIVINE Looking-glass: OR, The third and last Testament of our Lord JESUS CHRIST, Whose personal Residence is seated on his Throne of Eternal Glory in another world; ... (1656/1661)

Thomas Mall, A CLOUD OF WITNESSES OR, THE Sufferers Mirrour, Made up of The SWANLIKE-SONGS, and other Choice Passages of several MARTYRS and CONFESSORS, to the end of the Sixteenth Century, in their Treatises, Speeches, Letters, Prayers, &c. ... (1677)

Anonymous, Anguis in Herba : OR THE Fatal Consequences of a Treaty with FRANCE. (1702)

John Worlidge, A Compleat SYSTEM of Husbandry and Gardening ; OR, THE Gentleman's Companion, In the BUSINESS and PLEASURES OF A COUNTRY LIFE. (1716)

Marcomire, THE Unfortunate Dutchess: OR, THE Lucky GAMESTER. A NOVEL, Founded on a true STORY. (1739)

George Watkins, The Compleat Brewer ; OR, The ART and MYSTERY OF BREWING EXPLAINED. (1760)

Marmaduke Stalkartt, NAVAL Architecture OR THE Rudiments and Rules OF SHIP BUILDING Exemplified in a Series of Draughts and Plans. WITH OBSERVATIONS Tending to the further improvement of that Important Art. (1781)

George Faber, A DISSERTATION ON THE MYSTERIES OF THE CABIRI; OR THE GREAT GODS OF PHENICIA, SAMOTHRACE, EGYPT, TROAS, GREECE, ITALY, AND CRETE; BEING An Attempt to deduce the several Orgies of ISIS, CERES, MITHRAS, BACCHUS, RHEA, ADONIS, AND HECATE, FROM AN Union of the Rites commemorative of the Deluge with the Adoration of the Host of Heaven. Volume 2. (1803)

John LORD Somers, THE SECURITY OF ENGLISHMEN'S LIVES; OR THE TRUST, POWER, AND DUTY OF THE GRAND JURIES OF ENGLAND, EXPLAINED ACCORDING TO THE FUNDAMENTALS OF THE ENGLISH GOVERNMENT, AND THE DECLARATIONS OF THE SAME MADE IN PARLIAMENT BY MANY STATUTES. (1821)

John Campbell, THE MARTYR OF ERROMANGA. OR, THE PHILOSOPHY OF THE MISSIONS, ILLUSTRATED FROM THE Labours, Death, and Character OF THE LATE REV. JOHN WILLIAMS. (1842)

Isabella Duncan, PRE-ADAMITE MAN ; or, The Story of our Old Planet and its Inhabitants, told by Scripture & Science. (1860)

Harriet Beecher Stowe, A DOG'S MISSION; OR, THE STORY OF THE OLD AVERY HOUSE. AND OTHER STORIES. (1880)

Herbert Webber, "XENIA, OR THE IMMEDIATE EFFECT OF POLLEN, IN MAIZE." (1900)

Given the tradition of alternative titles that these and many other instances from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries reflect, it can scarcely be doubted that Darwin was offering his title in just such a way: on the one hand as On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, and on the other as The Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life." As in the many examples cited above, the or in Darwin's title simply links the first and second alternative titles together.

In the alternative titles listed above, I found no evidence of parallel-structured wording in which the second alternative borrowed elements from the first alternative without explicitly repeating them.

0

Darwin was using the language of his day, in which the term "race" meant subspecies, or even specific population. Since modern humans, Homo sapiens, are all one species with no recognized subspecies, Darwin could not have been referring to human "races", which are a social and political, not a scientific, construct. His argument was that in the "struggle for existence" certain types of organisms were more likely to successfully survive and reproduce than others. These individuals or populations could be considered to be "favored" because they were better adapted to their environmental conditions. In terms of human "races" Darwin was strongly anti-slavery and did not appear to consider Europeans superior to other human groups.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.