Leonid E. Grinin, Andrey V. Korotayev,
The formulation of the first scientific theories of the evolution of nature began at
much older (see, e.g., Vorontsov 1999; Asmus 2001; Chanyshev 1976, 2001;
Barg 1987; Ilyushechkin 1996; Losev 1977; Nisbet 1980). An incipient under-
standing of the historical dimension of natural processes can already be found
among the ancient Greeks (e.g., Heraclitus, Anaximander, Empedocles, etc.).
In the late Modern period these ideas strengthened in conjunction with the idea
that historical changes in nature can be described with the aid of rigorous laws.
This type of thinking created the evolutionary approach in science. However,
these ideas penetrated rather slowly in various branches of science. Neverthe-
less, supported by a growing body of firm evidence, the evolutionary approach
became gradually established during this period in geology, cosmology, biol-
ogy and social sciences.
It is commonly believed that the concept of evolution was first formulated
by Charles Darwin, but that was not the case. Although it is not generally
known, Darwin did not even use the word ‘evolution’ in the first five editions
of The Origin of Species. Not until the 6
edition, published in 1872, did he in-
with no more of a definition than ‘descent with modification’.
It was Herbert Spencer who, in First Principles – a book published ten
years before the 6
edition of The Origin – introduced the term into scientific
that book, Spencer carefully built up the concept of evolution, culminating in
his classic definition: ‘Evolution is a change from an indefinite, incoherent
homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity, through continuous dif-
ferentiations and integrations’ (1862: 216).
First Principles represented only the final, full-blown formulation of Spencer's concept of evolution.
of the process as manifested in various domains of nature. Then in 1857, in the article entitled
evolution exclusively to the world of life, Spencer saw it as a process of uni-
versal application, characterizing all domains of nature.
(1876–1896) in which Spencer showed, in great detail, how evolution had mani-
fested itself in each of these fields. Already in the 19
century it was possible
competing – interpretations of the kinds of change phenomena had undergone.
century the idea of evolution in nature and society, together with the no-
tion of progress, became a major component of not only science and philoso-
phy, but also of social consciousness in general,
leading to an overall picture
century the related
‘Progress: Its Law and Cause’, he wrote: ‘The advance from the simple to the complex, through
a process of successive differentiation, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to
which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively estab-
lish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of
every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in
the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate
of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its
economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract
products of human activity...’ (Spencer 1857: 465). Despite his use of ‘progress’ in the title of this
article, Spencer came to realize that the word had normative overtones, and that he needed a word
free of that. In ‘evolution’, he found a word – not often used in scientific writing up to that time –
that proved to be the answer to his search.
It is worth to point that Spencer first hit upon the idea of evolution while reading a description of
a process of successive differentiations, from very rudimentary beginnings. Starting out as a sin-
gle fertilized egg, the embryo underwent a series of divisions and subdivisions, its parts becoming
progressively more varied and more specialized. Spencer was struck by the fact that the process
that marked the development of a single organism was also the process that characterized
the development of all orders of phenomena.
The contrast between them was not just that one concept was limited to the biological sphere
anism behind evolution, but while alike in this regard, the two conceptions of evolution differed
in a number of respects. Darwinian evolution not only operated on a smaller scale, it also was
more closely tied to individual events. It was more opportunistic, more contingent as to just what
path it followed. In Darwinian evolution the form of an animal species could zigzag back and
forth over the course of generations, seeking the most favorable adaptation to existing conditions.
Only when it could be seen as having moved in the direction of increasing complexity could it be
considered to have evolved in the Spencerian sense.
Morris R. Cohen (1958) maintains that the idea of universal evolution, starting with Spencer, has
that is only similar to a very limited number of major intellectual achievements since the Coperni-