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Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

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Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Portrait of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck
Born (1744-08-01)1 August 1744
Bazentin, Picardy, France
Died 18 December 1829(1829-12-18) (aged 85)
Paris, France
Nationality French
Institutions French Academy of Sciences; Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle; Jardin des Plantes
Known for Evolution; inheritance of acquired characteristics; Philosophie Zoologique
Influenced Étienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire
Author abbrev. (botany) Lam.
Author abbrev. (zoology) Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet, Chevalier de Lamarck (1 August 1744 – 18 December 1829), often known simply as Lamarck (;[1] French: ), was a French naturalist. He was a soldier, biologist, academic, and an early proponent of the idea that evolution occurred and proceeded in accordance with natural laws. He gave the term biology a broader meaning by coining the term for special sciences, chemistry, meteorology, geology, and botany-zoology.[2]

Lamarck fought in the Pomeranian War (1757–62) with Prussia, and was awarded a commission for bravery on the battlefield.[3] At his post in Monaco, Lamarck became interested in natural history and resolved to study medicine.[4] He retired from the army after being injured in 1766, and returned to his medical studies.[4] Lamarck developed a particular interest in botany, and later, after he published a three-volume work Flore françoise (1778), he gained membership of the French Academy of Sciences in 1779. Lamarck became involved in the Jardin des Plantes and was appointed to the Chair of Botany in 1788. When the Muséum national d'Histoire naturelle was founded in 1793, Lamarck was appointed as a professor of zoology.

In 1801, he published Système des animaux sans vertèbres, a major work on the classification of invertebrates, a term he coined. In an 1802 publication, he became one of the first to use the term biology in its modern sense.[5][Note 1] Lamarck continued his work as a premier authority on invertebrate zoology. He is remembered, at least in malacology, as a taxonomist of considerable stature.

In the modern era, Lamarck is widely remembered for a theory of [8] Scientists have debated whether advances in the field of transgenerational epigenetics mean that Lamarck was to an extent correct, or not.[9]


Jean-Baptiste Lamarck was born in Bazentin, Picardy, northern France,[4] as the eleventh child in an impoverished aristocratic family.[Note 2] Male members of the Lamarck family had traditionally served in the French army. Lamarck's eldest brother was killed in combat at the Siege of Bergen op Zoom, and two other brothers were still in service when Lamarck was in his teenage years. Yielding to the wishes of his father, Lamarck enrolled in a Jesuit college in Amiens in the late 1750s.[4]

After his father died in 1760, Lamarck bought himself a horse, and rode across the country to join the French army, which was in Germany at the time. Lamarck showed great physical courage on the battlefield in the Pomeranian War with Prussia, and he was even nominated for the lieutenancy.[4] Lamarck's company was left exposed to the direct artillery fire of their enemies, and was quickly reduced to just fourteen men – with no officers. One of the men suggested that the puny, seventeen-year-old volunteer should assume command and order a withdrawal from the field; but although Lamarck accepted command, he insisted they remain where they had been posted until relieved.

When their colonel reached the remains of their company, this display of courage and loyalty impressed him so much that Lamarck was promoted to officer on the spot. However, when one of his comrades playfully lifted him by the head, he sustained an inflammation in the lymphatic glands of the neck, and he was sent to Paris to receive treatment.[4] He underwent a complicated operation, and continued his treatment for a year.[10] He was awarded a commission and settled at his post in Monaco. It was there that he encountered Traité des plantes usuelles, a botany book by James Francis Chomel.[4]

Lamarck by Charles Thévenin (c. 1802)

With a reduced pension of only 400 francs a year, Lamarck resolved to pursue a profession. He attempted to study medicine, and supported himself by working in a bank office.[4] Lamarck studied medicine for four years, but gave it up under his elder brother's persuasion. He was interested in botany, especially after his visits to the Jardin du Roi, and he became a student under Bernard de Jussieu, a notable French naturalist.[4] Under Jussieu, Lamarck spent ten years studying French flora.

After his studies, in 1778, he published some of his observations and results in a three-volume work, entitled Flore françoise. Lamarck's work was respected by many scholars, and it launched him into prominence in French science. On August 8, 1778, Lamarck married Marie Anne Rosalie Delaporte.[11] French Academy of Sciences in 1779 and a commission as a Royal Botanist in 1781, in which he traveled to foreign botanical gardens and museums.[12] Lamarck's first son, André, was born on April 22, 1781, and he made his colleague André Thouin the child's godfather.

In his two years of travel, Lamarck collected rare plants that were not available in the Royal Garden, and also other objects of natural history, such as minerals and ores, that were not found in French museums. On January 7, 1786, his second son, Antoine, was born, and Lamarck chose Antoine Laurent de Jussieu, Bernard de Jussieu's nephew, as the boy's godfather.[13] On April 21 of the following year, Charles René, Lamarck's third son, was born. René Louiche Desfontaines, a professor of botany at the Royal Garden, was the boy's godfather, and Lamarck's elder sister, Marie Charlotte Pelagie De Monet was the godmother.[13] In 1788, Buffon's successor at the position of Intendant of the Royal Garden, Charles-Claude Flahaut de la Billaderie, comte d'Angiviller, created a position for Lamarck, with a yearly salary of 1,000 francs, as the keeper of the herbarium of the Royal Garden.[4]

In 1790, at the height of the French Revolution, Lamarck changed the name of the Royal Garden from Jardin du Roi to Jardin des Plantes, a name that did not imply such a close association with King Louis XVI.[14] Lamarck had worked as the keeper of the herbarium for five years before he was appointed curator and professor of invertebrate zoology at the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in 1793.[4] During his time at the herbarium, Lamarck's wife gave birth to three more children before dying on September 27, 1792. With the official title of "Professeur d'Histoire naturelle des Insectes et des Vers", Lamarck received a salary of nearly 2,500 francs per year.[15] The following year on October 9, he married Charlotte Reverdy, who was thirty years his junior.[13] On September 26, 1794, Lamarck was appointed to serve as secretary of the assembly of professors for the museum for a period of one year. In 1797, Charlotte died, and he married Julie Mallet the following year; she died in 1819.[13]

In his first six years as professor, Lamarck published only one paper, in 1798, on the influence of the moon on the Earth's atmosphere.[4] Lamarck began as an essentialist who believed species were unchanging; however, after working on the molluscs of the Paris Basin, he grew convinced that transmutation or change in the nature of a species occurred over time.[4] He set out to develop an explanation, and on 11 May 1800 (the 21st day of Floreal, Year VIII, in the revolutionary timescale used in France at the time), he presented a lecture at the Muséum national d'histoire naturelle in which he first outlined his newly developing ideas about evolution.

Lamarck, late in life

In 1801, he published Système des Animaux sans Vertebres, a major work on the classification of invertebrates. In the work, he introduced definitions of natural groups among invertebrates. He categorized echinoderms, arachnids, crustaceans and annelids, which he separated from the old taxon for worms known as Vermes.[14] Lamarck was the first to separate arachnids from insects in classification, and he moved crustaceans into a separate class from insects.

In 1802 Lamarck published Hydrogéologie, and became one of the first to use the term biology in its modern sense.[5][16] In Hydrogéologie, Lamarck advocated a steady-state geology based on a strict uniformitarianism. He argued that global currents tended to flow from east to west, and continents eroded on their eastern borders, with the material carried across to be deposited on the western borders. Thus, the Earth's continents marched steadily westward around the globe.

That year, he also published Recherches sur l'Organisation des Corps Vivants, in which he drew out his theory on evolution. He believed that all life was organized in a vertical chain, with gradation between the lowest forms and the highest forms of life, thus demonstrating a path to progressive developments in nature.[17]

In his own work, Lamarck had favored the then-more traditional theory based on the Classical Peter J. Bowler, Cuvier "ridiculed Lamarck's theory of transformation and defended the fixity of species."[18][19] According to Martin J. S. Rudwick:

Cuvier was clearly hostile to the materialistic overtones of current transformist theorizing, but it does not necessarily follow that he regarded species origin as supernatural; certainly he was careful to use neutral language to refer to the causes of the origins of new forms of life, and even of man.[20]

Lamarck gradually turned blind and died in Paris on December 18, 1829. When he died, his family was so poor they had to apply to the Academie for financial assistance. Lamarck was buried in a common grave of the Montparnasse cemetery for just five years, according to the grant obtained from relatives. Later the body was dug up along with other remains and was lost. Lamarck's books and the contents of his home were sold at auction, and his body was buried in a temporary lime-pit.[21]

After his death, Cuvier used the forum of a eulogy to denigrate Lamarck:

[Cuvier's] éloge of Lamarck is one of the most deprecatory and chillingly partisan biographies I have ever read – though he was supposedly writing respectful comments in the old tradition of de mortuis nil nisi bonum.
— Gould, 1993[10][22]

Lamarckian evolution

Lamarck stressed two main themes in his biological work. The first was that the environment gives rise to changes in animals. He cited examples of blindness in moles, the presence of teeth in mammals and the absence of teeth in birds as evidence of this principle. The second principle was that life was structured in an orderly manner and that many different parts of all bodies make it possible for the organic movements of animals.[17]

Although he was not the first thinker to advocate organic evolution, he was the first to develop a truly coherent evolutionary theory.[8] He outlined his theories regarding evolution first in his Floreal lecture of 1800, and then in three later published works:

  • Recherches sur l'organisation des corps vivants, 1802.
  • Philosophie Zoologique, 1809.
  • Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres, (in seven volumes, 1815–22).

Lamarck employed several mechanisms as drivers of evolution, drawn from the common knowledge of his day and from his own belief in chemistry pre-Lavoisier. He used these mechanisms to explain the two forces he saw as comprising evolution; a force driving animals from simple to complex forms, and a force adapting animals to their local environments and differentiating them from each other. He believed that these forces must be explained as a necessary consequence of basic physical principles, favoring a materialistic attitude toward biology.

Le pouvoir de la vie: The complexifying force

Lamarck referred to a tendency for organisms to become more complex, moving "up" a ladder of progress. He referred to this phenomenon as Le pouvoir de la vie or la force qui tend sans cesse à composer l'organisation (The force that perpetually tends to make order). Lamarck believed in the ongoing [23]

Lamarck ran against the modern chemistry promoted by [23]

The rapid motion of fluids will etch canals between delicate tissues. Soon their flow will begin to vary, leading to the emergence of distinct organs. The fluids themselves, now more elaborate, will become more complex, engendering a greater variety of secretions and substances composing the organs.
— Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertebres, 1815

He argued that organisms thus moved from simple to complex in a steady, predictable way based on the fundamental physical principles of alchemy. In this view, simple organisms never disappeared because they were constantly being created by spontaneous generation in what has been described as a "steady-state biology". Lamarck saw spontaneous generation as being ongoing, with the simple organisms thus created being transmuted over time becoming more complex. He is sometimes regarded as believing in a Henry Fairfield Osborn, "Lamarck denied, absolutely, the existence of any 'perfecting tendency' in nature, and regarded evolution as the final necessary effect of surrounding conditions on life."[24]

Charles Coulston Gillispie, a historian of science, has written "life is a purely physical phenomenon in Lamarck". His views should not be confused with the vitalist school of thought.[25]

L'influence des circonstances: The adaptive force

The second component of Lamarck's theory of evolution was the adaptation of organisms to their environment. This could move organisms upward from the ladder of progress into new and distinct forms with local adaptations. It could also drive organisms into evolutionary blind alleys, where the organism became so finely adapted that no further change could occur. Lamarck argued that this adaptive force was powered by the interaction of organisms with their environment, by the use and disuse of certain characteristics.

First Law: In every animal which has not passed the limit of its development, a more frequent and continuous use of any organ gradually strengthens, develops and enlarges that organ, and gives it a power proportional to the length of time it has been so used; while the permanent disuse of any organ imperceptibly weakens and deteriorates it, and progressively diminishes its functional capacity, until it finally disappears.[26]

This first law says little except "an exaggerated generalization of the belief that exercise develops an organ".[27]

Second Law: All the acquisitions or losses wrought by nature on individuals, through the influence of the environment in which their race has long been placed, and hence through the influence of the predominant use or permanent disuse of any organ; all these are preserved by reproduction to the new individuals which arise, provided that the acquired modifications are common to both sexes, or at least to the individuals which produce the young.[26]

The last clause of this law introduces what is now called [28] Some epigenetic changes such as the methylation of genes alter the likelihood of DNA transcription and can be produced by changes in behaviour and environment. Many epigenetic changes are themselves heritable to a degree. Thus, while DNA itself is not directly altered by the environment and behavior except through selection, the relationship of the genotype to the phenotype can be altered, even across generations, by experience within the lifetime of an individual. This has led to calls for biology to reconsider Lamarckian processes in evolution in light of modern advances in molecular biology.[29]

Religious views

In his book Philosophie Zoologique, Lamarck referred to God as the "sublime author of nature". Lamarck's religious views are examined in the book Lamarck, the Founder of Evolution (1901) by Alpheus Packard. According to Packard from Lamarck's writings he may be regarded as a deist.[30]

The philosopher of biology Michael Ruse described Lamarck "as believing in God as an unmoved mover, creator of the world and its laws, who refuses to intervene miraculously in his creation."[31] Biographer James Moore described Lamarck as a "thoroughgoing deist".[32]

The historian Jacques Roger has written "Lamarck was a materialist to the extent that he did not consider it necessary to have recourse to any spiritual principle... his deism remained vague, and his idea of creation did not prevent him from believing everything in nature, including the highest forms of life, was but the result of natural processes."[33]


Statue of Lamarck by Léon Fagel in the Jardin des Plantes, Paris.

Lamarck is usually remembered for his belief in the soft inheritance) was rejected by August Weismann in the 1880s[Note 3] when he developed a theory of inheritance in which germ plasm (the sex cells, later redefined as DNA), remained separate and distinct from the soma (the rest of the body); thus nothing which happens to the soma may be passed on with the germ-plasm. This model underlies the modern understanding of inheritance.

Lamarck constructed one of the first theoretical frameworks of organic evolution. While this theory was generally rejected during his lifetime,[34] Stephen Jay Gould argues that Lamarck was the "primary evolutionary theorist", in that his ideas, and the way in which he structured his theory, set the tone for much of the subsequent thinking in evolutionary biology, through to the present day.[35] Developments in epigenetics, the study of cellular and physiological traits that are heritable by daughter cells and not caused by changes in the DNA sequence, have caused debate about whether a "neolamarckist" view of inheritance could be correct, though Lamarck never gave any molecular explanation for his theory. Eva Jablonka and Marion Lamb for example call themselves neolamarckists.[9][36] Reviewing the evidence, David Haig observes that any such mechanisms must themselves have evolved through natural selection.[9]

[38] Lamarckism is also occasionally used to describe quasi-evolutionary concepts in societal contexts, though not by Lamarck himself. For example, the memetic theory of cultural evolution is sometimes described as a form of Lamarckian inheritance of non-genetic traits.

Species and other taxa named by Lamarck

During his lifetime, Lamarck named a large number of species, many of which have become synonyms. The World Register of Marine Species gives no fewer than 1,634 records.[39] The Indo-Pacific Molluscan Database gives 1,781 records.[40] Among these are some well-known families such as the ark clams (Arcidae), the sea hares (Aplysiidae) and the cockles (Cardiidae). The International Plant Names Index gives 58 records,[41] including a number of well-known genera such as the mosquito fern (Azolla).

Species named in his honour

The honeybee subspecies Apis mellifera lamarckii is named after Lamarck, as well as the Bluefire jellyfish (Cyaneia lamarckii). A number of plants have also been named after him, including Amelanchier lamarckii (Juneberry), Digitalis lamarckii and Aconitum lamarckii, as well as the grass genus Lamarckia.

The International Plant Names Index gives 116 records of plant species named after Lamarck.[43]

Among the marine species, no fewer than 103 species or genera carry the epithet "lamarcki", "lamarckii" or "lamarckiana", but many have since become synonyms. Marine species with valid names include:[44]

Major works

On invertebrate classification:

  • 1801. Système des animaux sans vertèbres, ou tableau général des classes, des ordres et des genres de ces animaux; présentant leurs caractères essentiels et leur distribution, d'après la considération de leurs..., Paris, Detreville, VIII: 1–432.
  • 1815–22. Histoire naturelle des animaux sans vertèbres, présentant les caractères généraux et particuliers de ces animaux..., Tome 1 (1815): 1–462; Tome 2 (1816): 1–568; Tome 3 (1816): 1–586; Tome 4 (1817): 1–603; Tome 5 (1818): 1–612; Tome 6, Pt.1 (1819): 1–343; Tome 6, Pt.2 (1822): 1–252; Tome 7 (1822): 1–711.

The standard author abbreviation Lam. is used to indicate Lamarck as the author when citing a botanical name.[45]

See also


  1. ^ The term "biology" was also introduced independently by Thomas Beddoes (in 1799), Karl Friedrich Burdach (in 1800) and Gottfried Reinhold Treviranus (Biologie oder Philosophie der lebenden Natur, 1802).
  2. ^ His noble title was Chevalier, which is French for knight.
  3. ^ It was rejected during Lamarck's lifetime by William Lawrence, whose remarkable anticipation of hard inheritance has often gone unnoticed.
  4. ^ [37]


  1. ^ "Lamarck". Random House Webster's Unabridged Dictionary.
  2. ^ The Handy Science Answer Book, by James E. Bobick; Visible Ink Press, Oct 1, 2002
  3. ^ Damkaer (2002), p. 117.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Packard (1901), p. 15.
  5. ^ a b Coleman (1977), pp. 1–2.
  6. ^ Jurmain et al. (2011), pp. 27–39.
  7. ^ Ed. Philip Appleman. Darwin: A Norton Critical Edition. 3rd Edition. New York City: W.W. Norton & Company, 2001. 44.
  8. ^ a b Gould (2002), p. 187.
  9. ^ a b c
  10. ^ a b Cuvier (1836)
  11. ^ Mantoy (1968), p. 19.
  12. ^ Packard (1901), pp. 20–21.
  13. ^ a b c d Bange & Corsi (2007)
  14. ^ a b Damkaer (2002), p. 118.
  15. ^ Szyfman (1982), p. 13.
  16. ^ Osborn (1905), p. 159.
  17. ^ a b Osborn (1905), p. 160.
  18. ^ Bowler (2003), p. 110.
  19. ^ Burkhardt (1970)
  20. ^ Rudwick (1998), p. 83.
  21. ^ Delange (1984)
  22. ^ Gould (1993)
  23. ^ a b Larson, Edward J. (May 2004)"A Growing sense of progress." Evolution: The remarkable history of a Scientific Theory.New York: Modern Library. 2004. pp. 38–41.
  24. ^ Henry Fairfield Osborn. (1894). From the Greeks to Darwin. Macmillan and Company. p. 163
  25. ^ Charles Coulston Gillispie. (1960). The Edge of Objectivity: An Essay in the History of Scientific Ideas. Princeton University Press. p. 272
  26. ^ a b Lamarck (1914)
  27. ^ a b Bowler (2003)
  28. ^ Fitzpatrick (2006)
  29. ^ Jablonka (2006)
  30. ^ Alpheus Spring Packard. (2008 edition, originally published in 1901). Lamarck, The Founder of Evolution. Wildhern Press. pp. 217–222
  31. ^ Michael Ruse. (1999). The Darwinian Revolution: Science Red in Tooth and Claw. University of Chicago Press. p.11
  32. ^ James R. Moore. (1981). The Post-Darwinian Controversies: A Study of the Protestant Struggle to Come to Terms with Darwin in Great Britain and America 1870-1900. Cambridge University Press. p. 344
  33. ^ Jacques Roger. (1986). The Mechanist Conception of Life. In David C. Lindberg, Ronald L. Numbers. God and Nature: Historical Essays on the Encounter Between Christianity and Science. University of California Press. p. 291
  34. ^
  35. ^ Gould (2002) pp. 170–197.
  36. ^
  37. ^ Mayr (1964), pp. xxv–xxvi.
  38. ^ Darwin (1861–82)
  39. ^ WoRMS: species named by Lamarck; accessed: 17 November 2010
  40. ^ OBIS: Species named by Lamarck; accessed: 17 November 2010
  41. ^ The International Plant Names Index: Plants named by Lamarck; accessed: 17 November 2010
  42. ^
  43. ^ IPNI: plant species named after Lamarck; accessed: 17 November 2010
  44. ^ WoRMS: species with the epithet "lamarcki"; accessed 17 November 2010
  45. ^


Further reading

External links

  • The Imaginary Lamarck: A Look at Bogus "History" in Schoolbooks by Michael Ghiselin
  • Works by Jean-Baptiste Lamarck at Project Gutenberg
  • Works by or about Jean-Baptiste Lamarck at Internet Archive
  • Epigenetics: Genome, Meet Your Environment
  • Science Revolution Followers of Lamarck
  • Encyclopédie Méthodique: Botanique At: Biodiversity Heritage Library
  • Jean-Baptiste Lamarck: works and heritage, online materials about Lamarck (23,000 files of Lamarck's herbarium, 11,000 manuscripts, books, etc.) edited online by Pietro Corsi (Oxford University) and realised by CRHST-CNRS in France.
  • Biography of Lamarck at University of California Museum of Paleontology
  • Memoir of Lamarck by James Duncan
  • Lamarck's writings are available in facsimile (PDF) and in Word format (in French) at The search engine allows full text search.
  • Recherches sur l'organisation des corps vivans (1801) – fully digitized facsimile from Linda Hall Library.
  • Hydrogéologie (1802) – fully digitized facsimile from Linda Hall Library
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