Kalon et Agathon: Scientific Theory in the Face of Reality

HST 207 – Science and Technology in World History

Mary Hill Young



Kalon et Agathon



Darwin’s last chapter is focused on the undeniability of a struggle amongst a species to better themselves, a struggle that Darwin claims is so self evident as to render proof unnecessary – “ There is a struggle for existence leading to the preservation of each profitable deviation of structure or instinct. The truth of these propositions cannot, I think, be disputed.” (Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 482) Thus, Darwin is hoping to make the point that some things are clear and indisputable truths, and though we may choose to interpret those truths in many ways, they might be equally applicable to the theory he is positing, and that the natural world follows in accordance with his theories, whether tested or not.

Darwin also, in a smaller sense, argues that his theory is beautiful – “ There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having originally been breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone on cycling according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and wonderful have been, and are being, evolved.”(Darwin, On the Origin of Species, 513) – and therefore holds weight in a theoretical sense as well. Echoing Socrates and the Symposium, the theory of beauty being tied to rightness is one that has reverberated throughout human history. Essentially Greek in origin, the belief in “kalon et agathon” is an unmistakably tent of western society now. Seemingly inescapable, humanity’s very adherence to the principle seems to give it credit and weight far beyond what the rational brain might expect of such an esoteric theory. And it is a theory that I would gladly support even at the risk of scientific incredulity, for in the absence of any actual certainly it seems best to fall on the side of hope.