King Edward VII Professor of English Literature and President of Clare Hall (ret.), University of Cambridge
Darwin was seen by George Bernard Shaw as the man who banished mind from the universe. Yet Darwin himself was fascinated throughout his life by consciousness, across a whole variety of life forms. In his early private notebooks he explored the relations between sentience and reason, emotion and reflection, instinct and intent and his subjects were as often oysters, dogs, climbing plants, ants, baboons, or babies, as they were grown people. He responded with eager curiosity to the ways of reasoning among indigenous groups while on the Voyage of the Beagle and he learned to question his own Enlightenment upbringing. In his later works such as The Descent of Man and The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals he works with observations and anecdotes as much as with abstractions, and his way of going about things may often seem odd now. The lecture will investigate Darwin's imaginative capacities and will explore the ways in which his scepticism and his empathy combine to produce particularly fruitful methods of enquiry.