Source of Darwin quote?
May 28, 2004 12:40 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for the original source of a Charles Darwin quote, which is sometimes stated as "It is not the strongest of the species that survive, not the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change." This isn't easy since seemingly thousands of authors and public speakers have quoted him without referencing the source (although they do attribute it to Darwin). Can you help? [more versions of the quote inside]

"It is not the strongest of the species that survive or the most intelligent, those that do are the most adaptable to change."

"It is not the strongest or most intelligent of the species that survive, but those that are most responsive to change."

And Google gives me a variety of other versions as well.
posted by found missing to Writing & Language (9 answers total)
Sounds apocryphal.

Have you tried doing text searches through some of his works?
posted by vacapinta at 1:00 PM on May 28, 2004

the gutenburg project has his books, but i could find the quote (searching for "intelligent") in origin of the species, either volume of letters, or his autobiography.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:07 PM on May 28, 2004

couldn't, sorry.
posted by andrew cooke at 1:08 PM on May 28, 2004

No results on the quotation index, either. I suspect vacapinta may be right.
posted by Aaorn at 1:38 PM on May 28, 2004

It looks like one of those things that has just been passed around as "Darwin said..."

Someone from 1998 was already suspicious but it looks like it just kept spreading.

This may be another case of the Matthew effect at work (link to a relevant recent mefi post of mine)
posted by vacapinta at 2:28 PM on May 28, 2004

Sorry didn't find much. Peter Kropotkin's 1902 "Mutual Aid" appears to credit Darwin with ". . .at some period of its life, during some season of the year, during each generation or at intervals, has to struggle for life and to suffer great destruction,"

It is Kropotkin (3rd paragraph from end), however, who goes on to say, "and that the fittest survive during such periods of hard struggle for life. But if the evolution of the animal world were based exclusively, or even chiefly, upon the survival of the fittest during periods of calamities; if natural selection were limited in its action to periods of exceptional drought, or sudden changes of temperature, or inundations, retrogression would be the rule in the animal world. Those who survive a famine, or a severe epidemic of cholera, or small-pox, or diphtheria, such as we see them in uncivilized countries, are neither the strongest, nor the healthiest, nor the most intelligent."
posted by Feisty at 3:17 PM on May 28, 2004

According to this guy no one can really place that quote, people attribute the quote to him, but it's not to be found in any of his publications verbatim.
posted by lilboo at 3:35 PM on May 28, 2004

It's not true, regardless.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:58 AM on May 29, 2004

There are plenty of unresponsive institutions that drag on for centuries.
posted by mecran01 at 4:22 PM on May 29, 2004

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