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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index D > Charles Darwin Quotes > Survival Of The Fittest

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Charles Darwin
(12 Feb 1809 - 19 Apr 1882)

English naturalist who presented facts to support his theory of the mode of evolution whereby favourable variations would survive which he called 'Natural Selection' or 'Survival of the Fittest.'


Charles Darwin Quotes on Survival Of The Fittest (9 quotes)

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I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of 'the survival of the fittest.' This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words, natural selection.
— Charles Darwin
Letter to A. R. Wallace July 1866. In Francis Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1887), Vol. 3, 45-6.
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I have called this principle, by which each slight variation, if useful, is preserved, by the term Natural Selection, in order to mark its relation to man's power of selection. But the expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient.
— Charles Darwin
from Origin of Species (1859, 1888), 49.
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In October 1838, that is, fifteen months after I had begun my systematic enquiry, I happened to read for amusement Malthus on Population, and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be, preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; but I was so anxious to avoid prejudice, that I determined not for some time to write even the briefest sketch of it.
— Charles Darwin
In Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin: His Life Told in an Autobiographical Chapter, and in a Selected Series of His Published Letters (1892), 40.
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In the struggle for survival, the fittest win out at the expense of their rivals because they succeed in adapting themselves best to their environment. [Modern paraphrase; Darwin never wrote with these words.]
— Charles Darwin
This is NOT AN AUTHENTIC Darwin quote. It is just a modern paraphrase, commonly seen in books and on the web. It is included here so that this caution can be attached to it.
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It has been a bitter mortification for me to digest the conclusion that the “race is for the strong” and that I shall probably do little more but be content to admire the strides others made in science.
— Charles Darwin
Charles Darwin and Francis Darwin (ed.), Charles Darwin's Works (1896), Vol. 1, 243.
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The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient
— Charles Darwin
Origin of Species, Ch. 3.
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This preservation of favourable variations and the destruction of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
— Charles Darwin
From Origin of Species (fifth edition, 1869), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), and is absent from earlier editions. Also in the fifth edition, the word “destruction” replaced “rejection” used in the earlier editions (1859, 1860, 1861, 1866) to the fourth edition.
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Charles Darwin quote This…I call Natural Selection, or Survival of the Fittest
A grasshopper camouflaged in the grass. (source)
This preservation of favourable variations and the rejection of injurious variations, I call Natural Selection. Variations neither useful nor injurious would not be affected by natural selection and would be left a fluctuating element.
— Charles Darwin
From Origin of Species (first edition, 1859), 81. The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not added until the fifth edition (1869), when also “rejection” was replaced with “destruction.”
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We will now discuss in a little more detail the Struggle for Existence.
— Charles Darwin
On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection (1859, 1902), 57.
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See also:
  • 12 Feb - short biography, births, deaths and events on date of Darwin's birth.
  • Charles Darwin - Earthquake observation on 20 Feb 1835, during the voyage of the Beagle.
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “If the misery of our poor be caused not by the laws of nature…” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Improving…a young naturalist” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “Great is the power of steady misrepresentation” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Medium image (500 x 350 px)
  • Charles Darwin - context of quote “This…I call Natural Selection, or the Survival of the Fittest” - Large image (800 x 600 px)
  • Letter to Asa Gray - from Charles Darwin (5 Sep 1857).
  • From So Simple a Beginning: Darwin's Four Great Books, by Charles Darwin, Edward O. Wilson. - book suggestion.
  • Booklist for Charles Darwin.

Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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