Essay: The Cuvier-Geoffroy Debate
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In 1830, a dispute erupted in the halls of lÕAcad mie des Sciences in Paris between the two most prominent anatomists of the nineteenth century. Georges Cuvier and tienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire, once friends and colleagues at the Paris Museum, became arch rivals after this historical episode. Like many important disputes in the history of science, this debate echoes several points of contrasts between the two thinkers. The two French Ânaturalists not only disagreed about what sorts of comparisons between vertebrates were acceptable, but also about which principles ought to underlie a rational system of animal taxonomy and guide the study of animal anatomy. Digging deeper into their differences, their particular disagreements over specific issues within zoology and anatomy culminated in the articulation of two competing and divergent philosophical views on the aims and methods of the life sciences. The emergence of these two distinct positions has had a lasting impact in the development of evolutionary and developmental biology. This essay will provide an overview of the conceptual themes of the debate, its implications for the development of the life sciences, and its role in the history of embryology and developmental biology.