Carl Linneaus’s Classes or Letters

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Carl Linneaus’s Classes or Letters

Smellie’s arguments against Linnaeus did not stop here. He further disagreed with Linnaeus’ taxonomy arguing that it had the negative effect of turning scientists into obsessive system-makers which “has brought much obloquy on the science of nature” (Thoemmes). While he did not believe that naturalists should ignore all systems he urged them to look for natural scientific explanations as opposed to creating broad classifications.

William Smellie was also greatly influenced by Georges-Louis Leclerc comte de Buffon, mostly because of his admiration for the fellow scientist. However, although Smellie admired Buffon he also disagreed with him on many points. Through his articles in the Encyclopedia Britannica Smellie was able to disseminate many of Buffon’s ideas including his theory on generation…even though this theory was considered very controversial and atheistic. Smellie presented Buffon’s theory of generation- that living beings were made up of an organic matter that was molded by some inner force- with skepticism claiming that humans were still completely ignorant to the actual mechanisms of generation, however he was still able to spread Buffon’s ideas across a vast audience (Thoemmes).

Perhaps the greatest influence Buffon had on William Smellie was his routine of describing actual practices and activities of animals. It is a scheme which Smellie used whole-heartedly in The Philosophy of Natural History in which he lays out an observable scenario and draws conclusions from it. In reading Smellie’s work you get the feel of crouching with him on the forest floor observing the insect varieties or lying face up in the grass watching pigeons in the tree carry out their courtship rituals

As mentioned, William Smellie was both influenced by the atmosphere of science and medicine during the Scottish Enlightenment, and made his own impact. During this time, Edinburgh, the heart of the Scottish Enlightenment ruled the Western intellect. “As for Edinburgh, it was intoxicated with its own brilliance. ‘In the history of every polished nation,’ a correspondent wrote to The Scots Magazine in July 1763, ‘there is always one period at least to be found, which is crouded with men of genius in every art and science…I have great reason to congratulate the present generation of my countrymen for enjoying the same blessing’” (Buchan, 3).

Science and medicine during this time played many roles ranging from implementing changes in college curriculum, to creating interest among public sectors, and inspiring interest in the ‘science of man’ (Broadie, 95).

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