Piers Hale

senior fellow
EURIAS cohort 2017/2018
discipline History of Science and Technology
Associate Professor in the History of Science, University of Oklahoma, Department of the History of Science, College of Arts and Sciences

Research project

The Science of Man, Mind and Morals in Victorian Britain


The EURIAS Fellowship will allow me to extend my historical investigation into the moral significance of evolution during the 19th century by focusing upon the debates about the metaphysical questions of mind, free will, and the existence (or not) of the soul. In my earlier work I have focused primarily upon the politics of 19th century evolutionary ideas; here, however, I will focus upon the history of the science of mind and morals. While my past and current projects establish a foundation from which to engage this topic, here I shall expand my research to include earlier conceptions of the natural history of mind and morals and take adequate account of the ways in which the work of German men of science and philosophers influenced subsequent debate in Britain.


My research will draw upon the work of established men of science as well as science popularisers and advocates of the popular and marginal sciences of phrenology, mesmerism and spiritualism. My initial findings indicate that this investigation will reveal not only that there were persistent attempts to find a place for accounts of the soul in the debates about mind, free will, and moral actions and sentiments, but that we need to take greater account of the influence of Germanic idealism and transcendental Naturphilosophie in the development of Victorian Science (and of physiology and psychology in particular) than we have done to date. This is clearly not a simple story of science displacing religion, but a story in which there was significant debate about scientific epistemology and the extent to which empiricist and experimental or idealist and intuitive accounts of scientific method might best account for the most human aspects of ourselves. The concept of soul, which was often expressive of religious sentiment in the context of mid-late 19th century British debate, was frequently grounded in conceptions that were indebted to both the earlier German Naturphilosophie and persistent vitalist traditions in biology.






Piers Hale is the Deisenroth Presidential Professor at the Department of the History of Science at the University of Oklahoma. He holds a Ph.D in History from Lancaster University. He is Fellow of the Linnean Society of London, and Fellow of the Geological Society of London.

Hale researches how the life sciences have shaped contemporary understandings of what it means to be human. From the 19th century to the present, ideas about our evolution and development have influenced debate about human nature, mind, morality and metaphysics. His historical perspective gives us valuable insight into these past and present concerns.



Selected publications


'Finding a Place for the Anti-Malthusian Tradition in the Victorian Evolution Debates', in R. Mayhew (ed.), New Perspectives on Malthus, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2016, pp. 182-207.


'Rejecting the Myth of the Non-Darwinian Revolution', Victorian Review, vol. 41, no. 2, 2015, pp. 13-18.

Political Descent: Malthus, Mutualism and the Politics of Evolution in Victorian England, Chicago University Press, Chicago, 2014.


'Monkeys into Men and Men into Monkeys: Chance and Contingency in the Evolution of Man,
Mind and Morals in Charles Kingsley’s Water Babies', Journal of the History of Biology, vol. 46, 2013, pp. 551-597.


Negotiating Boundaries, with J. Smith (eds), Victorian Science and Literature Series, Pickering and Chato, London, 2011.





senior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2016/2017
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Social Studies of Science and Technology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2018/2019
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Political Science
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2017/2018
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Social Anthropology
junior fellow
EURIAS promotion 2014/2015
Hanse-Wissenschaftskolleg Institute for Advanced Study (HWK)
discipline Cultural Studies