James Mark Baldwin, the Baldwin Effect, Organic Selection, and the American “Immigrant Crisis” at the Turn of the Twentieth Century

  • Christopher D. GreenEmail author
Part of the History, Philosophy and Theory of the Life Sciences book series (HPTL, volume 4)


The “Baldwin Effect,” named after the turn-of-the-twentieth-century American psychologist James Mark Baldwin, has experienced a revival over the last few decades, driven primarily by some cognitive scientists who think it might be able to solve problems related to the evolution of consciousness. Baldwin’s own interests when he developed the theory, which he called “organic selection,” were somewhat different from those of modern cognitivists, and his social context was enormously different. This chapter aims to recover the social challenges of Baldwin’s time and explore how they might have been related to his proposal. Chief among these challenges was the widespread perception in the United States that the massive immigrant slums in New York and other cities posed a kind of existential threat to the American way of life. This perception, in turn, led to a number of radical and disturbing eugenic proposals for meeting the “immigrant problem.” It is suggested here that, although Baldwin did not address the immigrant issue directly, it was in his mind as he developed his theory of “organic selection,” and also that it offered a way out of the crisis that many Americans thought they then faced.


Natural Selection Behavioral Plasticity Organic Selection Baldwin Effect Locus Classicus 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyYork UniversityTorontoCanada

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