Today is the birthday of Charles Darwin (1809-1882), the Victorian naturalist known for the theory of evolution. From 1831-1836 Darwin sailed aboard the HMS Beagle to the Galapagos Islands and the coast of South America. Based on the observations he made on this five year trip, Darwin published, in 1859, the single most influential book of the nineteenth century, On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or Preservation of Favored Races in the Struggle for Life. Darwin’s work not only revolutionized science, especially the fields of biology and anthropology, but it also sparked furious philosophical, religious, and ethical debates–debates which continue even today.
After his five-year voyage, Darwin returned home to an intense internal debate, not about issues of science but issues of matrimony. Having fallen in love with his first cousin Emma Wedgwood, Darwin contemplated whether or not to pop the question. Being a scientist, he approached the matter in a rational and methodical manner, sitting down and writing out a list of pros and cons.
Under the heading “Marry” some of the notable arguments for having a wife were “Constant companion . . . better than a dog” and “someone to take care of house.” As for the cons, under the “Not Marry” heading, he listed, “Less money for books” and “cannot read in the evenings.” Despite the fact the Darwin’s “Not Marry” column included more reasons than his “Marry” column, we know that in the end he decided to marry. He and Emma were married on January 29, 1839. They had ten children and remained married until Charles died in 1882 (1).
Of course Darwin was not the first to use the pros and cons method of decision making. It dates back to Roman times. Pros and cons is derived from the Latin pro et contra, which translates into English as “for and against.” Another noted man of science who advocated the pro et contra method was Benjamin Franklin. He wrote a letter to a friend on September 19, 1772 in which he praised this rational method of putting your thoughts on paper:
And tho’ the Weight of Reasons cannot be taken with the Precision of Algebraic Quantities, yet when each is thus considered separately and comparatively, and the whole lies before me, I think I can judge better, and am less likely to take a rash Step; and in fact I have found great Advantage from this kind of Equation, in what may be called Moral or Prudential Algebra. (2)
Today’s Challenge: Decisions, Decisions
What are some of life’s majors decisions that require the kind of careful thought and deliberation that require a pros and cons list? Create your own pros and cons list based on an important life decision that you might make in the future. Force yourself to go beyond your own biases by trying to create a list that has a balanced proportion of pros and cons. With Valentine’s Day drawing near, for example, you might consider whether or not to pursue a relationship with a significant other. Below are some other examples of crucial life decisions:
Go to College/Don’t Go to College
Own a Pet/Don’t Own a Pet
Buy a Home/Rent a Home or Apartment
Buy a New Car/Lease or Buy a Used Car
Have Children/Don’t Have Children
Work for a Company/Be Self-Employed
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Quick decisions are unsafe decisions. -Sophocles