John Fiske (1842 - 1901), born Edmund Fisk Green, was an American philosopher and historian. He was born at Hartford, Conn., March 30, 1842. On the second marriage of his mother (1855) he assumed the name of his maternal great-grandfather, John Fiske. As a child, he exhibited remarkable precocity. He was graduated at Harvard College in 1863 and at the Harvard Law School in 1865.
He practiced as a lawyer for a brief interval, before dedicating himself to popularisation and philosophical interpretation of Darwin's work and producing many books and essays on this subject. In a letter from Charles Darwin to John Fiske, dated from 1874, the great naturalist remarks: "I never in my life read so lucid an expositor (and therefore thinker) as you are."
His philosophy was influenced by Herbert Spencer's views on evolution.
Incidentally, nineteenth-century enthusiasm for brain size as a simple measure of human performance, championed by some remarkably astute scientists (including Darwin's cousin Francis Galton and the French neurologist Paul Broca) led Fiske to believe in the racial superiority of the "Anglo-Saxon race". However, there are no good grounds to consider Fiske a genuine racist or Social Darwinist. In his book "The Destiny of Man" (1884), he devotes a whole chapter to the "End of the working of natural selection upon man", describing it as "a fact of unparalleled grandeur." In his view, "the action of natural selection upon Man has [...] been essentially diminished through the operation of social conditions."
In books such as Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (ISBN 0-384-15780-7), Fiske aimed to show that "in reality there has never been any conflict between religion and science, nor is any reconciliation called for where harmony has always existed." Fiske was a popular lecturer on these topics in his early career. Later he turned to historical writings, publishing books such as The Discovery of America (1892, ISBN 1-932080-42-2). In addition, he edited, with Gen. James Grant Wilson, Appleton's Cyclopœdia of American Biography (1887). He died, worn out by overwork, at Gloucester, Mass., July 4, 1901.
- Myths and Myth Makers (1872)
- Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy (1874)
- The Unseen World (1876)
- Darwinism and Other Essays (1879; revised and enlarged, 1885)
- Excursions of an Evolutionist (1883)
- The Destiny of Man Viewed in the Light of his Origin (1884)
- The Idea of God as Affected by modern Knowledge (1885)
- Origin of Evil (1899)
- A Century of Science and Other Essays (1899)
- Through Nature to God (1899)
- The Mississippi Valley in the Civil War (1900)
- Life Everlasting (1901)
- American Political Ideas Viewed from the Standpoint of Universal History (1885)
- The Critical Period of American History, 1783-89 (1888)
- The Beginnings of New England (1889)
- The War of Independence, a book for young people (1889)
- Civil Government of the United States (1890)
- The American Revolution (two volumes, 1891)
- The Discovery of America (two volumes, 1892)
- A United States History for Schools (1895)
- Old Virginia and her Neighbors (two volumes, 1897)
- Dutch and Quaker Colonies in America (two volumes, 1899)
- Essays, Literary and Historical (1902)
- New France and New England (1902)
- A collection of his historical works appeared in 1912 as Historical Works (Popular Edition). It is in eleven volumes.
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