If we talk about evolution, probably the first name that comes to mind is Charles Darwin. However Darwin was not the only great author who worked on this aspect , there are other authors with a different consideration of the evolution of species and even served as inspiration.

The most outstanding of all, despite the fact that with the passage of time his ideas became obsolete and lost popularity in favor of other theories with greater scientific support, is Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.

This man, one of the first pioneers in separating the development of species from faith, the father of the term biology as we know it, is the author of one of the first truly coherent and integrated evolutionary theories. Understanding his life can help us greatly to value his thought, which is why throughout this article we will outline a brief biography of Lamarck , as well as his scientific legacy.

Short biography of Jean-Baptiste Lamarck

Jean-Baptiste Pierre Antoine de Monet cavaliere di Lamarck, better known as Lamarck, was born in the village of Bazentin (in the region of Picardy, Somme) on August 1, 1744. Son of Philippe Jacques de Monet de La Marck and Marie-Françoise de Fontaines de Chuignolles, he was the eleventh son of a noble family dedicated to the military .

His father decided to enroll young Lamarck in a Jesuit seminary in order to dedicate his life to the priesthood. The young man would remain with them and would receive an education and formation in different subjects within the ecclesiastical career. However, when his father died in 1759, Lamarck decided to give up the habit and join the military.

Military service and further studies

When he turned seventeen in 1761, he bought a horse and joined the army. His military career was short but intense, being promoted to officer during his first year in the army and participating in the Seven Years’ War. He even became a knight. However, in 1768 he suffered a significant injury to his neck which, after generating scrofula (an infection in the ganglia of the neck that generates great inflammation) would force him to end his military career.

He moved to Paris, where he would initially live off the pension and from his father’s inheritance with his brother Philippe François. There he began to study music, but finally decided to work as an accountant.

After that he decided to enter medical school for four years , a period in which he would also receive training in what would become one of his great passions: botany. It was in this and the natural sciences that he would show the greatest interest, specialising in their study and participating in the herbalism studied by Jean-Jacques Rousseau.

Botany and the rise of its prestige

Such was his interest that he carried out important research based on the observation of plants, inventing in the process the so-called dichotomous method in order to classify in a systematized way the flora of France. This work would be published in 1779 under the name “Flore françois”, thanks to Count Georges Louis Buffon. With time and largely thanks to the popularity achieved by this publication he was appointed to the Academy of Sciences .

Lamarck was contacted by Buffon in 1780 to lead a mission in Europe to increase the botanical collection of the Jardin du Roi (King’s Garden), which he successfully accomplished. The author worked as a botanist in the garden until 1793 in the so-called Jardin du Roi (of the King). At this time he married Marie Annie Rosalie Delaforte, with whom he had five children and who unfortunately died in 1792.

That same garden, with the arrival of the French Revolution and largely thanks to its influence, would be transformed into the National Museum of Natural History . There, he would be appointed by the Committee of Public Instruction as Director or Professor of the department of lower animals.

This department was in charge of the study of insects and other animals that today we call invertebrates. In fact this same concept was created by him to define the animals that do not have vertebrae: throughout his studies he would elaborate the main subdivisions that still exist today.

In addition, also coined the term biology to identify the science that studies living beings . That year 1793 he would also marry for the second time, this time with Victoire Charlotte Reverdy, with whom he would have two more children. However, this second wife died a few years later, in 1797. A year later he would marry Julie Mallet for the third time.

In addition to starting to teach, during this period he would produce what would become one of his most renowned works, the “Natural History of Invertebrates”, which would consist of various volumes that were produced between 1815 and 1822. And in the studies that he carried out during this period we find the germ that would end up producing his theory of evolution.

His work in meteorology

Another branch in which he started working was meteorology , being a pioneer in valuing that it was possible to predict the weather through probabilistic methods. In this field he believed that understanding what generates atmospheric alterations allows the behaviour of the climate to be predicted with a certain degree of accuracy.

Some of the possible causes of the atmospheric phenomena he proposed were the influence of the Sun and the Moon, as well as the Earth’s rotation. However, in this sense he published several Meteorological Yearbooks, in which various errors were found and which are in fact considered his least accurate works. It was then that he would begin to suffer a certain amount of discredit.


Although initially Lamarck considered that living beings did not suffer any change, with time and research he embraced the idea that in reality there was an evolutionary process : living beings have not been created and remain unchanged but have been varying from simpler beings that preceded them.

I would also consider that the organs and characteristics of the different beings become atrophied or develop according to their use, and that the characteristics acquired by the ancestral organisms that are useful are transmitted to their descendants (the best known example being the neck of giraffes). It considers that it is habit and necessity that causes organisms to be modified.

His ideas on evolution and the inheritance of acquired characteristics were published in Zoological Philosophy , which is the first theoretical body that brings together the knowledge of the time regarding evolution. This document was and continues to be of great historical relevance, allowing for debate at a time when biology was still strongly associated with creationism.

Fall from grace, last years and death

However, it also caused him suffering: he offered a copy to Napoleon Bonaparte, who would refuse it in public. Moreover, at this stage his health began to decline, and he also had several conflicts and disputes with various authors that gradually diminished his prestige: he criticised Lavoisier’s work on the functioning of fluids , his works were accused of being unscientific and biased, and it was said that he overestimated his arguments.

He also made a deep quarrel with the biologist Georges Cuvier, who was very well regarded by the public and who started from a more empirical and experimental basis, describing Lamarck’s theories as a nonsense.

Unfortunately for Lamarck, over the years his many contributions to evolution have fallen into disrepute . From 1819 onwards he became blind, in fact having to dictate some of his works to his daughters. In addition, his third wife, Julius Maillet, died during this period. All this, together with the collapse of the author’s little prestige, caused him to become poorer and sicker.

His last years of life were spent in the care of his daughters, ignored and with hardly any recognition. He died on December 18, 1829, at the age of 85, in Paris.

Despite the fact that Lamarck’s theory of evolution has been outdated and surpassed by Darwin’s and that in the last years of his life it was discredited and ignored, with the passage of time his ideas have been seen as an important advance in the scientific knowledge of the time in which he lived and has served as the basis for multiple theories. Furthermore, although he is not as well known, his concepts and classifications are those of invertebrates, or the term biology, as well as contributing greatly to the development of both botany and zoology.

Bibliographic references:

  • Dawkins, R. (1986). The Blind Watchmaker. Barcelona: Editorial Labor.
  • Harris, L. (1981). Evolution. Genesis and Revelations. Barcelona: Hermann Blume Ediciones.