Georges Cuvier

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Wikipedia.
Related to Georges Cuvier: Charles Lyell

Cuvier, Georges


Born Aug. 23, 1769, in Montbéliard, Alsace; died May 13, 1832, in Paris. French zoologist; a reformer of comparative anatomy, paleontology, and animal taxonomy and one of the first historians of the natural sciences. Member (1795) and permanent secretary (1803) of the Paris Academy of Sciences; member of the French Academy (1818).

Cuvier graduated from the Academy of Stuttgart in 1788. He occupied a number of government posts under Napoleon I, the Restoration, and the July Monarchy. In 1820 he was made a baron and in 1831 a peer of France. He founded the natural sciences department of the University of Paris. He organized a number of universities and lycées in France and in certain Italian and Dutch cities annexed by it and introduced instruction in the natural sciences to the secondary schools.

In 1812, proceeding from the structural features of the nervous system, Cuvier formulated a theory of four branches or phyla, of animal organization—Vertebrata, Articulata, Mollusca, and Radiata— among which, however, he did not acknowledge any connections or transitions. Within the Vertebrata, Cuvier distinguished four classes: mammals, birds, amphibians (together with reptiles), and fish. He described a large number of fossil forms (Paleotherium, Anaplotherium, An-thracotherium) and associated many of them (Ichthyosauria, Plesiosauria, Megalosauridae, Pterosauria) with particular strata of the earth’s crust. He proposed that the age of geological strata could be determined by the fossil remains they contained, and vice versa. On the basis of the principles of the correlation of organs and functional correlation, he elaborated a method of reconstructing extinct forms from no more than a few preserved fragments of a skeleton.

Cuvier successfully used and developed the comparative-anatomical method in his investigations. However, attributing a static character to the correlations he described and considering them to be evidence of the permanence of organs, he was led in a number of instances to erroneous conclusions. Defending the religious notions of creation, the immutability of species, and the absence of transitional forms between different types of organization (creationism), Cuvier advanced a theory of catastrophes to explain the changes in flora and fauna observed in successive geological strata. According to this theory, all living things were periodically destroyed as a result of natural disasters over extensive parts of the globe. The surface of these areas would then be settled by new forms from other places.

Cuvier completely rejected the theory of Lamarck on the mutability of living things and the position of E. Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire on the unity of animal organization. He spoke out most sharply against these views in a famous discussion with Saint-Hilaire in 1830 at the Paris Academy of Sciences.

Cuvier’s methods, as well as his enormous amount of factual data on comparative anatomy and paleontology, which he brought together into a “natural” system, served as a basis for the subsequent development of zoology and paleontology. Although Cuvier himself rejected the evolutionary concepts of his time, the factual material he gathered served to substantiate the concept of the evolution of living things.


“Sur un nouveau rapprochement à établir entre les classes qui composent le règne animal.” Annales du muséum d’Histoire Naturelle, 1812, vol. 19.
Le Règne animal distribué d’après son organisation, vols. 1–4. Paris, 1817.
Recherches sur les ossements fossiles des quadrupèdes, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1821–24.
Histoire naturelle des poissons, vols. 1–22. Paris, 1828–49. (Jointly with A. Valenciennes.)
Leçons d’anatomie comparée, 2nd ed., vols. 1–8. Paris, 1835–46.
Histoire des sciences naturelles, depuis leur origine jusqu’à nos jours chez tous les peuples connus, vols. 1–5. Paris, 1841–45.
In Russian translation:
Rassuzhdenie o perevorotakh na poverkhnosti zemnogo shara. Moscow-Leningrad, 1937.


Gremiatskii, M. Kiuv’e Zh. (1769–1832): Ocherk o zhizni i nauchnoi deiatel’nosti. Moscow, 1933.
Amlinskii, I. E. Zhoffrua Sent-Iler i ego bor’ba protiv Kiuv’e. Moscow, 1955.
Kanaev, I. I. Ocherki iz istorii sravnitel’noi anatomii do Darvina. Moscow-Leningrad, 1963. Chapter 13.
Coleman, W. Georges Cuvier, Zoologist. Cambridge, 1964.
Dujarric de la Rivière. Cuvier, sa vie, son oeuvre. Paris, 1969.
Bicentenaire de la naissance de Georges Cuvier. Montbéliard, 1969.


References in periodicals archive ?
These works include the role and significance of a profoundly important group of geological artifacts, namely fossils, that are employed routinely in geohistorical reconstruction (The Meaning of Fossils (6)); the establishment of one of the major units of the geological timescale, namely, the Devonian System and Period, named after Devonshire on the south coast of England (The Great Devonian Controversy (7)); a critical component in communicating the results of geohistorical reconstruction, namely, the use of illustrations of life forms from the ancient past (Scenes from Deep Time (8)); and studies of some of the significant geological texts produced by one of the major participants in the emergence of geohistorical thinking, namely, the great French vertebrate anatomist Georges Cuvier.
He begins the narrative with Georges Cuvier, the great French anatomist who founded the science of vertebrate paleontology.
Georges Cuvier publishes studies of mammoth and Indian elephant anatomy.
Rudwick's 1997 survey of Cuvier's intellectual development, Georges Cuvier, Fossil Bones, and Geological Catastrophes can be helpful here), and his musings during a time of terror on the end-time dreamings of a creature on the road to its own extinction, remain fertile ground for future study.
Parks overshadows white male complicity in Baartman's death by framing the scenario around Baartman's illness and death as an uncaused misfortune, even implicating Baartman, "a shameless sinner," rather than Georges Cuvier, Alexander Dunlop, Lord Ellenborough, Peter Cezar, and Hendrick Cezar, et al.
French anatomist Georges Cuvier dissected Baartman upon her death in 1815.
In fact, Fuller urges ID theorists to reclaim the tradition stretching from Carolus Linneaus through Georges Cuvier to Gregor Mendel--all "special creationists" whose scientific theories were inspired by their theological conviction that human beings saw themselves as made in the image of God and thus had the capacity both to understand nature and to transform it for human purposes.
Geologists of the 18th century, such as Charles Lyell and Georges Cuvier, discovered fossils that hinted at the antiquity of Earth.
Among the truly monstrous were the leading scientists of the day, who sought to feed a rabid racism, such as the distinguished anatomist, Baron Georges Cuvier, who dissected Sarah's body after her death.
This book traces the 200-year history of evolutionary thought from its beginnings in the minds of 18th-century naturalist Georges Cuvier and geologist Charles Lyell.
In 1815, three of France's leading scholars - Geffroy St Hillaire, Henri de Blainville and Baron Georges Cuvier (surgeon general of Napoleon Bonaparte) -- set about obtaining (this being the Age of Reason) "scientific" proof that black women were more primitive and sexually ardent than their white counterparts, at the Musee de l'Homme,
But to historians of science, it evokes memories of one of the greatest scientific debates of all time--the clash between eminent French zoologists Etienne Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire and Georges Cuvier.