Georges Cuvier

French naturalist, zoologist and paleontologist (1769–1832)
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Baron Georges Léopold Chrétien Frédéric Dagobert Cuvier (August 23, 1769May 13, 1832) was a French naturalist and zoologist, sometimes referred to as the "founding father of paleontology". Cuvier was a major figure in natural sciences research in the early 19th century and was instrumental in establishing the fields of comparative anatomy and paleontology through his work in comparing living animals with fossils.

It is evident that one cannot say anything demonstrable about the problem before having resolved these preliminary questions, and yet we hardly possess the necessary information to solve some of them.

Cuvier's work is considered the foundation of vertebrate paleontology, and he expanded Linnaean taxonomy by grouping classes into phyla and incorporating both fossils and living species into the classification. Cuvier is also known for establishing extinction as a fact—at the time, extinction was considered by many of Cuvier's contemporaries to be merely controversial speculation. In his Essay on the Theory of the Earth (1813) Cuvier proposed that now-extinct species had been wiped out by periodic catastrophic flooding events. In this way, Cuvier became the most influential proponent of catastrophism in geology in the early 19th century. His most famous work is the Le Règne Animal (1817; translated into English as The Animal Kingdom).


  • Why has not anyone seen that fossils alone gave birth to a theory about the formation of the earth, that without them, no one would have ever dreamed that there were successive epochs in the formation of the globe.
    • as quoted from "Discourse on the Revolutionary Upheavals on the Surface of the Earth".
  • It is evident that one cannot say anything demonstrable about the problem before having resolved these preliminary questions, and yet we hardly possess the necessary information to solve some of them.
    • as stated in 1796 before the National Institute of Sciences and Arts in Paris, concerning fossil elephants.
  • To spread healthy ideas among even the lowest classes of people, to remove men from the influence of prejudice and passion, to make reason the arbiter and supreme guide of public opinion; that is the essential goal of the sciences; that is how science will contribute to the advancement of civilization, and that is what deserves protection of governments who want to insure the stability of their power.
  • The works which this man leaves behind him occupy a few pages only; their importance is not greatly superior to their extent.
    • about the writings of Joseph Banks. as stated in "Cavendish: The Experimental Life" on page 461, by Christa Jungnickel and Russell McCormmach, published in 1999.
  • The natural food of man, judging from his structure, appears to consist of the fruits, roots, and other succulent parts of vegetables.

Quotes about Cuvier

  • Georges Cuvier was a great naturalist from the beginning of the 19th century, so right around 1800, and he was the first person to really say organisms go extinct...And Georges Cuvier came along and said, you know, really, essentially, if they’re out there, we would have seen them. We haven’t seen them: They’re gone. And he posited this whole lost world, which he then proceeded to start to uncover. So a lot of the animal names that we have now—for example, pterodactyl—he came up with. He was the first person to identify a pterodactyl. And his theory was that animals only went extinct in these catastrophic waves—you know, something happened, the planet changed; otherwise, why else would they go extinct? And then a naturalist named Charles Lyell, who was Charles Darwin’s mentor, came along, and he said, “That’s ridiculous. You know, we never see these catastrophes. They don’t happen. Only—the only way the Earth changes is very, very, very gradually, and things go extinct very gradually, and the world changes very gradually.” And that became sort of the doctrine for a very long time, over a hundred years, until the Alvarezes came along and identified an asteroid impact as the event that had done in the dinosaurs—and many other creatures, I should say.
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