It was Richard Dawkins who gave us, in his 1976 book The Selfish Gene, the idea of the “meme”. The concept, by replicating itself into millions of human minds, has turned out to be a robustly successful meme in its own right — and Professor Dawkins is rightly credited with setting it loose in the wild.
I was surprised, therefore, to see that another Englishman — the Victorian author Samuel Butler — seems to have beaten Dawkins to the punch by a century or so. Yesterday I ran across this quote:
Opinions have vested interests just as men have.
The word “interests” is of particular relevance here, as it shows Mr. Butler taking the “intentional stance” toward ideas themselves. As I’ve stressed often (see here, here and here, for example) it is only by understanding replicators as things that can be seen as having “interests” that we can arrive at naturalistic accounts of intentionality and a Darwinian grounding for the notion of “design“.
I don’t know if anyone else has noticed this connection — a Google search of the quote together with “meme” turned up nothing — but I think Samuel Butler was perhaps the first carrier of the “meme” meme.