The ideas of W. M. Davis have formed a part of the education of most American and British geomorphologists, but the conceptual framework within which they were developed has rarely been properly explored. In this paper the origins of Davis’s cycle of erosion are discussed in the context of the neo-lamarckian evolutionary ideas that were then prevalent in America. In particular, it is not generally acknowledged that Davis’s ideas of landscape evolution were not formed in the context the Darwinian interpretation, but rather, were formulated in the context of a neo-Lamarckian interpretation, which was the dominant one held in the America of his time. Important within the neo-Lamarckian interpretation of evolution was the idea of recapitulation. After introducing the ideas underlying American neo-Lamarckianism, this paper explores the writings of Davis to demonstrate how these ideas informed his interpretation of landscape evolution.