Herbert Spencer

Ideas

– ‘Life under all its forms has arisen by a progressive, unbroken evolution.’

– The law of evolution provides a philosophical generalization capable of scientifically explaining all phenomena.

– Evolution is change from an incoherent homogeneity to a coherent heterogeneity.

– As organisms increase in size, they increase in structure, and the progressive differentiation of structure is accompanied by the progressive differentiation of function.

– Evolution establishes definitely connected differences; specialization produces interdependence.

– Culture change is better explained in terms of sociocultural forces than as a result of the actions of great men.

– Artificially protecting the weak prevents adaptations that would result in the ‘organic’ improvement of the human race.

Biography

Herbert Spencer was a British philosopher, born in Derby on April 27, 1820. His father was a school teacher and Herbert was the only child of his parents to live beyond early childhood. His early interests were science, natural history, physics and chemistry. At the age of 16, he completed his formal education and was an Assistant Schoolmaster. Later he became a railroad engineer working for nine years for the London and Birmingham Railway. He gained a reputation as a philosopher, but later scientists proved many of his theories wrong.

In 1852, Herbert Spencer wrote an article defending the theory of biological evolution, a full seven years before Charles Darwin published Origin of Species. His view of evolution encompassed all of nature, the biological model being the basis for understanding the social model. It was Spencer who first used such terms as “system,” “function,” and “structure.”

He is noted for his attempt to work out a philosophy based on scientific discoveries of his day, which could be applied to all subjects. In Programme of a System of Synthetic Philosophy (1862–1896), he applied his fundamental law, the idea of evolution (gradual development) to biology, psychology, sociology, and other fields.

In his work on biology, he traced evolutionary development from its lowest forms to human beings. He believed that the law of nature is a constant action of forces which tend to change all forms from simple to complex. He also explained that the human mind evolved in this same way, from simple automatic responses to the reasoning process used by human beings.

Spencer most resembled the eighteenth century philosophers in his attempt to apply the implications of science to social thought and action. He felt that the ultimate result of universal evolution was “equilibration” or the achievement of a state of perfect equilibrium, whether it was in the development of an animal organism or within human society. In an organism, the equilibrium was represented by decay and death, where development ended. However, in a society, this process ended with the establishment of perfection and happiness.

Major Works of Herbert Spencer

– Social Statics (1850)
– The Principles of Psychology (1855)
– Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1861)
– First Principles (1862)
– The Principles of Biology (2 volumes) (1864, 1867) – The Study of Sociology (1873)
– Descriptive Sociology (1874)
– The Principles of Sociology (1879-1897)
– The Principles of Ethics (1879-1893)
– The Man Versus the State (1884)
– An Autobiography (1904)

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