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19th Century Philosophers

Go BackHerbert Spencer 1820 - 1903
Social Darwinist; Father of Sociology

 

According to the The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, Herbert Spencer is considered to be the father of Sociology and a memorable proponent of an evolutionary rationalism for social and moral cultural progress.

Spencer is today remembered primarily as the enthusiast for extreme laissez-faire or Social Darwinism, and the classic exemplar of the naturalistic fallacy as he attempted to derive the force of morality from the fact and course of evolution. In this day, however, he was far more popular as the prophet of progress, claiming that nature tends always towards equilibrium and that this sparks an upward evolutionary move from homogeneity to heterogeneity. (The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, pg. 844)

Online Resources

 

Herbert Spencer -- Encarta Biography (Archived)

Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903), British social philosopher, often regarded as one of the first sociologists. He was born in Derby, England. In 1851 Spencer published Social Statics, a work in which he stressed the importance of individual freedom and the inevitability of human progress...

Herbert Spencer (Archived)

Excerpt:  

In the real world, whether in nature or in society, every man is not free to do that which he wills even provided he infringes not he equal freedom of any other man. That's just the way things are in the real world. Equal freedom is not an aspect nature or even of society as it is in reality , resembling nature with respect to force and deception differing only in that the animals involved are of the human species, but of society as it ought to be in the opinion Herbert Spencer. The Law of Equal Freedom is not a natural law but a moral law.

The Development of Herbert Spencer's Concept of Evolution (Archived)

Essay by Robert M. Young

Excerpt:

The scientific controversies surrounding the theory of evolution in the nineteenth century were primarily concerned with the interpretation of the geological, paleontological, and biological evidence. The public debate, on the other hand, centered above all on man's place in nature and the implications of evolution for the immortal soul, the mind, and it organ, the brain. It is somewhat surprising to find that the writings of historians and indeed of Darwin himself fail to pay close attention to the effects of the theory of evolution on the study of mind and brain. If we do turn our attention directly to this topic, we find that the major nineteenth century figures are Herbert Spencer, John Hughlings Jackson, and George J. Romanes. In this brief paper I want to confine my attention to the development and influence of Spencer's concept of evolution. Unlike Darwin, Spencer was never much of an observer or indeed a reader, and his independent formulation of a theory of evolution developed from his speculations in social theory and psychology. The idea of evolution itself was not, of course, original. He was converted to a belief in the so-called "development hypothesis" by reading Charles Lyell, whose supposed refutation of Lamarck led Spencer to the opposite conclusion. Spencer also took part in the debates surrounding the anonymous Vestiges of the Natural History of Creation (1844) and discussed this book with T. H. Huxley, who later said of the period 1851—1858, "...the only person known to me whose knowledge and capacity compelled respect, and who was, at the same time, a through-going evolutionist, was Mr. Herbert Spencer...

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