Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, political theorist, and contributor to the disciplines of ethics, metaphysics, religion, politics, rhetoric, biology, and psychology. He was known as the Father of Social Darwinism because he coined the phrase survival of the fittest. Spencer argued that the impact of social policy on man must be studied; he promoted the rights of both women and children and believed that science and philosophy contributed to the development of individualism and progress.
Spencer’s Principles of Psychology (1855) established a theory of the mind that stressed that human intelligence developed as a response to the individual’s physical environment. With the support of Thomas Huxley, Spencer was able to publish his theories of evolution and the laws of progress, which in turn influenced Charles Darwin. According to Spencer, evolution is lifelong as matter is refined into increasingly complex and coherent forms. His views on social justice advocated individual responsibility for actions and behavior and the right of each person to do as he or she wished as long as it did not harm the rights of others.
Some of Spencer’s beliefs were manipulated by conservative politicians, libertarians, and social theorists. For example, he meant the phrase survival of the fittest to reflect man against a changing environment, not against his own kind. The frequency and variety of his writings would later influence a number of prominent authors, including George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Leo Tolstoy, D. H. Lawrence, Jack London, and H. G. Wells. Herbert Spencer’s System of Synthetic Philosophy includes First Principles and volumes on the principles of biology, psychology, sociology, and ethics. Published posthumously was his Autobiography (1904).
- Carneiro, R. L. (1967). The evolution of society: Selections from Herbert Spencer’s Principles of Sociology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
- Kennedy, J. G. (1978). Herbert Spencer. Boston: G. K. Hall.
- Wiltshire, D. (1978). The social and political thought of Herbert Spencer. New York: Oxford University Press.
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