Herbert Spencer – Founder of Social Darwinism and Synthetic Philosophy

Herbert Spencer

(27 April 1820, Derby, Derbyshire, England – 8 December 1903, Brighton, Sussex, England) (aged 83)
Nationality: United Kingdom
Category: Scientists
Occupation: Sociologists, Philosophers, Psychologists
Specification: Associative psychology
Unique distinction: The founder of the System of Synthetic Philosophy and theory of  Social Darwinism,  Polymath and one of the leading English radical individualists.
Gender: Male

1. The pursuit of individual happiness within those limits prescribed by social conditions, is the first requisite to the attainment of the greatest general happiness.
2. The great aim of education is not knowledge but action.
3. Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity…It is a part of nature.
4. Science is organized knowledge.
5. Be bold, be bold, and everywhere be bold.
6. Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect.
7. In the supremacy of self-control consists one of the perfections of the ideal man. The primary use of knowledge is for such guidance of conduct under all circumstances as shall make living complete. All other uses of knowledge are secondary.

Achievements and contributions:

Social and professional position: British philosopher, sociologist and psychologist.
The main contribution to (Best known for): Spenser was the founder of the System of Synthetic Philosophy and theory of  Social Darwinism, utilitarian moral theory, conception of social and biological evolution, ideas of individualism and laissez-faire economics.
Contributions: Herbert Spencer was a British philosopher, sociologist and psychologist, a prominent liberal political theorist of the nineteenth century in the Victorian era.
As a polymath, he contributed to a wide range of subjects, including ethics, religion, economics, politics, philosophy, biology, sociology, and psychology.
Spencer was also responsible for attempting to adapt Darwin’s theories to human society, known as Social Darwinism. Like Comte, Spencer ordered the sciences, also seeking to include sociology as a science.
He is best known for coining the phrase “survival of the fittest,” which he did in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species.
This term strongly suggests natural selection, yet as Spencer extended evolution into realms of sociology and ethics, he made use of Lamarckism rather than natural selection. Thus, unlike Darwin, for whom evolution was without direction or morality, Spencer, believed evolution to be both progressive and good.
Spencer developed an all-embracing conception of evolution as the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms, the human mind, and human culture and societies.
Spencer was initially best known for developing and applying evolutionary theory to philosophy, psychology and the study of society — what he called his “synthetic philosophy”.
In 1857 he began to plan a vast system of philosophy, which, after Darwin’s publication of the Origin of Species in 1859, turned into a scheme for a synthesis of the whole of scientific knowledge based upon the principles of evolution
His System of Synthetic Philosophy,   in 10  vol. (1855 – 1896), held that the physical, organic, and social realms are interconnected and develop according to identical evolutionary principles, a scheme suggested by the evolution of biological species.
Thus sociocultural evolution as well amounted to, in Spencer’s phrase, “the survival of the fittest.”
Spencer – the founder of the “organic school” in sociology. Society, from his point of view – is an evolving organism, like a living organism, which is considered in biological science.
He developed concepts of the social organism, laissez-faire economics, political individualism, and a utilitarian ethic based on hedonism.
Spencer protects such individual rights as the security of person, freedom of movement, freedom of conscience, speech, press, etc. However, despite his liberal views, Spencer was against granting political rights to women.
He published Education in 1861, advocating a child-centred approach and emphasizing the importance of science. He advocated the natural development of intelligence, the creation of pleasurable interest, and the importance of science in the curriculum.
By the 1870s he had become the most famous philosopher of the age. His works were widely read during his lifetime, and by 1869 he was able to support himself solely on the profit of books.
His works were translated into German, Italian, Spanish, French, Russian, Japanese and Chinese, and into many other languages and he was offered honours and awards all over Europe and North America.
During his visit to the United States, he enjoyed great success. His philosophy that justifies the survival of the fittest and individual rights was congenial to the Americans.
At the heart of Spencer’s philosophy is the principle of individualism, clearly outlined in the “Principles of Ethics”:
Spencer’s Principles of Ethics “Every individual has the freedom to do as he wills as long as he does not infringe upon the equal freedom of any other person”.
Major works: “Social Statics” (1851), The Principles of Psychology (in one volume – 1855, in 2 volumes – 1870-1872),  “System of Synthetic Philosophy” (1855 – 96), First Principles (1862) The Principles of Biology ( 1864-67) The Principles of Sociology ( 1876-96) The Principles of Ethics (2 vol.1879-93), Autobiography (2 vol., 1904).

Career and personal life:

Origin: Herbert Spencer was born in Derby, England, on 27 April 1820.  Spencer’s father William George Spencer was a religious dissenter who drifted from Methodism to Quakerism and was a schoolteacher of radical and dissenting views.
Education: Spencer was educated in empirical science by his father and his uncle.
Career highlights: Herbert declined an offer from his uncle, the Reverend Thomas Spencer, to send him to Cambridge, and so was practically self-taught. Spencer was educated in empirical science by his father, while the members of the Derby Philosophical Society introduced him to pre-Darwinian concepts of biological evolution, particularly those of Erasmus Darwin and Jean-Baptiste Lamarck.
His uncle completed Spencer’s limited formal education by teaching him some mathematics and physics, and enough Latin.
During 1837-46 Spencer was employed as an engineer on the London & Birmingham railway.
In 1848, at the age of 28, he moved to London, where he was a sub-editor at The Economist a London weekly committed to free trade and laissez-faire.
There he wrote his first major book, Social Statics (1851), which tried to establish a natural basis for political action and allowed the state only the minimum of defence and police functions.
Spencer visited the United States in 1882 and was much impressed by what he observed on a triumphal tour.
Spencer spent his last years continuing his work and avoiding the honours and positions that were offered to him by a long list of colleges and universities.
Personal life: Spenser described his childhood, in “An Autobiography” (1904), reflected the attitudes of a family which included religious nonconformists and social critics.
In 1853 upon the death of his uncle, Spencer received inheritance which allowed him to devote himself to science. He never married and had no children. He wrote:  «Marriage: a ceremony in which rings are put on the finger of the lady and through the nose of the gentleman» and «Only when Genius is married to Science can the highest results be produced».
During his visit to the United States, he became a close friend of the great industrialist and steel baron Andrew Carnegie.
He died at the age of 83 at Brighton on Dec. 8, 1903.
Remains: Buried, Highgate Cemetery East, London, England.
Zest: His early individualism is recorded in the story that, having been sent to school with an uncle in Somerset at the age of thirteen, he ran away, returning to Derby in three days, by walking 48 miles the first day, 47 the second, and about 20 the third, with little food and no sleep.
T. H. Huxley said that Spencer’s definition of a tragedy was a deduction killed by a fact; Carlyle called him a perfect vacuum, and James wondered why half of England wanted to bury him in Westminster Abbey and talked of the ‘hurdy-gurdy monotony of him…his whole system wooden, as if knocked together out of cracked hemlock boards’ His Autobiography completed in 1889 spreads to over 400,000 words.