Herbert Spencer

By: Faith Carraway


Herbert Spencer was born April 27, 1820 in Derby, England and died December 8, 1903 at the age of 83. Out of nine children Spencer was the eldest and the only one to survive through infancy. In his 20s he began to train as a railway engineer, however he soon abandoned that idea and decided on a writing career. Eventually he worked for The Economist financial weekly. Afterwards, Spencer began to write books; publishing his first book in 1851. In the last 20 years of Spencer's life his health deteriorated until his death in 1903.

10 Facts

1. Herbert Spencer coined the phrase "survival of the fittest", which means the strong will survive while the weak will eventually die off.

2. Known as the "Second Father of Sociology", Spencer based his philosophy after that of Charles Darwin - Social Darwinism. Social Darwinism is the idea of competition between humans, as well as plants and animals, in which the concept of natural selection takes over and only those who are stronger survive.

3. Social Statics, or the Conditions Essential to Human Happiness was Spencer's first published book (1851). The term "social statics" depicts the nature and characteristics of social order.

4. In his writings, Spencer often wrote about and defended radical causes, such as land nationalization, human freedom, and individual liberties.

5. In Spencer's nine-volume A System of Synthetic Philosophy he wrote of his views on biology, sociology, ethics, and politics. 'Synthetic philosophy' arranged data from various sciences according to the principles of Spencer's evolutionary theory.

6. Spencer believed that knowledge will consistently change. He viewed that since biological evolution will change/advance, the scientific knowledge we have will change too.

7. Spencer believed that all phenomenon could be explained by scientific evolution. This was the 'principle of continuity' that explains that because organisms are unstable, they evolve, becoming more complex.

8. The Lamarckian was included in Spencer's understanding of evolution. Unlike Darwin, Spemcer believed evolution relied on the environments influences on the organism (such as natural selection) to grow more complex instead of the organisms development.

9. Spencer believe humans have a natural instinct to pursue what would help them survive and that social life was "an extension of the natural body".

10. Spencer described that happiness differed in the individual. He believed that to overcome personal pain, a person needed a source of "good" in their lives. He considered happiness as an 'adaptation' that is naturally craved for.

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