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19th century English philosopher
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    Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era.


    Herbert Spencer, by David Weinstein, Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 15 Dec 2002
    Major sections: Spencer's 'Liberal' Utilitarianism - Rational Versus Empirical Utilitarianism - Political Rights - Conclusion - Bibliography; last substantive revision 17 Jan 2017
    Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) is typically, though quite wrongly, considered a coarse social Darwinist. After all, Spencer, and not Darwin, coined the infamous expression 'survival of the fittest', leading G. E. Moore to conclude erroneously in Principia Ethica (1903) that Spencer committed the naturalistic fallacy. According to Moore, Spencer's practical reasoning was deeply flawed insofar as he purportedly conflated mere survivability (a natural property) with goodness itself (a non-natural property).
    Herbert Spencer (1820-1903), by William Sweet, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    Major sections: Life - Method - Human Nature - Religion - Moral Philosophy - Political Philosophy - Assessment - References and Further Reading
    British philosopher and sociologist, Herbert Spencer was a major figure in the intellectual life of the Victorian era. He was one of the principal proponents of evolutionary theory in the mid nineteenth century, and his reputation at the time rivaled that of Charles Darwin. 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' (see his A System of Synthetic Philosophy, 1862-93).
    Spencer, Herbert (1820-1903), by George H. Smith, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    Although Herbert Spencer has been rightly regarded as the most influential libertarian theoretician of the 19th century, he was much more than that. He also was a founding father of modern sociology, a pioneer in the theory of evolution—his theories were developed prior to those of Charles Darwin—an important figure in progressive education ... and a philosopher of distinction whose work ... gained the respect of J. S. Mill and other notable contemporaries. He was, moreover, an early proponent of the rights of children, of equal rights for women, and of other civil liberties ...


    27 Apr 1820, in Derby, Derbyshire, England


    8 Dec 1903, in Brighton, Sussex, England

    Web Pages

    Herbert Spencer |
    Links to essays, columns and other resources about Spencer
    Herbert Spencer - Online Library of Liberty
    Includes photo, short biography and links to timeline of Spencer's life and works, to various editions of his writings and to selected quotations
    Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was one of the leading 19th century English radical individualists. He began working as a journalist for the laissez-faire magazine The Economist in the 1850s. Much of the rest of his life was spent working on an all-encompassing theory of human development based upon the ideas of individualism, utilitarian moral theory, social and biological evolution, limited government, and laissez-faire economics.


    The Antimilitarist Libertarian Heritage, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 19 Sep 2014
    Reviews writings by Herbert Spencer, "Government Colonization" (in Social Statics (1851)) and "Patriotism" (in Facts and Comments (1902)), on the subjects of war, militarism, colonization and patriotism
    Herbert Spencer, the great English libertarian philosopher of the late 19th and early 20th century, eloquently expressed radical liberalism's antipathy to war and militarism. His writings are full of warnings about the dangers of war and conquest. Young Spencer saw and cheered the rise of the industrial type of society, which was displacing what he called the militant type ... We have a good deal to learn from the much-maligned Spencer ... Spencer was second to none in his antimilitarism and anti-imperialism, that is, his love of universal individual liberty and all forms of voluntary social cooperation.
    Auberon Herbert, Part 1, by Wendy McElroy, Freedom Daily, Feb 2011
    First part of biographical essay on Auberon Herbert; discusses Spencer's influence on him, his views on anarchism vs. voluntaryism, self-ownership, majority rule, war and imperialism
    In an essay ..., Herbert explained Spencer's impact upon him:
    As I read and thought over what he taught, a new window was opened in my mind. I lost my faith in the great machine [government]; I saw that thinking and acting for others had always hindered not helped the real progress; that all forms of compulsion deadened the living forces in a nation; that every evil violently stamped out still persisted, almost always in a worse form, when driven out of sight, and festered under the surface. I no longer believed that the handful of us ... could manufacture the life of a nation ...
    Barack Obama: The Anti Economic Growth President, by Jim Powell, 29 Feb 2012
    Lists and criticizes several of Obama's policies and proposals and discusses why economic growth and progress is beneficial
    The British author Herbert Spencer ... elaborated on the idea that human progress was a spontaneous phenomenon that arose within a framework of a rule of law and economic freedom including secure private property rights, freedom of contract, freedom of movement and freedom of trade. In Principles of Sociology, Spencer wrote that 'The turning of wilderness into farm land, cleared, fenced and drained, has been achieved not by legislative direction but by men working for individual profit ... all of them arising from the unforced cooperation of citizens without governmental help — sometimes in spite of governmental hindrances.'
    Benjamin Tucker, Individualism, & Liberty: Not the Daughter but the Mother of Order, by Wendy McElroy, Literature of Liberty, 1981
    Bibliographical essay covering the people and radical movements that influenced Tucker in his founding and publishing of Liberty, its major themes and contributors
    Victor S. Yarros was virtually the only Spencerian to remain with Liberty after the egoism debate. He defended the radical Spencerian tradition exemplified by Herbert Spencer's The Right to Ignore the State (1844, chapter in Social Statics). In advancing the radical Spencerian position as the only consistent one, he incurred the displeasure of individualist papers ... The British Individualists differed from their American contemporaries in several ways. For the most part, they advocated limited government and, like their mentor Herbert Spencer, they shied away from anarchism.
    From Spencer's 1884 to Orwell's 1984, by Henry Hazlitt, Man vs. The Welfare State, 1969
    Chapter 23 of Man vs. The Welfare State; extensive review of Spencer's The Man versus the State comparing the 1880s to the contemporary (late 1960s) social and political environment
    In 1884, Herbert Spencer wrote what quickly became a celebrated book, The Man versus the State ... Spencer's political views are regarded by most present-day writers, who bother to mention him at all, as "extreme laissez faire," and hence "discredited." ... All that Spencer was doing was to project or extrapolate the legislative tendencies existing in the 1880s into the future. It was because he was so clearsightedly appalled by these tendencies that he recognized them so much more sharply than his contemporaries, and saw so much more clearly where they would lead if left unchecked.
    Herbert, Auberon (1838-1906), by Eric Mack, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical and bibliographical essay
    Herbert's moral and political views were largely inspired by the work of Herbert Spencer. However, they diverged at the foundational level ... Spencer embraced the utilitarian principle of the greatest good of the greatest number as the bedrock standard of morality. He then argued that this standard required compliance with the law of equal freedom and implied equal rights ... At the core of Herbert's position was the view he shared with Spencer and J. S. Mill—that individual autonomous judgment is the source and realization of what is most valuable in life.
    Herbert Spencer, by Wendy McElroy, 29 Aug 2012
    Review of the book Herbert Spencer (2013) by Alberto Mingardi, volume 18 of the "Major Conservative and Libertarian Thinkers" series
    ... Spencer (1820–1903) was "perhaps the only philosopher to sell one million copies of his work while still alive." ... Spencer was a prolific system-builder who wrote hundreds of articles and dozens of books, including the ten-volume Synthetic Philosophy. Wisely, Mingardi narrows his focus to what many consider to be Spencer's most enduring work: Social Statics (1850) as informed by his Autobiography. In Social Statics, Spencer presented the political theory of his youth, including "the right to ignore the state," that inspired a generation of radical individualists in England and America.
    Related Topic: Evolution
    Herbert Spencer as an Anthropologist [PDF], by Robert L. Carneiro, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981
    Traces Spencer's contributions to the fields now known as anthropology and sociology and how his concept of cultural evolution was developed
    [T]o the average person ... Spencer was a political theorist who advocated laissez faire, and ... a sociologist. But ... unlikely [to] identify Spencer as an anthropologist ... Herbert Spencer was born in Derby in the English Midlands on April 27, 1820. Except for a period of three months, he never attended school ... From 1837 to 1841, Spencer worked for the railroads, receiving training equivalent to that of a civil engineer ... The 1850's were a period of remarkable productivity for Spencer. During this decade he wrote two books, Social Statics and The Principles of Psychology (1855).
    Herbert Spencer - Hero of the Day, by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Biographical profile published by The Daily Objectivist; argues that Spencer was a pioneer of "dialectical" (context-keeping) libertarianism; based on article in Aug 1999 Liberty
    Herbert Spencer, Libertarian Dialectician? Yes, by God! ... the history of liberalism is replete with rich, textured, context-sensitive thinking. In this regard, Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was one of the most important classical liberal thinkers to pioneer an alternative "dialectical libertarianism." ... Spencer is a genuine contextualist, sensitive to the reciprocal relations among parts within a whole ... Spencer's dialectical sensibility embraces the whole network of social intercourse. Publishing long before Hayek, Spencer views society as a spontaneous "growth and not a manufacture."
    Related Topics: Aristotle, Society
    Herbert Spencer: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Apr 1995
    Biographical profile, highlighting Social Statics and his acquaintance with Andrew Carnegie
    Spencer showed why the theory of evolution, which naturalist Charles Darwin documented, meant that human progress occurs spontaneously as long as people are free, and governments stay out of the way ... Yet the twentieth century, bloodiest in history, has shown Spencer to be a phenomenal prophet. More loudly and clearly than anyone during his lifetime, he warned that socialism must lead to slavery. He condemned militarism long before a European arms race exploded into the First World War. He anticipated the evils of welfare state policies that undermine incentives for poor people to achieve independence.
    Herbert Spencer's Theory of Causation, by George H. Smith, The Journal of Libertarian Studies, 1981
    Discusses Spencer's epistemology, his views on causation and how it affects social interactions, concluding with his ethical theory and concept of justice
    [M]ost Spencer critics and supporters agree ... that a strong tension exists between Spencer qua sociologist and Spencer qua libertarian. As a founding father of sociology, Spencer helped to create a discipline whose practitioners have (for the most part) been hostile to his laissez faire. Conversely, laissez-faire advocates typically look askance at Spencer's involvement in sociology ... In view of this common complaint that Spencer's sociology lends more support to his political opponents than to his allies, it is surely a great irony that Spencer took precisely the opposite point of view.
    Related Topics: Epistemology, Ethics, Life, Philosophy
    Here are 7 lesser-known classical liberal thinkers for your World Philosophy Day, by Kelly Wright, 17 Nov 2016
    Brief profiles of Spencer, Tucker, Spooner, Paterson, Molinari, Garrison and Herbert, together with a reading recommendation for each one of them
    A polymath, Herbert Spencer was originally known for his writing on biology. He coined the phrase 'survival of the fittest,' used to describe the process of natural selection. Spencer rose to prominence by extending the lessons of biological evolution to politics and sociology. ... In Social Statics, Spencer writes that one has a moral obligation to support charities, considering them 'the highest forms of social evolution.' Spencer was ahead of his time in other ways as well, self-identifying as a 'radical feminist' advocating for 'complete suffrage' and a 'right to ignore the state.'
    Liberalism, by F. A. Hayek, New Studies in Philosophy, Politics, Economics and the History of Ideas, 1978
    Chapter 9; originally written in 1973 for the Enciclopedia del Novicento; covers both the history of both strands of liberalism as well as a systematic description of the "classical" or "evolutionary" type
    In the intellectual sphere during the second half of the nineteenth century the basic principles of liberalism were intensively discussed. In the philosopher Herbert Spencer an extreme advocacy of an individualist minimum state, similar to the position of W. von Humboldt, found an effective expounder.
    Libertarianism Rightly Conceived, by Sheldon Richman, The Goal Is Freedom, 2 May 2014
    Responds to criticisms made by Walter Block and Lew Rockwell about Charles W. Johnson's "Libertarianism through Thick and Thin" (July 2008) and Richman's "What Social Animals Owe to Each Other" (April/July 2014)
    As Herbert Spencer, an eye witness to the transformation, wrote in "The New Toryism," which is included in his book The Man versus the State,
    Passing now to our special question, we may understand the kind of confusion in which Liberalism has lost itself: and the origin of those mistaken classings of political measures which have misled it ... [I]t has happened that popular good has come to be sought by Liberals, not as an end to be indirectly gained ... but as the end to be directly gained. And seeking to gain it directly, they have used methods intrinsically opposed to those originally used.
    The Life, Death, and Resurrection of an Economy, by Michael C. Monson, The Freeman, May 1993
    Lengthy economic history of Argentina, from the time of the conquistadors to the early 1990's, highlighting the outstanding growth in the 19th and early 20th century and the economic nationalism and government interventions in the 20th century
    The three decades spanning the turn of the century were years of stunning economic growth [in Argentina] ... During this period the most influential philosopher in Argentina was the libertarian Herbert Spencer. Indeed, a leading critic attacked Spencerian philosophy for turning Argentina into "one colossal estancia, bristling with railroads and canals, full of workshops, with populous cities, abounding in riches of all kinds, but without a single learned man, artist, or philosopher."
    The Roots of Modern Libertarian Ideas, by Brian Doherty, Cato Policy Report, Mar 2007
    Survey of the history of libertarian ideas, from ancient China and Greece to 20th century writers; adapted from Radicals for Capitalism (2007)
    Herbert Spencer was the most influential in his own time of 19th-century European philosophical radicals ... He was an early evolutionary theorist who invented the phrase "survival of the fittest"; he coined the term "law of equal freedom" to sum up the libertarian message that we had a right to all the freedoms that did not infringe on another's freedom; and he was largely responsible for whatever laissez-faire sentiments existed in elite thinking in the late 19th century. More than 350,000 copies of his works were sold in America from 1860 to 1903.
    Tackling Straw Men Is Easier than Critiquing Libertarianism, by Sheldon Richman, 5 Dec 2014
    Counters John Edward Terrell's critique of libertarianism (in "Evolution and the American Myth of the Individual") using quotes from Adam Smith, Vernon Smith and Herbert Spencer
    As [Herbert] Spencer wrote in Social Statics (1851):
    The increasing assertion of personal rights is an increasing demand that the external conditions needful to a complete unfolding of the individuality shall be respected ... Yet must this higher individuation be joined with the greatest mutual dependence. Paradoxical though the assertion looks, the progress is at once toward complete separateness and complete union. But the separateness is of a kind consistent with the most complex combinations for fulfilling social wants; and the union is of a kind that does not hinder entire development of each personality ...
    The Unfortunate Case of Herbert Spencer, by Damon Root, 29 Jul 2008
    Discusses the biased critique of Spencer by Richard Hofstadter in his 1944 book Social Darwinism in American Thought and the recent defense by Tim Leonard in "Origins of the Myth of Social Darwinism"
    In fact, far from being the proto-eugenicist of Hofstadter's account, Spencer was an early feminist, advocating the complete legal and social equality of the sexes (and he did so, it's worth noting, nearly two decades before John Stuart Mill's famous On the Subjection of Women first appeared). He was also an anti-imperialist, attacking European colonialists for their 'deeds of blood and rapine' against 'subjugated races.' To put it another way, Spencer was a thoroughgoing classical liberal, a principled champion of individual rights in all spheres of human life.


    On Moral Education, Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical, 1861
    Condensed from "Moral Education" chapter, from Spring 1966 issue of Left and Right; contrasts the parental practice of punishing children with the approach of letting children be guided by the natural consequences from their actions
    And if education be a preparation for the business of life, then every child should also, from the beginning, have daily experience of this fact. ... Proper conduct in life is much better guaranteed when the good and evil consequences of actions are rationally understood, than when they are merely believed on authority. ... Bear constantly in mind the truth that the aim of your discipline should be to produce a self-governing being; not to produce a being to be governed by others.
    Related Topic: Children


    The Man Versus the State, by Edmund A. Opitz, The Freeman, Nov 1982
    Review of Liberty Classics (1981) edition of The Man Versus the State
    Spencer championed a laissez faire society, where personal relations are free from feudal domination, where political power is not available to some to enrich themselves at the expense of others, where industry and trade enjoy fair competition and operate within the controls of the market. Spencer wants a society of equal freedom for all persons, and demonstrates that the needs of a commercial and industrial nation turn it away from war and colonialism, both of which he denounces fiercely. . Freedom and justice within nations lead to peace between nations ...

    Books Authored

    The Man Versus The State, 1884
    Contents: The New Toryism - The Coming Slavery - The Sins of Legislators - The Great Political Superstition; electronic version of the 1992 Liberty Fund edition available at the Library of Economics and Liberty


    Dog Eat Dog vs. Sharing and Caring... The Mystery of Herbert Spencer, by Timothy Wirkman Virkkala, 24 Mar 2014
    Virkkala is interviewed by James Gill on Herbert Spencer and some concepts he examined

    The introductory paragraph uses material from the Wikipedia article "Herbert Spencer" as of 19 Jun 2018, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.