19th century English philosopher
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  • Herbert Spencer

    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 in ethics and epistemology 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 that have since gained widespread acceptance in Western democracies."

    Web Pages

    Herbert Spencer | Libertarianism.org
    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."


    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."
    Herbert, Auberon (1838-1906), by Eric Mack, The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, 15 Aug 2008
    Biographical essay
    "Herbert's moral and political views were largely inspired by the work of Herbert Spencer. However, they diverged at the foundational level and with respect to a number of policy recommendations. 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: Liberty and Unlimited Human Progress, by Jim Powell, The Freeman, Apr 1995
    Lengthy 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 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
    "What Darwin did was to argue convincingly that organic forms 'have all descended ... from common parents, and have allbeen modified in the course of descent,' and to propose a mechanism for this process. But from this recognition to the recognition of a profound and universal transformation, proceeding at many levels toward greater complexity and increased integration, is a large step. That step was taken by Spencer alone."
    Herbert Spencer - Hero of the Day, by Chris Matthew Sciabarra, The Daily Objectivist, 2000
    Argues that Spencer was a pioneer of "dialectical" (context-keeping) libertarianism
    "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'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
    "What are the social conditions best suited for the development of the justice sentiment? A free 'industrial' society, answers Spencer. An authoritarian 'militant' society, on the other hand, discourages this sentiment. ... This rather prosaic summary of Spencer's theory of justice ... points out the central role that the conduct/consequence doctrine plays in his theory of justice."
    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 Friedrich 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."
    The Antimilitarist Libertarian Heritage, by Sheldon Richman, 19 Sep 2014
    Reviews writings by Herbert Spencer, "Government Colonization" and "Patriotism", 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. ... 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."
    Related Topics: Imperialism, Libertarianism
    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
    "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
    "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."
    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

    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
    Related Topic: The State


    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.