Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) was an English philosopher and sociologist who championed liberalism in an important way from the point of view of Social Darwinism. His theories greatly influenced 20th century economics and government theories.
Below we will see a biography of Herbert Spencer, As well as his major works and contributions.
Herbert Spencer: Biography of this English sociologist
Herbert Spencer was born April 27, 1820 in Derbyshire, England. Son of William George Spencer, professor and dissident of Christianity, Herbert Spencer was self-taught in the natural sciences from an early age.
He is also recognized as one of the most representative intellectuals of the Victorian era. one of the main representatives of the theories of evolution applied to sociology, And individualism. With strong conviction, Spencer defended the importance of examining social phenomena from a scientific perspective.
On the other hand, in the educational area, Spencer emphasized the importance of personal development, attention and empathy from instructors, observation and problem solving, exercise physical and free play, as well as learning arising from direct experience of the natural consequences of the acts (beyond the punishments imposed by the faculty).
His philosophy had a significant impact the justification for the minimum state participation in the economyThis in turn has fostered competition among individuals and a gradual improvement in society through the survival of the fittest.
Herbert Spencer died on December 8, 1903 in Brighton, Sussex, England.
Sociological perspective: evolution and individualism
Herbert Spencer argued that social evolution goes through a process of individuation, i.e. for the differentiation and development of human beings as individuals. For him, human societies have evolved through a gradual process of division of labor that has taken them from “primitive” groups to complex civilizations.
To argue the above, he made some important comparisons between animal organisms and human societies. He concluded that in both cases there was a regulatory system: for animals a nervous system and for human societies the structures of government. There was also a support system, which in the first case concerned food and the second in industrial activity.
They also shared a distribution system, which for animal organisms was the circulatory system, and in human societies were the communication systems and the means of transport. Thus, what differentiated animal organisms from human societies was that the former existed as a whole, in the form of a unified consciousness; while the latter, consciousness exists only in each member of the group.
From there, Spencer develops a theory of individualism and individuation. Within the framework of liberal philosophy, Spencer argues that individualism, as the personal development of the human being as an autonomous and differentiated member from others, it is closer to civilized societiesUnlike other societies such as the military or industry where despotism is encouraged and the individual development of each consciousness is hampered.
In addition, the development of 19th-century English industrial society, according to Spencer, developed a new Taylorism and prepared society for new forms of slavery in the future. In this sense, he proposes to recover the old function of liberalism, which was to limit the power of kings, and at that time could go and put limits on parliaments.
Spencer’s Social Darwinism
Under this idea of individualism, Spencer advocates allowing that every member of society develops best as a competent member of that, and therefore those who were more fit or talented would be the ones who would succeed and be better suited. Therefore, his theory is often in tune with Social Darwinism, an issue that has gradually come under criticism for the consequences of widespread poverty and the growth of industrial capitalism.
However, his proposals were also later echoed by like-minded philosophers, who found arguments to criticize the welfare state that developed after the war.
Among his most representative works are the social statics of 1851 and the synthetic philosophy of 1896. Also his works Principes de psychologie, 1855, First principles, 1862, Principles of sociology, descriptive sociology and Man against the state, 1884.
Between 1841 and 1845 he published The Adequate Sphere of Government, while contributing as a journalist specializing in economics and sociology in The Nonconformist, where he held the responsibility of governments in the defense of natural rights; and also in The Zoist and Pilot, with topics devoted to current science and suffrage movements. He eventually served as deputy editor of The Economist, a post he resigned in 1853.
- Burrows, H. (2018). Herbert Spencer. Encyclopaedia Britannica. Accessed October 15, 2018.Available at https://www.britannica.com/biography/Herbert-Spencer.
- Homles, B. (1994). Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). Prospects: Quarterly Journal of Comparative Education, 3 (4): 543-565.