Herbert Spencer

Philosopher, Author

1820 – 1903


Who was Herbert Spencer?

Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era.

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. He was "an enthusiastic exponent of evolution" and even "wrote about evolution before Darwin did." As a polymath, he contributed to a wide range of subjects, including ethics, religion, anthropology, economics, political theory, philosophy, literature, biology, sociology, and psychology. During his lifetime he achieved tremendous authority, mainly in English-speaking academia. "The only other English philosopher to have achieved anything like such widespread popularity was Bertrand Russell, and that was in the 20th century." Spencer was "the single most famous European intellectual in the closing decades of the nineteenth century" but his influence declined sharply after 1900; "Who now reads Spencer?" asked Talcott Parsons in 1937.

Spencer is best known for coining the expression "survival of the fittest", which he did in Principles of Biology, 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 also made use of Lamarckism.

Famous Quotes:

  • The Republican form of government is the highest form of government; but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature -- a type nowhere at present existing.
  • The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality.
  • How often misused words generate misleading thoughts.
  • Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations.
  • A jury consists of twelve persons chosen to decide who has the better lawyer.
  • Love is life's end, but never ending. Love is life's wealth, never spent, but ever spending. Love's life's reward, rewarded in rewarding.
  • The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.
  • The more specific idea of Evolution now reached is -- a change from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity to a definite, coherent heterogeneity, accompanying the dissipation of motion and integration of matter.
  • Science is organized knowledge.
  • Divine right of kings means the divine right of anyone who can get uppermost.

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Apr 27, 1820
  • Agnosticism
Dec 8, 1903
Resting place
Highgate Cemetery

on July 23, 2013


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