Talk:Herbert Spencer

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Do we really need this sentence?

"Herbert Spencer should not be confused with Edmund Spenser, the British poet."

Or, I guess, with Diana Spencer, the maiden name of the late princess, or Wlter Baldwin Spencer, an Australian anthropologist.... --Christofurio 20:12, Dec 22, 2004 (UTC)

Spencer on cooperation--[edit]

"They included, among other things, his ideas on evolution, which he saw as leading to an era of greater interpersonal cooperation."

It should be noted that Spencer's idea of interpersonal cooperation meant the poor and working classes knowing their place and sticking to it.--Pariah 07:12, Mar 6, 2005 (UTC)

It should not be so noted, because that is not Spencer's view. He explicitly denounces those who condemn the poor and working classes for their alleged mental or moral inferiority, endorses charity and mutual aid as part of the highest forms of evolution, and offers a lengthy analysis of classism (among other things) as the regrettable intrusion of the hold-overs of feudalism, militarism, and patriarchy in the emerging market society. (Whether he's right about that or wrong about that, it is a condemnation of class exploitation from within his own principles.) —Radgeek 14:55, 6 Mar 2005 (UTC)
Fair enough--my comment was based mainly on The Social Organism, where he compares society to a living creature; likening leaders & ruling classes to the nervous system, and other classes to other, less intelligent parts of the body. He seems to endorse this as natural, an apparent acceptance of class inequality. However, I will admit that this does not constitute an explicit statement of such.--Pariah 21:09, Mar 6, 2005 (UTC)

Spencer's Influence[edit]

This is an area where there is much confusion, and there are many reasons, often due to impartial POV of various biographers of Spencer. Three things that should be considered: 1. His belief in natural selection, survival of the fittest, etc. 2. His early political radicalism. 3. Later political de-radicalism. These ideas were not equivalent and Spencer's thoughts did change, so the desire to tie some supporters of Spencer with other ideas he had (or was accused of having) is one of the more notorious acts of some writers on the subject.

It is #2 where he was influential among Individualist Anarchists and radicals like H.L. Menken. #1 where his ideas were perceived by others as promoting government control, such as by Justice Holmes. Many of those that trumpeted these ideas (like Holmes and other eugenecists) were bitterly hostile to Spencer's political thought. And #3 is seen through his abandoning his radical thoughts like dropping his "The Right to Ignore the State" from later editions of Social Statics.

Note: None of this is "original work" and is commonly known among those who compare the literature on Spencer. Carltonh 00:26, 12 January 2006 (UTC)

Put Questia back in: very valuable info[edit]

You have to pay for full access (unless your college subscribes) but Questia gives Free table of contents and free first page of every chapter, plus publishing details. That's a lot of free info available NOWHERE else and essential if you are going to try for inter-library loan. It's like listing a publisher which mamy articles do--yet the publisher sells the book for $$$ and gives little or nothing away for free. Rjensen 16:34, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

I do agree with Rjensen. We allow listing of printed books, which are rarely free (you can get them from the library, and you can get free Questia access from some libraries as well). If we can replace some of those books with free ones (Spencer original works are in public domain, after all), that would be preferable, of course.--Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus Talk 16:50, 12 December 2005 (UTC)

Last Paragraph of "Breadth of Political Influence"[edit]

The last paragraph of this section strikes me as not only not holding together well, but also as misconstruing Spencer's ideas (something apparently very easy to do).

It's the last sentence that's the real trouble:

"Some may believe in Spencer's survival of the fittest within the confines of a natural rights philosophy, but others have rejected his ideas of linear progress and replaced them with the paradigm shift ideas of Thomas Kuhn."

There's allegedly a parallel between "believing in Spencer's survival of the fittest" and "linear progress," but I don't see it. Besides, the phrase "believing in Spencer's" anything strikes me as bad encyclopedia style.

"Survival of the fittest" is the same principle as what Darwin called "natural selection." Almost EVERYONE "believes" in it to some degree, excepting (of course) modern-day creationists. The article, alas, does NOT explain that it is the identical concept as Darwin's, or that Spencer applied it to many levels of organization, from organism through functional practices to social structures. This sentence suggests that "Spencer's" principle is different from Darwin's, which it isn't. Spencer merely applied it to a different set of data. Further, it suggests that this principle (because of the parallelism with the second half of the sentence) amounts to a unilinear concept of evolution. Which it doesn't. Spencer used natural selection theory to explain evolutionary processes. They are not the same.

There's something worse here, though. Can Spencer's thought really be considered a theory of unilinear progress? Since his mental picture of evolution is one of growing complexity, with diversity and integration going on at once, how does this paint a "linear view"? It doesn't, so far as I can tell, except in some of his readers, who probably held less sophisticated notions. And from what I recall, Spencer explicitly denied that societies, for instance, must go through every stage of his evolutionary growth. He realized that many social groups, like most organisms, remain simple, "unevolved," and that societies can skip stages that he outlined at length in The Principles of Sociology. This means, to me, that Spencer explicitly foreswore the point here being applied "against" him.

Further, the idea of "paradigm shift" overview as an alternative to Spencer's -- what, his epistemology, view of science? -- doesn't tally well with the fact that many evolutionary epistemologists cite Spencer favorably. See Karl Popper's essay in "Objective Knowledge," for instance, or works by Radnitzky.

I move to strike the sentence in question, unless the original author can explain what it means, and revise to suit any criticism that I've made here that appear to others as meaningful.

NOTE: I will be putting up a whole batch of references in a week or so. There's a huge literature out there on Spencer, and this batch does not give fair representation to that extensive work.

ANOTHER NOTE: There are a few phrases in this article that strike me as quotations from scholarly work, without citing which work (for instance, sociologist Jonathan Turner's line about Darwin being a "biological Spencerian").

The linear progress tie to survival of the fittest is not a denial of growing diversity or even exponential growth. Instead it is an explanation of Spencer's belief that nature tends towards continuous improvement. Therefore a trend of change, if the above is true, is a change for the best. Spencer originally applied this to politics and history, where the modern industrial world and growing "freedom" (as he viewed it) of classical liberal influence was supposedly developed through continuous improvement since barbaric times of the past. The challenge arrived when classical liberalism declined and government power began to increase. It did not fit his model.
This is where Spencer's claimed supporters had to take opposite paths: Either defend the new social direction of increasing government power (Holmes) or to defend the old classical liberalism (Menken). It is meaningful to state how he is interpreted by supporters and to show that these were two diametrically opposed groups. There were Holmes eugenicists vs. the Menken classical liberals. It is important to get rid of the deception of those who try to associate the classical liberal and anarchist sides with the eugenicists who were always pro-state and applied what they supported in Spencer in a way he radically opposed. It would be as erroneous as claiming Hegel was a Marxist. Carltonh 15:25, 29 August 2006 (UTC)

Anon comments on imperialism[edit]

I moved anon comment from main text to talk.-- Piotr Konieczny aka Prokonsul Piotrus | talk  22:23, 28 August 2006 (UTC)

That Spencer was an opponent of imperialism is not generally agreed upon. In his "Social Statistics" from 1850 Spencer writes that some sections of humanity may be exterminated for the greater good, ie if it benefits the "civilising" colonial project of white European upper-class men. Someone who knows more about Spencer and has read more of his works than I have should edit this article! For those of you who can read Swedish I would recommend Sven Lindqvist's book "Utrota Varenda Jävel

If there were any truth in this, it would only be necessary to quote Spencer saying such instead of reading some interpretation in a language other than Spencer's. Carltonh 15:28, 29 August 2006 (UTC)
Exactly. In fact, from all I have read, scholars who have studied Spencer agree that he was an an ardent and consistent opponent of imperialism. As to the reference in this discussion to his alleged pro-imperialist comments in Social Statics, not "Social Statistics," I'd be curious to read the offending quotation...because I've never heard of it. 17:28, 4 December 2006 (UTC)

father of social darwinism[edit]

This is typical Richard Hofstadter' hogwash (see the work of Richard C. Bannister for example). Thus removed. Intangible2.0 23:11, 2 March 2007 (UTC)

"However, to regard Spencer as any kind of Darwinian, even of the 'Social' variety, is a gross distortion. ..." Isn't this whole paragraph a "gross distortion" of Social Darwinism? Social Darwinism was NOT open-ended, as proper biological darwinism is. Social Darwinists took advantage of the ambiguity in Spencer's phrase "survival of the fittest": were they fit because they survived, or did they survive because they were fit? More important, "fittest" was often equated with "best," and the rest is eugenics. This paragraph evinces a lack of understanding of Social Darwinism. Can it be edited or removed? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:04, 7 January 2008 (UTC)

The first sentence of this paragraph—"Spencer created the Social Darwinist model that applied the law of the survival of the fittest to society"—is still misleading and still leaves the reader with the incorrect impression that Spencer is the "father" of Social Darwinism or that he is the founder of the Social Darwinist movement. The rest of the paragraph tries to dispel this impression but not strongly enough. As a result, some readers remain confused about the whole issue. See for example the question asked at the bottom of the Discussion page, under the heading Contradiction. Worse, once it is accepted—or even suspected—that Spencer is at the roots of Social Darwinism, it is all too easy to claim that he is subsequently responsible for eugenics, Nazism, ethnic cleansing, and so on. In other words, it becomes too easy to once again vilify Spencer. As an aside, this is Darwin's year. Why not take the opportunity to rehabilitate Spencer with some strong scholarship? Is it not time to recognize that his enormous work—however flawed it may have been—contributed to the advancement of science? Nicolas Mertens. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 13:42, 17 February 2009 (UTC)


Is there any evidence that Spencer was a racist/believed certain races were inferior to others? I've heard this claim many times but never seen it verified. —The preceding unsigned comment was added by RobinReborn (talkcontribs) 04:58, 23 March 2007 (UTC).

Spencer took the position that humans adapt to their environment fairly rapidly, through the inheritance of acquired characteristics, and from this perspective any differences in races would disappear if members of these races were adapting to the same environment. So the concept of fixed races would not make much sense in Spencer's scheme. Nevertheless, his work does reflect the notion that humans adapting to industrial environments are in some sense superior to others--but it's easier to interpret this as a belief in "progress" than as an expression of racism. In his work there is no discussion of fixed racial types found in the work of racial anthropologists like Georges Vacher de Lapouge--no mention of "dolicocephalic blondes" or "brachiocephalic brunettes", for example--so it would be distorting Spencer to charge him with racism. --Anthon.Eff 14:14, 23 March 2007 (UTC)

Appleton and Spencer[edit]

Could the contributor of the information about Appleton's print runs please contact me. I am working on The Origin of Species as a book and interested in comparing print runs. Appleton also published Origin. I am so pleased to have found this information in the Spencer article in Wikipedia. Well done. Please contact. --Cornflwr 17:50, 30 May 2007 (UTC)

Cornflwr - for the Appleton print numbers please see the introduction to Robert G. Perrin, Herbert Spencer: A Primary and Secondary Bibliography (Academic Press, 1993). Good luck with your project. -- 08:03, 27 June 2007 (UTC)

Deist and Positivism??[edit]

So even though Spencer was admittedly an agnostic and an opponent of theology he gets described as a deist without any reference to the text of one of his works (let alone a page number)??

And even though the contributor acknowledges he would not describe himself as a Comtean positivist he gets described as one, again without refs? Don't forget he wrote a paper on 'Reasons for dissenting from the philosophy of M. Comte'.

Much of this reads like contributor's opinion, not balanced judgement. What's needed (and it may be asking too much, especially with Spencer!) is more quotations and references to the (voluminous) literature. As an illustration of my theme, Spencer actually used 'struggle for existence' BEFORE the Origin in Social Statics 1851 (p322)!!

With strange people like Spencer and Wallace (and they are strange!) it pays to give a neutral account and let readers make their own minds up. Macdonald-ross 13:28, 25 July 2007 (UTC)

Deism or positivism? - a reply[edit]

The entry doesn't actually claim that Spencer was a deist. What it does claim is that he was influenced by deism, which shaped his ideas in much the same way that natural theology can be said to have shaped Charles Darwin's. Spencer was no more a deist than Darwin was a natural theologian, but these traditions of thought are important for understanding the ideas of these thinkers. The references given at the end of the entry, especially the paper by Paul Elliot, support this interpretation of Spencer.

A similar point applies to the question of Spencer's positivism. It is true that he denied that Comte had any influence on him, but many of those closest to him during his intellectually formative years - the 1850s - were Comte's most prominent British disciples. This is especially true of George Eliot and G.H. Lewes. Given Spencer's lack of formal education and tendency to acquire ideas from conversations with his friends and acquaintances it is inconceivable that Comte's philosophy did not exert some influence on his thought. In this respect Spencer protested too much, as he jealously aimed to guard his own supposed originality.

Spencer's "Reasons for Dissenting from the Philosophy of M. Comte" was written because he had become alarmed that he was widely viewed as being merely yet another one of Comte's British disciples. In the essay he concentrates on some relatively minor differences from Comte while neglecting to acknowledge that his conception of a philosophical system - a grand unifying theory that builds on the results of each of the special sciences - was the same as Comte's. In short, Spencer was trying to do what Comte had done, but was trying to do it better, particularly by using more up-to-date biology. The are also clear positivist influences in such matters as his discussion of the laws of nature (originally part of the First Princples but later published as a separate essay) and in his epistemology. As with the influence of deism, the influence of positivism is supported by the secondary literature.

Spencer's philosophy has been widely misunderstood and his reputation as "the father of social Darwinism" is only slowly being disabused. By drawing on the most up-to-date scholarship the entry aims to provide a more accurate assessment of Spencer's place in Victorian thought.

--MThought 03:02, 3 August 2007 (UTC)

To user MThought: Wikipedia articles cannot represent points of view that are not neutral. Any claim like "Spencer's thought was essentially a combination of X and Y" is a no go: first, "essentially" is a weasel word and second, we need to qualify this claim somehow, perhaps by referencing one author's interpretation of Spencer's work, which would mean paraphrasing an expert's thesis or something along these lines and by explaining what "combine" means in this context.

Crucially, the claims in the article about Deism and Spencer are not concrete enough to be falsifiable. In other words the writing is not very good. For instance I have no idea what this means:

In essence Spencer’s philosophical vision was formed by a combination of Deism and Positivism. On the one hand, he had imbibed something of eighteenth century Deism from his father and other members of the Derby Philosophical Society and from books like George Combe’s immensely popular The Constitution of Man (1828). This treated the world as a cosmos of benevolent design, and the laws of nature as the decrees of a 'Being transcendentally kind.' Natural laws were thus the statutes of a well governed universe that had been decreed by the Creator with the intention of promoting human happiness.

What does "combine" mean? What does "imbibe" mean? What does "this" (subject of 3rd sentence) mean? I have no idea where the fourth sentence belongs.

BTW if one really is a positivist and a deist then one ends up believing in God but thinks God is fake, which strikes me as a somewhat suspect frame of mind. This is because a deist thinks God can be perceived directly by reason but a positivist thinks that the only authentic knowledge is knowledge that can be verified by the scientific method. Since no serious scientific experiment has ever claimed to prove the existence of God, we must conclude that knowledge of God is inauthentic, i.e. fake. Now maybe some Deists did believe this, but did any of them admit it out loud? Mistercupcake 22:57, 6 October 2007 (UTC)

Help Needed[edit]

This article needs attention. It is POV, the tone is wrong, and is heavily padded. In particular the reference to Lamarckian evolution makes it sound like Lamarck's theory is part of the current scientific consensus, but no mainstream scientist believes this. Any opinions on whether to add a "needs an expert" tag? Mistercupcake 13:53, 5 October 2007 (UTC)

revisions for this article[edit]

Though much of this article is surely interesting, portions seem more like individual judgments rather than general explication. The section on the Synthetic Philosophy, in particular, should have more discussion of the content of the books (and their preparation and reception) than on general interpretation of the philosopher's background and meaning.

Is it to be counted as odd that one can read this article, long as it is, and (unless one looks at the bibliography) not gain an idea of how Spencer organized his material? What is the gist of the two sections of "First Principles"? What did Spencer aim to accomplish by beginning each subsequent treatise with "The Data of" and "The Inductions of" each discipline?

Incidentally, regarding Lamarckianism, there are indeed scientists who are reviving some quasi-Lamarckian ideas, particularly in reference to epigenetics. This does not mean, however, that this work should be cited in reference to Spencer. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Wirkman (talkcontribs) 18:15, 9 October 2007 (UTC)

I agree, and I've done some research on the history of the Wikipedia article. On 24 April 2007, user User:MWT001 posted a complete rewrite of the article. The rewrite is poorly organized, incoherent at parts, POV, lacking in wiki links, and it is not at all clear how the reader is supposed to verify some of the claims. The current article consists largely of this rewrite.
I'd like to suggest and discuss reverting the article to the pre-rewrite version. This seems like a fairly drastic measure, but the pre-rewrite article, although no gem, is much denser and clearer. Mistercupcake 11:02, 11 October 2007 (UTC)

Did Herbert Spencer Say This?[edit]

Quote: "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance--that principle is contempt prior to investigation." Did Herbert Spencer in fact say this?Bclater (talk) 00:45, 13 February 2008 (UTC)

Bclater (talk) 00:45, 13 February 2008 (UTC)

I completely buy the essay on which the assertion of misquotation is based. "There is an attribute which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance--that principle is mis-attribution prior to publication." --Aladdin Sane (talk) 22:54, 7 October 2009 (UTC)

Reincarnation & co[edit]

This point is of no relevance to Spencer's biography or influence. If it is to be on Wikipedia, that is on the reincarnation & co pages but not here. Imposing it here no less than spam. --Bombastus (talk) 15:57, 14 March 2008 (UTC)

I agree with Bombastus. If, perhaps, this claim had made before his death, and he had a chance to say whether he agreed or not, then it would be worth including. But, without that possibility, this claim seems like a theft of Spencer's fame. RussNelson (talk) 16:21, 14 March 2008 (UTC)
I have no opinion on whether Spencer, or anyone else, was actually an incarnation of anyone. However, the Kybalion is a verifiable source on Hermeticism, and this source does refer to Spencer thus:

The Hermetic Teachings have no fault to find with Herbert Spencer's basic principle which postulates the existence of an "Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed." In face, the Hermetics recognize in Spencer's philosophy the highest outside statement of the workings of the Natural Laws that have ever been promulgated, and they believe Spencer to have been a reincarnation of an ancient philosopher who dwelt in ancient Egypt thousands of years ago, and who later incarnated as Heraclitus, the Grecian philosopher who lived B.C. 500. And they regard his statement of the "Infinite and Eternal Energy" as directly in the line of the Hermetic Teachings, always with the addition of their own doctrine that his "Energy" is the Energy of the Mind of THE ALL. With the Master-Key of the Hermetic Philosophy, the student of Spencer will be able to unlock many doors of the inner philosophical conceptions of the great English philosopher, whose work shows the results of the preparation of his previous incarnations. His teachings regarding Evolution and Rhythm are in almost perfect agreement with the Hermetic Teachings regarding the Principle of Rhythm.

RussNelson may be right to characterise this claim as "a theft of Spencer's fame". But the fact that this claim was made so soon after Spencer's death gives insight both into Spencer's reputation, and the degree of his influence upon the Hermeticists. It also illuminates the rigour of their hypotheses, that they would make such a claim without verification.
Hermeticism generally accepts reincarnation, and it's description of Spencer as a reincarnation of Heraclitus is an expression - in their terms - of the importance they place upon Spencer as a source.
This is as important as any other posthumous commentary on Spencer and his ideas. Also, the influence of Spencer is important in understanding modern Hermeticism. If Spencer is to be referenced in the articles on the Kybalion and the Hermeticists then it is only reasonable for there to be a reciprocal reference in the article on Spencer. How else is the student of Spencer to learn of this aspect of his legacy?
I do not consider including such a reference to be spam. I have however resubmitted this in the section on Spencer's general influence, rather than appear to report reincarnation as a fact.Josephus (talk) 18:23, 16 March 2008 (UTC)

Spencer's Influence on Hermeticism[edit]

The section on Spencer's General Influence details the impact of his ideas on the fields of Anthropology, Town Planning, Ecology, Freud, Logical Positivism, & Sociobiology: All of which without a single citation. Yet my attempts to introduce a reference - supported by a reliable source - to his undeniable influence on modern Hermeticism, have been repeatedly removed, with no more justification than "this belongs in hermeticism - not here". I have yet to hear a single cogent argument as to why his influence on hermeticism should not be recognised. Josephus (talk) 20:38, 17 March 2008 (UTC)

The problem is that you're trying to make claims that cannot be proven. All that can be said is that those claims are documented on paper. So what? Let's say that I wrote a serious academic paper about how in the afterlife, being buried across the path from each other, Karl Marx and Herbert Spencer had some conversations, and Karl Marx was converted into a capitalist. There, I'd have a reference for the claim, and I could go into Karl Marx's page and say that he is now a capitalist, and cite the paper. Exactly how acceptable do you think the Marxists would find that? But I have a citation for it! It must go into Wikipedia because there's a citation.
Not everything which can be cited belongs in Wikipedia. RussNelson (talk) 01:34, 18 March 2008 (UTC)
I am not trying to make any claims that cannot be proven.
I have not tried to claim that Spencer was a reincarnation of anyone. I have simply said that the Kybalion makes that claim - which is a fact. I accept that claim may be bogus, but it demonstrates - in their terms - the importance that they ascribe to Spencer as an influence.
I have not tried, as per your example, to suggest that Spencer was a Hermeticist. He clearly wasn't; and if he had addressed Hermeticism directly he would probably had some unkind things to say about it. All I am trying to establish is that Spencer was an influence on the Kybalion; and through that, an influence on Modern Hermeticism. I stress Modern to address Anthon.Eff's assertion that any influence on Hermeticism would be anachronistic.
True, not everything that can be cited should be included in Wikipedia. But if it can be cited then there must be a consistent rationale as to why it should not be included. The rationale here seems to amount to no more than "We don't like Hermeticism, therefore we don't want Spencer associated with it." His influence on Hermeticism, is simply another example of the breadth and pervasiveness of his influence on ALL areas of Victorian/Edwardian society.
Instead of just deleting it, please offer an alternative sentence (that you think might gain wider acceptance) to illustrate this aspect of his influence. Kind Regards Josephus (talk) 14:15, 19 March 2008 (UTC)

Lack of sources[edit]

The article is pretty bad at sourcing the claims in it. I've added some cite tags in the life section, but the whole article should really be worked through, with sources added for the many undocumented claims in it. --Kristjan Wager (talk) 13:35, 30 March 2008 (UTC)

You're correct, we should rewrite it. But somebody other than you or I, because we only have the energy to complain, not to actually do the work. RussNelson (talk) 16:38, 30 March 2008 (UTC)
It's customary to give the original authors a chance to provide sources etc. before starting re-writing. --Kristjan Wager (talk) 11:15, 2 April 2008 (UTC)

Photograph added[edit]

I recently added a photograph of Spencer's gravesite, taken about 20 years ago. It's not a particularly artistic picture, but I thought it might be better than nothing at all. Perhaps someone can find a better photo than the one I contributed. - As I wrote in my edit summary, I'm not a regular contributor to this article, I'm just passing through. Astrochemist (talk) 13:33, 28 April 2008 (UTC)


"Social Statics had been the work of a radical democrat "

WRONG of course. It was the work of a radical libertarian. Which is something the marxists who edit wikipedia would never acknowledge, right ? (talk) 23:36, 12 September 2008 (UTC)


The Social Darwinism article lists Herbert Spencer as a founder of Social Darwinism, but this article claims that " regard Spencer as any kind of Darwinian, even of the 'Social' variety, is a gross distortion." Which is the correct view? Any ideas? --Jayson Virissimo (talk) 09:09, 8 December 2008 (UTC)

- Spencer was influential among social evolutionists. However, it is clearly incorrect to describe him as a social darwinist. There were "real" social darwinists, who tried applying darwinian theory to human populations (generally in classist, racists and theoretically flawed ways - to the extent that they ignored major tenants of darwinism). H. Spencer wasn't one of these, though. Rather, he couldn't have missused darwinian theory because he was never a true darwinist. I forget all of the details, but I believe that a useful account of Spencer's more interesting heresies can be found in "Darwinian Heresies" by Abigail Lustig, Robert J. Richards, and Michael Ruse. A copy should be available at most university libraries. --Hrimpurstala (talk) 23:35, 19 October 2009 (UTC)

There were no "real" social Darwinists, the term was made up in the 1940s as an insult, and even in its few appearances before then it seems to have been pejorative. Spencer was seen as a leading Darwinist, at a time when "Darwinism" included a range of evolutionary views including Spencer's Lamarckian ideas of "survival of the fittest". Even Darwin wasn't Darwinist in the sense of the neo-Darwinism of August Weismann. Anyway, essentially a good point, Bowler touches on some of these issues, must try to sort that out. If you can find anything in the book you cite about Spencer and "social Darwinism" and add a summary of it to the article, that will be useful. . . dave souza, talk 23:47, 19 October 2009 (UTC)
While I agree that the concept of Social Darwinists as a category is relatively recent I'd disagree about widespread application of the term "Darwinist", including to Herbert Spencer. Evolutionary theories at the time were very varied and open to debate. The term is also horribly muddled by the later orthodox neo-darwinist interpretation of the Darwin/Wallace 'descent with modification via. natural seleciton' which ignored Darwin's own lamarkist tendancies. So, basically I completely agree but would recommend not applying the term at all. We should really speak of theories of "organismal evolution" or "transmutation of species".--Hrimpurstala (talk) 02:32, 12 December 2009 (UTC)

Lamarkism vs NS[edit]

He used larmarckism instead of natural selection (last sentence of intro)? Isn't NS the process, and Lam a possible mechanism by which NS can occur? (talk) 11:00, 14 January 2009 (UTC)

I believe the current phrasing addresses this issue. Survival of the fittest, at least as understood by Charles Darwin in the fifth edition of "[...]Origin[...]", was nearly interchangeable with natural selection. But what would he know? :) Jaydubya93 (talk) 22:29, 7 March 2014 (UTC)


"Although Spencer lost his Christian faith as a teenager and later rejected any 'anthropomorphic' conception of the Deity, he nonetheless held fast to this conception at an almost sub-conscious level."

How would the author know this??

"At the same time, however, he owed far more than he would ever acknowledge to Positivism, in particular in its conception of a philosophical system as the unification of the various branches of scientific knowledge."

Again, the author is making unsubstantiated claims, apparently reading Spenser's mind.

This needs to be re-evaluated. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:05, 14 March 2009 (UTC)

This is harsh. What the author of the article means is that although Spencer, like many in the nineteenth century (including Karl Marx), had given upbelieving in a personal (or even impersonal, Deist) God, retained an unquestioning assumption of the existence of beneficent Providence (which some consider a version of a belief in God). The inevitable benevolence of Providence was seen as manifested in the continuous Progress of history (this view is sometimes characterized as the "Whig" or liberal view of history). Until Einstein's theories won wide acceptance, belief in Progress (unconscious belief, if you will) was general. There is a very good description of typical Victorian agnosticism in Olive Schreiners's The Story of an African Farm as recounted in Noel Annan's book on agnosticism. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 16:52, 2 June 2009 (UTC)

No harshness detected. The public can only know what Spencer expressed in words. Spencer’s private, unexpressed thoughts are nothing to us. This restriction was the reasonable basis of Behaviorism.Lestrade (talk) 12:47, 12 April 2013 (UTC)Lestrade

Confirmation of date of death[edit]

This article claims 1903 while the penguin sociology dictionary (2000) claims 1895. One is wrong. TheTyrant (talk) 17:39, 29 May 2009 (UTC)TheTyrant

nm, article is correct, dictionary is wrong. TheTyrant (talk) 17:40, 29 May 2009 (UTC)TheTyrant

POV concerning Social Darwinism[edit]

The current version of the section on Social Darwinism is extremely POV, as it clearly prefers one source over the other. Basically it argues that Hofstadter is wrong and his opponents are right. How so, I wonder, when there is no source for that? Is it now consensus in the scientific community? Well then, present a source for it. Moreover, phrasings like "Hofstadter's Spencer" (only existed in his head?) further imply that Hofstadters interpretation is wrong. How do we know? There are different evaluations of Spencer's alleged Social Darwinism, we should include them both and treat them the same. Also "Hofstadter's rather selective quotations" uses weasel words and claims without source that his quotations are indeed selective. This looks like original research to me. What is more, I have a further source claiming he is basically the founder of Social Darwinism. (Young, Robert M. "Herbert Spencer and 'Inevitable' Progress." Victorian Values: Personalities and Perspectives in Nineteenth-Century Society. Ed. Gordon Marsden. London and New York: Longman, 1998. 179-188.) I think the section needs more balance. Janfrie1988 (talk) 13:36, 11 April 2010 (UTC)

Wow two years and some months and this problem still has not been addressed. This article is a mouthpiece for the advocates of Herbert Spencer and Social Darwinists. Can someone who knows how to actually edit Wikipedia properly eliminate this propaganda?
Please sign your contributions - but I think you have a point to discuss. The issue is discussed in one of the references given: Stewart, Iain. "Commandeering Time: The Ideological Status of Time in the Social Darwinism of Herbert Spencer" (2011) 57 Australian Journal of Politics and History 389. Having suggested this, I should acknowledge being the the author of that article, which is available online through libraries that subscribe to the journal. --Wikiain (talk) 10:28, 3 November 2012 (UTC)
IMO this hasn't been addressed because the issue is hyper-politicized and widely misconstrued by widely respected sources. There are two widely held and completely opposite views regarding Spencer's work and beliefs. At least one of them is wrong. How do you resolve that when you can't cite Spencer directly? You cant. Wikipedia sucks at addressing issues like this and is not really the place for it. Jaydubya93 (talk) 22:14, 7 March 2014 (UTC)


This article has a strong pro-Spencer bias particularly in the Social Darwinism section, explained in part above by Janfrie1988. The article is obviously targeted by libertarians and "anarcho"-capitalists that are upset by Spencer's tainted image relating to his racism. In its current form the article is a lengthy piece of largely uncited propaganda and spencer worship. Synthetic philosophy, Sociology, Ethics, and Agnosticism should probably be removed due to their lack of citations and irrelevance. I hope other editors will assist me in improving the quality of this article and prevent further propagandizing. (talk) 17:34, 14 December 2012 (UTC)

Can people please discuss edits here, namely the reverts of some of my edits? My removal of much of the social darwinism section is to combat obvious POV. The entire section on social Darwinism concerns nothing of Spencer's actually theory and espouses a fringe viewpoint on his social Darwinism. The section primarily discusses the origin and alleged "misinterpretation" of allegations of social darwinism within Spencer's work. The content of that section should be about what parts of Spencer's work made contributions to thought relating to social Darwinism and possibly a short paragraph on the recent revisionism. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 23:09, 18 December 2012 (UTC)
While I can't speak for other editors I'm happy to discuss any changes I make to this page, however it is not possible to have an NPOV while simultaneously labeling Spencer a racist and modern scholars revisionists as you have stated above. That said, if you have citations that you would like to add to the discussion, please share them so we can debate their merits and improve the article for readers across the political spectrum. Thanks. Jaydubya93 (talk) 22:23, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

Spencer on ethics[edit]

The article mentions that "Spencer adopted a utilitarian standard of ultimate value - the greatest happiness for the greatest number ...". This is perplexing for me, as Spencer clearly and repeatedly advocates the exact opposite: " follows that a specific idea of "greatest happiness" is for the present unattainable. It is not then to be wondered at, if Paleys and Benthams make vain attempts at a definition." Can anyone help clarifying this?

I can clarify. The article is wrong. Do you have a citation for your second sentence? Lets fix it. Also, please sign and date your comments by using four tildes in a row (helps us know who we are talking to!). Thanks. Jaydubya93 (talk) 22:06, 7 March 2014 (UTC)

Spencer's Social Statics and the Data of Ethics clearly lay out his position: he was a believer in the ultimate goal of maximizing happiness, but thought that the consequentialist leanings of the utilitarians were self-defeating. But when J. S. Mill called him an anti-utilitarian, he was offended. So he was, in the language of the time, a 'universalistic hedonist.' Not sure how to sign off, but hope this suffices: (talk) 23:14, 18 October 2014 (UTC) cathy gere, ucsd

Opening remarks about Spencer's influence are not appropriate[edit]

The opening paragraph has unusual and inappropriate commentary on the worth of Spencer's writing and importance. Half the material before the TOC is various people's opinions about how important he was. The reader is left with no clear idea of what he actually contributed, and then the article immediately devolves into several biographical paragraphs -- which also start by saying almost nothing about his beliefs/works. The Life section goes on for 350 words before explaining much of anything about his thinking.

The article needs to be much more focused on who he was and what he thought. And not rambling biographic material such as ... "Members included physicist-philosopher John Tyndall and Darwin's cousin, the banker and biologist Sir John Lubbock. There were also some quite significant satellites such as liberal clergyman Arthur Stanley, the Dean of Westminster; and guests such as Charles Darwin and Hermann von Helmholtz were entertained from time to time."

"quite significant satellites"? Original research, essay language, uncited, unencyclopedic.

Leptus Froggi (talk) 08:48, 13 October 2013 (UTC)

Ha! Agreed. Do you have a suggestion to replace the line above? Jaydubya93 (talk) 22:08, 7 March 2014 (UTC)