December 14, 2012
Herbert Spencer (April 27, 1820 – December 8, 1903) was a renowned English philosopher and sociologist known for applying evolutionary theory to the study of politics and ethics. He coined the term "survival of the fittest" before it was used by Charles Darwin. Although considered a radical at the time, Spencer was a close contemporary of many famous philosophers and scientists such as Darwin, John Stuart Mill, and Thomas Huxley and became highly respected during his lifetime. His writings were both controversial and highly popular, and his "classical liberalism" had a notable influence on twentieth century politics and economics. Spencer prided himself on having developed insights into systematic social development that did not include the positing of a transcendent diving being. Spencer's views contributed substantially to the emphasis on self-interest as a core human value (without the provision for "sympathy" or concern for the other found in the writings of Adam Smith) and to the notion of racial superiority based on Spencer's understanding of the evolutionary development of humankind.
In his writings, Herbert Spencer attempts to create a system of human ethics based on the idea of natural human progress. He sees progress as something innate in human beings that happens over the course of time and in response to a changing environment. The end goal of this progress, says Spencer, is overall human happiness and prosperity, namely, the surplus of pleasure over pain. In Social Statics Spencer stresses that this evolution is not something that can be simply imposed on an individual by the state or any outside force. Thus, one of the most important factors to human development is the free exercise of natural human faculties.
Spencer believed that the first...