Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
Herbert Spencer (1820–1903)
Critical and Biographical Introduction by Frederick Howard Collins (1857–1910)
THE AUTHOR of ‘A System of Synthetic Philosophy,’ ‘Education,’ ‘Essays: Scientific, Political and Speculative,’ ‘The Study of Sociology,’ and many other articles in periodicals and newspapers, was born at Derby on the 27th of April, 1820. His father, William George Spencer, was a schoolmaster in the town, and published a work entitled ‘Inventional Geometry’: “a series of questions, problems, and explanations, intended to familiarize the pupil with geometrical conceptions, to exercise his inventive faculty, and to prepare him for Euclid and the higher mathematics.” Though this work received but little notice when first issued, it came, after many years, into use among those teachers who desired to give a more rational course of study to their younger scholars prior to commencing Euclid; and it contributed in no small degree to the introduction of more practical methods of geometrical instruction. Herbert Spencer’s own testimony as to its value is of interest:—
          “To its great efficiency, both as a means of providing interest in geometry, and as a mental discipline, I can give personal testimony. I have seen it create in a class of boys so much enthusiasm that they looked forward to their geometry lesson as a chief event in the week. And girls, initiated in the system by my father, have frequently begged of him for problems to solve during the holidays.”
  Another work of W. G. Spencer’s, ‘Lucid Shorthand,’ was completed in MS. in 1843, and published fifty years later by his son, who also contributes a preface.  2
  Herbert Spencer’s surroundings were in fact early differentiated from “the daily round—the common task” of most boys. The conversation which came to his ears was more permeated with the rational interpretation of surrounding phenomena—why and how did such-and-such a thing happen—than is usual now; and still more so at the time of which we write. Herbert Spencer’s innate love of natural science, and his marvelous faculty of observation, so wonderfully displayed in all his writings, were without doubt largely nourished and increased by his father’s love for nature, and especially entomology; a science to which the son devoted much of his leisure,—collecting, describing, and drawing most of the insects about his home. Soon after the age of thirteen, he spent some time under the roof of his uncle, the Rev. Thomas Spencer, chairman of the Bath Union, and author of many pamphlets dealing principally with the methods for ameliorating the condition of the poorer people in his and other parishes. The mathematical training which he received here enabled him on his return home to become assistant teacher in his father’s school; but finding the occupation uncongenial, and the railway mania being then at its height, Spencer at the age of seventeen joined the profession of railway engineering, and during the next eight years surveyed different parts of the country for the construction of lines. One of these—the Birmingham to Gloucester—may be mentioned, as it is interesting from containing one of the steepest inclines in England. During this period he contributed papers on technical subjects to the engineering journals; and described new methods and instruments shortening in a great degree many of the laborious calculations entailed by railway-surveying, locomotive-engine testing, bridge-making, and so forth. The original drawings made by the writer to explain and accompany these inventions, are very remarkable from their extreme neatness and accuracy. They appear indeed, to those who have had the opportunity of seeing them, to be the result of engraving on copper.  3
  At the age of twenty-two, the opening to the path of his future life may be dimly discerned in some letters which he wrote to the Nonconformist (newspaper) on ‘The Proper Sphere of Government,’ and which were subsequently published as a pamphlet. From this time the literary bent of his nature developed and came into greater prominence; for, giving up railway engineering, he went to London, and from writing articles and leaders in the Economist,—the-most important weekly newspaper in England dealing with finance and the matters included under the old term “political economy,”—became in 1848 its sub-editor, which office he held for five years. This appointment may be looked upon as one of much value to the future philosopher: it gave a certain amount of leisure, while the occupation it entailed drew his mind more and more to those problems of Sociology with which his reputation will ever be associated, while at the same time it kept him in touch with some of the best intellects of the time, and many lifelong friendships were then formed.  4
  It may be of interest here to mention how some of Herbert Spencer’s real leisure has been passed. A severe winter at Birmingham, when surveying for the railway, led him to practice skating, and this to designing a peculiar form of skate bringing the foot nearer to the ice than usual, and enabling the “outside edge” to be swung with much greater facility, even by those having weak ankles. Fishing was always a favorite amusement; and as he asserted in conversation, some of his happiest times were spent in later years fly-fishing for salmon on the west coast of Scotland, when in fact staying with some very old friends in Argyllshire. Of the pastimes usually associated with indoors, two may be mentioned,—billiards and music: the latter, to the close of his life, giving him exceeding pleasure when well performed and of that school to which he is partial,—Beethoven, or a simple ballad sung with real feeling, but never a mere display of what has been aptly called “musical gymnastics”; mere difficulties of execution, however well surmounted, never appealed to him.  5
  Two years after he obtained the appointment on the Economist appeared his first volume, and one of importance, ‘Social Statics: or the Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of them Developed.’ This was out of print for many years, some of its views not being in accord with the more mature ones of the author; hence in 1892 he published an “abridged and revised” edition, together with ‘The Man versus the State,’—a series of essays to which allusion will be made as the time of their publication comes to be dwelt with. The original edition of ‘Social Statics’ is noteworthy as being the only work which our author wrote with his own hand, all subsequent ones being dictated to a shorthand amanuensis.  6
  The seed which has germinated into the pronounced individualism of Herbert Spencer may be discerned here in its embryonic state:—
          “Liberty of action being the first essential to exercise of faculties, and therefore the first essential to happiness; and the liberty of each, limited by the like liberties of all, being the form which this first essential assumes when applied to many instead of one,—it follows that this liberty of each, limited by the like liberties of all, is the rule in conformity with which society must be organized. Freedom being the prerequisite to normal life in the individual, equal freedom becomes the prerequisite to normal life in society. And if this law of equal freedom is the primary law of right relationship between man and man, then no desire to get fulfilled a secondary law can warrant us in breaking it.”
  Considering the state of knowledge in 1852, when special creation, as contrasted with evolution, was the firm and almost universal belief, we are fully justified in alluding to a short essay which Spencer wrote in this year as singularly noteworthy; for the “development hypothesis,” as the theory of evolution was then called, is contrasted with special creation, and the latter shown to be logically indefensible:—“Which, then, is the most rational hypothesis? that of special creations, which has neither a fact to support it nor is even definitely conceivable; or that of modification, which is not only definitely conceivable, but is countenanced by the habitudes of every existing organism?”  8
  Two years later a long essay on ‘Manners and Fashion’ was published in the Westminster Review, showing how society develops on its political, religious, and ceremonial sides; how the old forms which society successively throws off have all been once vitally united with it,—have severally served as protective envelopes within which a higher humanity was being evolved. “They are cast aside only when they become hindrances—only when some inner and better envelope has been formed; and they bequeath to us all that was in them of good. The periodical abolitions of tyrannical laws have left the administration of justice not only uninjured but purified. Dead and buried creeds have not carried with them the essential morality they contained, which still exists, uncontaminated by the sloughs of superstition. And all that there is of justice, kindness, and beauty, embodied in our cumbrous forms of etiquette, will live perennially when the forms themselves have been forgotten.”  9
  The British Quarterly Review of the same year contained a long and valuable article on ‘The Genesis of Science,’ from which the conclusion is reached: “Not only that the sciences have a common root, but that science in general has a common root with language, classification, reasoning, art; that through civilization these have advanced together, acting and reacting upon each other just as the separate sciences have done; and that thus the development of intelligence in all its divisions and subdivisions has conformed to this same law which we have shown that the sciences conform to.”  10
  The year 1855 showed that the doctrine of evolution had taken definite and systematic form in the author’s mind, for the first edition of the ‘Principles of Psychology’ was published. As this subsequently forms a part of the ‘Synthetic Philosophy,’ its consideration may well be delayed until we come to deal with that as a whole. Similarly the essay published in 1857, ‘Progress: Its Law and Cause,’ as the ideas and illustrations in it are incorporated in ‘First Principles.’  11
  Spencer’s famous prospectus of ‘A System of Philosophy’ (1860) announced that he proposed to issue in periodical parts a connected series of works which he has for several years been preparing, and gave a detailed outline of them. He projected in all ten volumes; during the forty years which followed this announcement he accomplished, in spite of such ill health as would have deterred most men from writing at all, the magnificent total of ten complete volumes,—out of the eleven to which the system has expanded in development,—in addition to innumerable essays and letters on subjects of interest in the domain of politics and economics in their widest sense—to sociology, in fact.  12
  In the interim between the issue of this prospectus and the first volume of the series, Spencer republished, with additions, four essays in a small volume, entitled ‘Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical’; which has since become the most popular of his works, and has been translated into French, German, Italian, Russian, Hungarian, Dutch, Danish, Spanish, Swedish, Greek, Bohemian, Japanese, Chinese, and some others, too numerous to mention. It is of such immense value to all those who desire to bring up children on rational principles, that it merits an instructive quotation from each of the chapters. The question asked in the first chapter, What knowledge is of most worth? is answered in these words:—
          “Paraphrasing an Eastern fable, we may say that in the family of knowledges, Science is the household drudge, who in obscurity hides unrecognized perfections. To her has been committed all the work; by her skill, intelligence, and devotion, have all conveniences and gratifications been obtained: and while ceaselessly ministering to the rest, she has been kept in the background, that her haughty sisters may flaunt their fripperies in the eyes of the world. The parallel holds yet further. For we are fast coming to the dénouement, when the positions will be changed, and while these haughty sisters sink into merited neglect. Science, proclaimed as highest alike in worth and beauty, will reign supreme.”
  Of intellectual education:—
          “While men dislike the things and places that suggest painful recollections, and delight in those which call to mind bygone pleasures, painful lessons will make knowledge repulsive, and pleasurable lessons will make it attractive. The man to whom in boyhood, information came in dreary tasks along with threats of punishment, and who was never led into habits of independent inquiry, is unlikely to be a student in after years; while those to whom it came in natural forms, at the proper times, and who remember its facts as not only interesting in themselves, but as a long series of gratifying successes, are likely to continue through life that self-instruction commenced in youth.”
  In moral education:—
          “Remember that the aim of your discipline should be to produce a self-governing being; not to produce a being governed by others. Were your children fated to pass their lives as slaves, you could not too much accustom them to slavery during their childhood; but as they are by-and-by to be free men, with no one to control their daily conduct, you cannot too much accustom them to self-control while they are still under your eye.”
  In physical education:—
          “Perhaps nothing will so much hasten the time when body and mind will both be adequately cared for, as a diffusion of the belief that the preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality: men’s habitual words and acts imply the idea that they are at liberty to treat their bodies as they please. Disorders entailed by disobedience to nature’s dictates they regard simply as grievances, not as the effects of a conduct more or less flagitious. Though the evil consequences inflicted on their dependents, and on future generations, are often as great as those caused by crime, yet they do not think themselves in any degree criminal…. The fact is, that all breaches of the laws of health are physical sins. When this is generally seen, then, and perhaps not till then, will the physical training of the young receive the attention it deserves.”
  On June 5th, 1862, was issued the first installment of the Philosophy: the first part of ‘First Principles’ dealing with ‘The Unknowable,’ and showing that the only possible reconciliation of Science and Religion lies in the belief of an Absolute, transcending not only human knowledge but human conception, indeed:—
          “The consciousness of an inscrutable Power manifested to us through all phenomena has been growing ever clearer; and must eventually be freed from its imperfections. The certainty that on the one hand such a Power exists, while on the other hand its nature transcends intuition and is beyond imagination, is the certainty towards which intelligence has from the first been progressing. To this conclusion Science inevitably arrives as it reaches its confines; while to this conclusion Religion is irresistibly driven by criticism. And satisfying as it does the most rigorous logic, at the same time that it gives the religious sentiment the widest possible sphere of action, it is the conclusion we are bound to accept without reserve or qualification.”
  The second part, entitled ‘The Knowable,’ deals with the body of knowledge constituting what is usually termed Philosophy or Metaphysics; treats of Space, Time, Matter, Motion, and Force, considered in themselves and in their relation to each other; and expounds those highest generalizations now being disclosed by Science, which are severally true not of one class of phenomena, but of all classes of phenomena, and which are thus the keys to all classes of phenomena. From the study of these components of all phenomena the author passes to the law of their composition, “the law of the continuous redistribution of matter and motion.” This, having to cover all phenomena,—whether of inorganic nature, of life, of mind, of society, or of morals,—is necessarily defined in very abstract terms:—“Evolution is an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion; during which the matter passes from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity, to a definite, coherent heterogeneity; and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.”  18
  This extremely generalized conception, forming as it does the center around which the whole of this philosophy revolves, will, to the ordinary reader, prove difficult of comprehension without reading the volume from which it is taken, when a more clear understanding of its implications will arise. The remaining chapters then show that the redistribution of matter and motion must everywhere take place in those ways, and produce those traits, which celestial bodies, organisms, minds, and societies alike display:—
          “Thus we are led to the conclusion that the entire process of things as displayed in the aggregate of the visible Universe, is analogous to the entire process of things as displayed in the smallest aggregates.
  “Motion as well as matter being fixed in quantity, it would seem that, the change in the distribution of matter which motion effects coming to a limit in whichever direction it is carried, the indestructible motion thereupon necessitates a reverse distribution. Apparently, the universally coexistent forces of attraction and repulsion—which, as we have seen, necessitate rhythm in the totality of its changes—produce now an immeasurable period during which the attractive forces predominating cause universal concentration, and then an immeasurable period during which the repulsive forces predominating cause universal diffusion; alternate eras of Evolution and Dissolution. And thus there is suggested the conception of a past during which there have been successive Evolutions analogous to that which is going on; and a future during which successive other such Evolutions may go on—ever the same in principle but never the same in concrete result.”
  None of Spencer’s works exhibit more clearly the philosophic grasp of the author in dealing with such stupendous problems, or his knowledge of the principles of such a science as astronomy; in fact, from none can a better idea be formed of his truly encyclopædic knowledge. On every page are many and apt illustrations taken from some one of each of the sciences, and showing how thorough is the mastery of the principles of each one.  20
  After this work the philosopher writes:—“In logical order should here come the application of these First Principles to Inorganic Nature. But this great division it is proposed to pass over: partly because, even without it, the scheme is too extensive; and partly because the interpretation of Organic Nature after the proposed method is of more immediate importance. The second work of the series will therefore be ‘The Principles of Biology.’”—This, although first published in 1864, is still a classic, and without rival for giving the broad generalizations which hold true of all living beings; whether they be of that simple unorganized form which the Amœba displays, the organized representatives of the vegetable kingdom with its ferns, palms, and stately forest trees, or such animals as the earthworm, the butterfly, the lion, or man. Charles Darwin’s ‘Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life,’ dealing with organic evolution alone, was published a few years previously—but after, of course, the enunciation of the general principle of Evolution by Herbert Spencer; and the results are incorporated in these two large volumes, and form a strong buttress to the truth of the philosophy. How exceedingly near the philosopher was to discovering the principle of Natural Selection—or as he has since named it, ‘Survival of the Fittest’—may be seen by readers of the first edition of ‘Social Statics’; for it contains a paragraph from which a skillful dialectician could easily prove that this was really in the author’s mind when it was written! That such was the case, however, Spencer frankly denied. After expounding the laws holding good of all living beings, the volume goes on to speak hopefully of human population in the future. “Pressure of population and its accompanying evils will disappear; and it will leave a state of things requiring from each individual no more than a normal and pleasurable activity. Cessation in the decrease of fertility implies cessation in the development of the nervous system; and this implies a nervous system that has become equal to all that is demanded of it—has not to do more than is natural to it. But that exercise of faculties which does not exceed what is natural constitutes gratification. In the end, therefore, the obtainment of subsistence, and discharge of all the parental and social duties, will require just that kind and that amount of action needful to health and happiness.”  21
  In 1868 commenced the issue in parts of the ‘Principles of Psychology,’ a very much amplified edition of the work first published in 1855, and so revised as to form a consistent and systematic part of the philosophy,—the lapse of time between the two editions enabling the hypothesis to take a much higher development. In this learned treatise we see all the phenomena of mind—the emotions, the feelings, and the will—evolved from the simplest constituents, and problems of the most abstract kind, and of exceeding difficulty in logic and metaphysics, dealt with from the evolution standpoint and fully developed; it concludes with a brief outline of the special psychology of man considered as the unit of which societies are composed. With these volumes “a final remark worth making is, that the æsthetic activities in general may be expected to play an increasing part in human life as evolution advances. Greater economization of energy, resulting from superiority of organization, will have in the future, effects like those it has had in the past. The order of activities to which the æsthetic belong, having been already initiated by this economization, will hereafter be extended by it: the economization being achieved both directly through the improvement of the human structure itself, and indirectly through the improvement of all appliances, mechanical, social, and other. A growing surplus of energy will bring a growing proportion of the æsthetic activities and gratifications; and while the forms of art will be such as yield pleasurable exercise to the simpler faculties, they will in a greater degree than now appeal to the higher emotions.”  22
  In June 1874, the first part of the ‘Principles of Sociology’ was published; and the whole of Vol. i., the largest of the series, completed by 1876. The first division, the ‘Data of Sociology,’ is entirely taken up with a description of the interpretation likely to be given by the primitive man of natural phenomena:—

          “Changes in the sky and on the earth, occurring hourly, daily, and at shorter or longer intervals, go on in ways about which the savage knows nothing,—unexpected appearances and disappearances, transmutations, metamorphoses. While seeming to show that arbitrariness characterizes all actions, these foster the notion of a duality in the things which become visible and vanish, or which transform themselves; and this notion is confirmed by experiences of shadows, reflections, and echoes.
  “The impressions thus produced by converse with external nature favor a belief set up by a more definite experience—the experience of dreams. Having no conception of mind, the primitive man regards a dream as a series of actual occurrences; he did the things, went to the places, saw the persons dreamt of. Untroubled by incongruities, he accepts the facts as they stand; and in proportion as he thinks about them, is led to conceive a double which goes away during sleep and comes back. This conception of his own duality seems confirmed by the somnambulism occasionally witnessed.
  “More decisively does it seem confirmed by other abnormal insensibilities. In swoon, apoplexy, catalepsy, and the unconsciousness following violence, it appears that the other-self, instead of returning at all, will not return for periods varying from some minutes to some days. Occasionally after one of these states, the other-self tells what has happened in the interval; occasionally prolonged absence raises the doubt whether it is not gone away for an indefinite period.
  “The distinction between these conditions of temporary insensibility and the condition of permanent insensibility is one which, sometimes imperceptible to instructed persons, cannot be perceived by the savage. The normal unconsciousness of sleep from which a man’s double is readily brought back, is linked by these abnormal kinds of unconsciousness from which the double is brought back with difficulty, to that lasting kind of unconsciousness from which the double cannot be brought back at all. Still analogy leads the savage to infer that it will eventually come back…. Such resurrection, shown by the universal fear of the dead to be vaguely imagined even by the lowest races, becomes clearly imagined as the idea of a wandering duplicate is made definite by the dream theory.
  “The second-self ascribed to each man, at first differs in nothing from its original. It is figured as equally visible, equally material; and no less suffers hunger, thirst, fatigue, pain. Indistinguishable from the person himself,—capable of being slain, devoured, or otherwise destroyed a second time,—the original ghost, soul, spirit, differentiates slowly in supposed nature. Having at the outset but a temporary second life, it gradually acquires a permanent one; while it deviates more and more in substance from body, becoming at length etherealized.
  “This double of the dead man, originally conceived as like him in all other respects, is conceived as having like occupations; and from this belief in a second life thus like the first, and also like in the social arrangements it is subject to, there result the practices of leaving with the corpse food, drink, clothes, weapons, and of sacrificing at the grave domestic animals, wives, slaves…. The place in which this life after death is believed to be passed, varies with the antecedents of the races…. Hence at the grave are left fit appliances for the journey: canoes for the voyage, or horses to ride, dogs to guide, weapons for defense, money and passports for security. And where burial on a mountain range entails belief in this as a residence of ancestral ghosts, or where such a range has been held by a conquering race, the heavens, supposed to be accessible from the mountain-tops, come to be regarded as the other-world, or rather as one of the other-worlds.
  “The doubles of dead men, at first assumed to have but temporary second lives, do not, in that case, tend to form in popular belief an accumulating host; but they necessarily tend to form such a host when permanent second lives are ascribed to them. Swarming everywhere, capable of appearing and disappearing at will, and working in ways that cannot be foreseen,—they are thought of as the causes of all things which are strange, unexpected, inexplicable.
  “But while primitive men, regarding themselves as at the mercy of surrounding ghosts, try to defend themselves by the aid of the exorcist and the sorcerer, who deal with ghosts antagonistically, there is simultaneously adopted a contrary behavior towards ghosts,—a propitiation of them…. Out of this motive and its observances come all forms of worship. Awe of the ghost makes sacred the sheltering structure of the tomb; and this grows into the temple, while the tomb itself becomes the altar. From provisions placed for the dead, now habitually and now at fixed intervals, arise religious oblations, ordinary and extraordinary,—daily and at festivals. Immolations and mutilations at the grave pass into sacrifices and offerings of blood at the altar of a deity. Abstinence from food for the benefit of the ghost develops into fasting as a pious practice; and journeys to the grave with gifts become pilgrimages to the shrine. Praises of the dead and prayers to them grow into religious praises and prayers. And so every holy rite is derived from a funeral rite…. Besides those aberrant developments of ancestor-worship which result from identification of ancestors with idols, animals, plants, and natural powers, there are direct developments of it. Out of the assemblage of ghosts, some evolve into deities who retain their anthropomorphic characters. As the divine and the superior are, in the primitive mind, equivalent ideas; as the living man and reappearing ghost are at first confounded in early beliefs; as ghost and god are convertible terms,—we may understand how a deity develops out of a powerful man, and out of the ghost of a powerful man, by small steps. Within the tribe, the chief, the magician, or some one otherwise skilled, held in awe during his life as showing powers of unknown origin and extent, is feared in a higher degree when, after death, he gains the further powers possessed by all ghosts; and still more the stranger bringing new arts, as well as the conqueror of superior race, is treated as a superhuman being during life and afterwards worshiped as a yet greater superhuman being. Remembering that the most marvelous version of any story commonly obtains the greatest currency, and that so, from generation to generation, the deeds of such traditional persons grow by unchecked exaggerations eagerly listened to, we may see that in time any amount of expansion and idealization can be reached.”
  The foregoing long excerpt will serve two important purposes: for it shows not only the admirable power of the author to sum up in a short space the long arguments and illustrations of many chapters,—of, in the present instance, more than four hundred pages,—but also it furnishes a brief résumé of one of his original theories, showing how his writings are permeated through and through by the principle of evolution; how one fact naturally leads to the next, and this fact to another, and so on until at last we stand in awe before the stupendous generalization to which these steps have led us. Stupendous is the grasp of intellect involved; stupendous in that, compelled to acknowledge the truth of each of the steps, we are forced to accept the veracity of the larger truth to which we have ascended.  24
  Part ii. is entitled ‘The Inductions of Sociology,’ and deals with all the varied forms which societies have, and their growths, structures, and functions, the sustaining, distributing, and regulating systems, the relations of these structures to the surrounding conditions, the dominant forms of social activities entailed, and the metamorphoses of types caused by changes in the activities. It is here that we come across the great division, or dichotomization, of all societies into the militant and the industrial; into those which are framed on the principle of compulsory co-operation, and those which are framed on the principle of voluntary co-operation. These “two types, when evolved to their extreme forms, are diametrically opposed; and the contrasts between their traits are amongst the most important with which Sociology has to deal.” In fact, without a thorough grasp of this, a great deal of the author’s work upon Society would be difficult to comprehend,—it underlies so much, and is so frequently coming to the surface. It must not be imagined that these are the highest types of society; for “some pages might be added respecting a possible future social type, differing as much from the industrial as this does from the militant,—a type which, having a sustaining system more fully developed than any we know at present, will use the products of industry, neither for maintaining a militant organization, nor exclusively for material aggrandizement, but will devote them to carrying on the higher activities. As the contrast between the militant and the industrial types is indicated by inversion of the belief that individuals exist for the benefit of the State, into the belief that the State exists for the benefit of individuals, so the contrast between the industrial type and the type likely to be evolved from it is indicated by inversion of the belief that life is for work, into the belief that work is for life.” The multiplication of institutions and appliances for intellectual and æsthetic culture, and for kindred purposes, not of a directly life-sustaining kind, but having gratification for their immediate purpose, tends to support this prospect.  25
  The many facts contemplated in these “Inductions” unite in proving that social evolution forms a part of evolution at large, and fulfills in all respects the general formula: there is integration both by simple increase of mass, and by coalescence and re-coalescence of masses; there is a change from homogeneity to heterogeneity,—from the simple tribe alike in all its parts, to the civilized nation full of unlikenesses; there is greater coherence,—for while the wandering tribe is held together by no bonds, a civilized nation will hold together for hundreds of years, nay, thousands; there is greater definiteness,—arrangements become settled and slowly more precise, customs pass into laws which become more fixed and specific, and all institutions, at first confusedly intermingled, slowly separate at the same time that each within itself marks off more distinctly its component parts.  26
  Part iii., ‘Domestic Institutions,’ deals with the general phenomena of race maintenance, and the diverse interests of the species, of the parents, and of the offspring; the primitive relations of the sexes from the early period of promiscuity to the latest form, that of monogamy; and the status of women and of children. In all of which the law of evolution in general is shown to hold good, and that the higher traits in the relations of the sexes to one another and to children, which have accompanied social evolution, have been made possible by those higher traits of intelligence and feeling produced by the experiences and disciplines of progressing social states.  27
  One of the most prominent changes in the future may be the greater care of parents by offspring. “At present the latter days of the old whose married children live away from them, are made dreary by the lack of those pleasures yielded by the constant society of descendants; but a time may be expected when this evil will be met by an attachment of adults to their aged parents, which, if not as strong as that of parents to children, approaches it in strength…. When the earlier stages of education passed through in the domestic circle have come to yield, as they will in ways scarcely dreamt of at present, daily occasions for the strengthening of sympathy, intellectual and moral, then will the latter days of life be smoothed by a greater filial care, reciprocating the greater parental care bestowed in earlier life.”  28
  Part iv., ‘Ceremonial Institutions,’ shows how the formula of evolution is conformed to by the history of Trophies, Mutilations, Presents, Visits, Obeisances, Titles, Badges, Costumes, and all the varied forms of class distinction. It is shown that “rules of behavior are not results of conventions at one time or other deliberately made, as people tacitly assume: contrariwise, they are the natural products of social life which have gradually evolved.” They are of course characteristic of the militant type of society, and tend to fade and decay as industrialism and voluntary co-operation develop.  29
  Part v., ‘Political Institutions,’ contains an account of the evolution of governments as determined by natural causes. Setting out with an unorganized horde including both sexes and all ages, we see that when some public question, such as that of migration or of defense against enemies, has to be decided, the assembled individuals fall more or less clearly into two divisions. The elder, the stronger, and those whose sagacity and courage have been proved by experience, will form the smaller part who carry on the discussion; while the larger part, formed of the young, weak, and undistinguished, will be listeners who do no more than express from time to time assent or dissent. Among the leaders there is sure to be some one distinguished warrior, or aged hunter, who will have more than his individual share in forming the plan finally acted upon. That is to say, the entire assemblage will resolve itself, as in every public meeting of the present day, into three parts, which will eventually develop into that of chief or king; a ministry, or representative and consultative body; and the general electorate. Or, in the formula of evolution, the advance will be from small incoherent social aggregates to great coherent ones, which while becoming integrated will pass from uniformity to multiformity, and from indefiniteness to definiteness of political organization. But the conclusion of profoundest moment, to which all lines of argument converge, is that the possibility of a high social state, political as well as general, fundamentally depends on the cessation of war. Persistent militancy, maintaining adapted institutions, must inevitably prevent, or else neutralize, changes in the direction of more equitable institutions and laws; while permanent peace will of necessity be followed by social ameliorations of every kind. A study of ‘Political Institutions’ may lead some to think whether the arrangements they are advocating involve increase of that public regulation characterizing the militant type, or whether they tend to produce that better regulation, that greater individuality, and that more extended voluntary co-operation, characterizing the industrial type.  30
  Among social phenomena, those presented by ‘Ecclesiastical Institutions,’ Part vi., illustrate very clearly the general law of evolution. From the primitive undifferentiated social aggregate, in which domestic, civil, and religious subordination are at first carried on in like ways by the same agencies, develops the definite, coherent, and heterogeneous ecclesiastical organization. With this structural differentiation is a functional differentiation of deep and profound significance. Two sacerdotal duties, which were at first parts of the same, have been slowly separating: the first is the carrying on of worship, the second is the insistence on rules of conduct. If we compare modern with mediæval Europeans, when fasts were habitual, penances common, and men made pilgrimages and built shrines, we see that with social progress has gone a marked diminution of religious observances, and a marked increase in ethical injunctions and exhortations. At the present day dogmatic theology, with its promises of rewards and threats of damnation, bears a diminishing ratio to the insistences on justice, honesty, kindness, and sincerity. And now, what may we infer will be the evolution of religious ideas and sentiments throughout the future? “The conception of the First Cause, which has been enlarging from the beginning, must go on enlarging, until by disappearance of its limits it becomes a consciousness which transcends the forms of distinct thought, though it forever remains a consciousness.” “One truth must grow ever clearer,—the truth that there is an Inscrutable Existence everywhere manifested, to which man can conceive neither beginning nor end. Amid the mysteries which become the more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty, that he is ever in the presence of an Infinite and Eternal Energy, from which all things proceed.”  31
  In due course, were they written, should here follow the remaining parts of the ‘Principles of Sociology,’ dealing with Progress—Linguistic, Intellectual, Moral, Æsthetic; but as Spencer wrote in the preface to the last published volume of the series, for an invalid of seventy-six to deal adequately with topics so extensive and complex was obviously impossible. He contented himself with expanding the first two volumes of ‘Principles of Sociology’ into three by the addition of Part vii. (‘Professional Institutions’) and Part viii. (‘Industrial Institutions’). These were published in 1896 with the preface just cited; the concluding paragraphs of the book may be quoted. “As, when small tribes were welded into great tribes, the head chief stopped inter-tribal warfare; as, when small feudal governments became subject to a king, feudal wars were prevented by him; so, in time to come, a federation of the highest nations, exercising supreme authority (already foreshadowed by occasional agreements among ‘the Powers’), may, by forbidding wars between any of its constituent nations, put an end to the re-barbarization which is continually undoing civilization. When this peace-maintaining federation has been formed, there may be effectual progress towards that equilibrium between constitution and conditions—between inner and outer requirements—implied by the final stage of human evolution. Adaptation to the social state, now perpetually hindered by anti-social conflicts, may then go on unhindered; and all the great societies, in other respects differing, may become similar in those cardinal traits which result from complete self-ownership of the unit and exercise over him of nothing more than passive influence by the aggregate. On the one hand, by continual repression of aggressive instincts and exercise of feelings which prompt ministration to public welfare, and on the other hand by the lapse of restraints, gradually becoming less necessary, there must be produced a kind of man so constituted that while fulfilling his own desires he fulfills also the social needs…. Long studies, showing among other things the need for certain qualifications above indicated, but also revealing facts like that just named, have not caused me to recede from the belief expressed nearly fifty years ago that—‘The ultimate man will be one whose private requirements coincide with public ones. He will be that manner of man who, in spontaneously fulfilling his own nature, incidentally performs the functions of a social unit; and yet is only enabled so to fulfill his own nature by all others doing the like.’” In strict order these parts should of course have appeared before the ‘Principles of Ethics’; but Spencer thought it better to pass over them, for the time being fearing that the state of his health, which for some years had been below its usual low average, might prevent his completing that part of the Philosophy to which all the preceding volumes led, and which, with many others of the highest intellect, he thought to be the most important of all. This work was completed in April, 1893, although the first part, ‘The Data of Ethics,’ had been published some years previously, the philosopher “being the more anxious to indicate in outline, if he cannot complete, this final work, because the establishment of rules of right conduct on a scientific basis is a pressing need. Now that moral injunctions are losing the authority given by their supposed sacred origin, the secularization of morals is becoming imperative. Few things can happen more disastrous than the decay and death of a regulative system no longer fit, before another and fitter regulative system has grown up to replace it.”  32
  Part i. of the ‘Principles of Ethics’—the ‘Data of Ethics’—is concerned with the various views which may be held about conduct; and shows that “no school can avoid for the ultimate moral aim a desirable state of feeling, called by whatever name—gratification, enjoyment, happiness. Pleasure somewhere, at some time, to some being or beings, is an inexpugnable element of the conception.” We then have those generalizations furnished by Biology, Psychology, and Sociology, which underlie a true theory of living; passing on to the discussion on Selfishness and Unselfishness,—“egoism and altruism,”—showing that a pure and unqualified form of either is impossible, and that there must be a compromise or “conciliation”; which leads us, on the evolution hypothesis, to a consideration of absolute and relative ethics, or the conduct of the ideal man as existing in the ideal social state, and the conduct of man as he is in existing society, surrounded by the evils of a not perfect adaptation.  33
  Part ii., ‘The Inductions of Ethics,’ is a statement of those rules of human action which are registered as essential laws by all civilized nations: in other words, the generalizations of expediency. Disregarding the conventional limits of ethics, here are treated such matters as aggression, robbery, revenge, justice, generosity, humanity, veracity, obedience, industry, temperance, and chastity: and we are shown that with militancy goes pride in aggression and robbery, revenge and lying, obedience to despotic rulers, and contempt for industry; while with industrialism all these feelings are reversed,—leading to the not unreasonable inference that there needs but a continuance of absolute peace externally, and non-aggression internally, to insure the molding of man into a form naturally characterized by all the virtues!  34
  Part iii., ‘The Ethics of Individual Life,’ is short, and deals with those modes of private action which must result from the eventual equilibration of internal desires and external needs. The headings of the chapters—Activity, Rest, Nutrition, Stimulation, Culture, Amusements, Marriage, and Parenthood—are instructive as showing the scope here given to “Ethics.” Generally, this division gives definiteness to the idea of proportion; to the maintenance, that is, of balanced amounts of the activities, bodily and mental, required for complete health and happiness. Until the activities are spontaneously regulated by the natural promptings, these ethics must keep clearly in view, and continually emphasize, the needs to which the nature has to be adjusted; but the nature must not be too much strained out of its inherited form, for the normal remolding can go on but slowly.  35
  Part iv., ‘Justice,’ coincides in area with the author’s first work alluded to above, ‘Social Statics,’ but differs in its treatment, in leaving out entirely all supernaturalistic interpretation; in definitely setting forth and elaborating a biological origin for Ethics; and in making much more frequent use of inductive verification. The formula of Justice here given is most important, and of far-reaching consequences in Mr. Spencer’s individualistic theory of politics. It is, “Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.” Calling the several particular freedoms of each man his rights, we find them enumerated under such titles as physical integrity, free motion, property, free exchange and contract, free industry, free belief and worship, free speech and publication. And absolute Ethics asserts each of these. But the preservation of the species, or that variety of it constituting a society, being an end which must take precedence of individual preservation, it follows that relative Ethics justifies, and indeed warrants, such equitably distributed taxation, whether of property, industry, belief, or what not, as may be required for maintaining social order and safety. There has still to be considered, from the ethical point of view, the political position of women. Now, men are liable to furnish contingents to the army and the navy; hence, ethically considered, as women have not to furnish them, their equal “political rights” cannot be entertained until there is permanent peace, when only will it be possible to consider such equalization. The rights of children are complicated by the fact that while at first they are dependent on their parents for general sustentation, they but gradually and slowly grow out of this state and become independent and able to support themselves. ‘Justice’ then goes on to consider the duties of the State, which are defined as the maintenance of the conditions under which each citizen may gain the fullest life compatible with the fullest lives of his fellow-citizens. And many reasons are given that this can only be done efficiently by limiting as far as possible the number and variety of those duties.  36
  In Part v. we have ‘Negative Beneficence,’—a few short chapters dealing with those minor self-restraints which are dictated by what may be called passive sympathy. Free competition, free contract, undeserved payments, displays of ability, and the administration of blame and praise, are all areas in which negative beneficence may legitimately be displayed. The most eminent professional men may so restrain their practice by enlarged fees, as not to ruin those only a little less able; the unexpected occurrence of rock in a tunnel which has been contracted for, may justify a payment beyond the price contracted for; unmusical street musicians without their undeserved payments would take to some occupation for which they are less unfit; and those capable of monopolizing the whole attention of a dinner party may so restrain themselves as to allow the less distinguished to join in the exchange of thoughts. The origin of the obligation to this beneficence is of course conduciveness to happiness, immediate or remote, or both; and consequent conduciveness to maintenance of the species or the variety, regarded as hereafter the recipient of increased happiness.  37
  This being the origin also of ‘Positive Beneficence,’ we are naturally led on to Part vi., comprehending all those modes of conduct dictated by active sympathy, which imply pleasure in giving pleasure,—modes of conduct that social adaptation has induced and must render ever more general; and which, in becoming universal, must fill to the full the possible measure of human happiness. Of the various beneficences here treated are the marital, the parental, the filial, aid to the sick and injured, to friends, to poor, and social and political altruism. Beyond these there is the beneficent regulation of conduct toward those who occupy positions of subordination; and here is a large sphere opened for the anodyne influence of sympathy. Along with the substitution of industrialism for militancy, there has been a relaxation of those customs which remind men of their respective grades, until we now find one trait of a true gentleman defined as the ability successfully to make those who rank below him in the social scale, at ease in his presence. And here we are brought round once more to the fact that our present social state is transitional. The dictates of absolute ethics being kept before us as the ideal, we must little by little mold the real into conformity with them as fast as the nature of things permits; meanwhile letting the chief temporary function of beneficence be to mitigate the sufferings accompanying the transition. The miseries of re-adaptation are necessary; but there are accompanying unnecessary miseries which may with universal advantage be excluded.
          “It seems not only rational to believe in some further evolution, but irrational to doubt it—irrational to suppose that the causes which have in the past worked such wonderful effects, will in the future work no effects. Not expecting that any existing society will reach a high organization, nor that any of the varieties of men now living will become fully adapted to social life, a few yet look forward … to the evolution of a Humanity adjusted to the requirements of its life. And along with this belief there arises, in an increasing number, the desire to further the development…. Hereafter, the highest ambition of the beneficent will be to have a share—even though an utterly inappreciable and unknown share—in the ‘making of Man.’ Experience occasionally shows that there may arise extreme interest in pursuing entirely unselfish ends; and as time goes on, there will be more and more of those whose unselfish end will be the further evolution of Humanity. While contemplating from the heights of thought that far-off life of the race never to be enjoyed by them, but only by a remote posterity, they will feel a calm pleasure in the consciousness of having aided the advance towards it.”
  These words end the ‘System of Synthetic Philosophy.’ Two works were completed while it was in progress. One was ‘The Study of Sociology,’ originally published in 1873. After ‘Education’ it is the most popular of the philosopher’s works, very many thousands having been sold,—a fact in part attributable to the literary style, which differs entirely from that of the ‘System’ in being as light and popular as the subject-matter permits. The early chapters deal with the crying need there is for a science of Society: or to put it in other words, for a science which may serve to the representatives in parliaments and senates as a guide for the making of laws and enactments for the general benefit of the States; which shall serve to point out the broad principles which should underlie the regulation of matters in a corporate society. The difficulties of such a science are then more or less completely dealt with. Beyond the objective difficulties,—the vitiations of evidence due to random observation, enthusiasms, prepossessions, self-interests, and so forth,—there are the subjective difficulties due to the emotions and intellect of the observer, the bias caused by his education, by his patriotism, by the class to which he belongs, by his early political surroundings,—whether Tory, Liberal, or Republican,—by his religious environment, and by the general discipline to which he has been subjected. The work concludes with the sciences best adapted to train an intellect for such study.  39
  The other work, ‘The Man versus the State,’ in four parts, was originally published in the Contemporary Review for 1884; and is now included, as previously mentioned, in one volume with the third edition of ‘Social Statics.’ The first part is entitled ‘The New Toryism,’ and shows how Toryism and Liberalism originally emerged, the one from militancy or compulsory co-operation, and the other from industrialism or voluntary co-operation. But as Liberalism has in recent years been extending the system of compulsion in many, if not all directions, it is merely a new form of Toryism.  40
  The second part, ‘The Coming Slavery,’ is devoted to a logical examination of socialism; and demonstrates how, if its development be unfettered, it can lead to no other result than slavery, neither more nor less. ‘The Sins of Legislators’ forms the title of the third part; and shows how the legislator is morally blameless or morally blameworthy, according as he has or has not made himself acquainted with the several classes of facts obtainable by a study of legislative experiences, and their results, in former years. “The legislator who is wholly or in great part uninformed concerning the matters of fact which he must examine before his opinion on a proposed law can be of any value, and who nevertheless helps to pass that law, can no more be absolved if misery and mortality result, than the journeyman druggist can be absolved when death is caused by the medicine he ignorantly prescribes.” The great political superstition of the past was the divine right of kings. ‘The Great Political Superstition’ of the present is the divine right of parliaments. The author here in the fourth part shows this to be really the divine right of majorities. “This is the current theory which all accept without proof, as self-evident truth.” Criticism, however, shows it to be the reverse; and hence the conclusion is drawn that “The function of Liberalism in the past was that of putting a limit to the power of kings. The function of true Liberalism in the future will be that of putting a limit to the powers of parliaments.”  41
  After the foregoing works, Spencer has published several important essays on the biological question, Are acquired characters inherited? affirming, in contradistinction to Weissmann, that they are, and supporting his contentions with a mass of facts which had previously not been utilized in this connection. This problem is so extremely complex that no definite and generally accepted conclusion seems at present possible.  42
  What approval, or what criticism, is it possible to pass upon the great work of so great a man? None, will be the answer of all those, if any there be, who thoroughly comprehend the implications of this vast system of thought. We are too near to be able to get the perspective necessary to see its true relations. Perhaps at some future time, in decades and centuries to come, when minds are more attuned to the keynote of evolution, will it be possible to form some adequate conception of its comparative relation to knowledge in general. In the mean time we must rest satisfied with the opinions that have been formed by those most capable of judging.  43
  The strength of Spencer’s writings lies first in the absolute perfection of his logic: to use a mechanical analogy, they are as it were the outpourings of a perfect logical machine, whose levers and cranks are so adjusted as to work without the possibility of error; a loom in which no strand of weft or woof has ever become entangled, and from which the finest cloth is drawn without spot or blemish. Deduction, Induction, and Verification are so perfectly blended that in this nineteenth century it seems impossible to conceive their higher development. The constituent parts of this logical method which usually excite the greatest wonder and surprise are the brilliant and unsurpassed power of generalization, which is ever present, and which unites in one whole, subjects which at first appear to be as far removed as the antipodes upon our globe. This of course implies the knowledge of an immense range of subjects; and any one reading through, say only one volume such as ‘First Principles,’ may easily count up more than the metaphorical “speaking acquaintance” with over thirty clearly and well defined sciences, commencing with Anatomy at one end of the alphabet, and ending with Zoölogy at the other. How accurate this knowledge is, may be seen by the currency his writings have amongst men of pure science,—meaning by this term, specialists in the smaller departments and branches of human understanding. Any errors of detail would have been fatal to this vogue. At the same time we are bound to admit that amongst metaphysicians, or philosophers pur et simple, Spencer has not so large a following. It is quite possible, however, that this may be only temporary; and that as years roll on, more may rally to the standard of a philosophy based on a greater knowledge of the human understanding than has ever before been brought to the world’s notice.  44
  One broad result stands out ever clearer. Spencer’s development and applications of the theory of Evolution have more profoundly influenced contemporary thought, in every branch of life, than the work of any other modern thinker. It is not for no purpose that he has devoted the entire energies of an invalid to give an account to us, not only of the world on which we live, and of the other worlds which night alone shows forth, but of the whole Universe containing worlds of which we reck not.  45
  Spencer died on December 8th, 1903. An extensive ‘Autobioggraphy’ was published the following year. A series of treatises under the title ‘Descriptive Sociology,’ supplementary to the ‘Principles,’ was begun during his lifetime and continued after his death.  46
  Spencer’s influence upon contemporary thought was immense, not only in England, but perhaps even more in the United States, Russia, and India. The new generation treats him with less reverence, questioning not merely his system but his scientific attainments. Mr. Clutton Brock, reviewing the most recent life of Spencer, by Hugh Elliot (1917), in the London Times, thus sums up his permanent achievements:—
          “In the essays are unforgettable pages, full of suggestions which have deeply influenced conduct. ‘The Principles of Psychology’ were a great advance upon all previous work of that kind. Experts, including those who differ most from Spencer, admit the originality of this book. Spencer’s fanatical and blind antipathy to State action, his unwearied warfare against this ‘superstition,’ may appear to a later generation, judging more impartially than we can, to be only the exaggeration of a wholesome feeling, the natural reaction against the worship of the State as an earthly Providence. His descriptive sociology is an immense storehouse of facts and acute reflections. What Mr. Elliot admires, and with justice,—what his valuable study impressively reveals,—is the heroic element in this independent lonely thinker, his steadfast adherence to the search of truth, his courage and faith, his love of liberty, his emancipation from all forms of authority. Those who knew him were too apt to think of his eccentricities and many foibles, all very manifest and multiplying with age, his machine-made plan of life, his many limitations, and his overweening self-confidence. They overlooked the fact that they had among them one never surpassed in devotion to truth, according to his light. ‘There has never been a philosopher so deeply imbued with a spirit of liberty or reason.’ That is his unquestionable and ‘fundamental greatness.’ And it is a problem whether such a character, with all its angularities and oddities and abounding self-sufficiency, is not a greater permanent asset than the construction of an entirely new system of philosophy. Of the vast bridge with which he sought to span all knowledge some arches still stand erect; many more are broken or in decay; but their vast ruins are an abiding monument to their builder and to his heroic effort, without a parallel in English speculative history, to compass the whole field of existence.”

Shakespeare · Bible · Strunk · Anatomy · Nonfiction · Quotations · Reference · Fiction · Poetry
© 1993–2015 · [Top 150] · Subjects · Titles · Authors · World Lit.