Herbert Spencer

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Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in The Nineteenth Century for January 1890. The writing of this essay was consequent on a controversy carried on in The Times between Nov. 7 and Nov. 27, 1889, and was made needful by the misapprehensions and mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions embodied in that controversy. Hence the allusions which the essay contains. The last few paragraphs of it in its original form were mainly personal in their character; and, not wishing to perpetuate personalities, I have omitted them .] Life in Fiji, at the time when Thomas Williams settled there, must have been something worse than uncomfortable. One of the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published as the Introduction to a volume entitled A Plea for Liberty, &c.: a series of anti-socialistic essays, issued at the beginning of 1891 .] Of the many ways in which common-sense inferences about social affairs are flatly contradicted by events (as when measures taken to suppress a book cause increased circulation of it, or as when attempts to prevent usurious rates of interest make the terms harder for the borrower, or as when there is greater difficulty in getting things at the places of production than elsewhere) one of the most curious is the way in which ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Leader for December 25, 1852. ] We do not ascribe gracefulness to cart-horses, tortoises, and hippopotami, in all of which the powers of movement are relatively inferior; but we ascribe it to greyhounds, antelopes, race-horses, all of which have highly efficient locomotive organs. What, then, is this distinctive peculiarity of structure and action which we call Grace? One night while watching a dancer, and inwardly condemning her tours de force as barbarisms which would be hissed, were not people such cowards as always to applaud what they think it the fashion to applaud, I remarked ...
Category: Philosophy
That proclivity to generalization which is possessed in greater or less degree by all minds, and without which, indeed, intelligence cannot exist, has unavoidable inconveniences. Through it alone can truth be reached; and yet it almost inevitably betrays into error. But for the tendency to predicate of every other case, that which has been found in the observed cases, there could be no rational thinking; and yet by this indispensable tendency, men are perpetually led to found, on limited experience, propositions which they wrongly assume to be universal or absolute. In one sense, however, this can scarcely be regarded as ...
Category: Philosophy
There cannot fail to be a relationship between the successive systems of education, and the successive social states with which they have co-existed. Having a common origin in the national mind, the institutions of each epoch, whatever be their special functions, must have a family likeness. When men received their creed and its interpretations from an infallible authority deigning no explanations, it was natural that the teaching of children should be purely dogmatic. While "believe and ask no questions" was the maxim of the Church, it was fitly the maxim of the school. Conversely, now that Protestantism has gained for ...
Category: Philosophy
The four essays on education which Herbert Spencer published in a single volume in 1861 were all written and separately published between 1854 and 1859. Their tone was aggressive and their proposals revolutionary; although all the doctrines—with one important exception—had already been vigorously preached by earlier writers on education, as Spencer himself was at pains to point out. The doctrine which was comparatively new ran through all four essays; but was most amply stated in the essay first published in 1859 under the title "What Knowledge is of Most Worth?" In this essay Spencer divided the leading kinds of human ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1854 .] Whoever has studied the physiognomy of political meetings, cannot fail to have remarked a connexion between democratic opinions and peculiarities of costume. At a Chartist demonstration, a lecture on Socialism, or a soirée of the Friends of Italy, there will be seen many among the audience, and a still larger ratio among the speakers, who get themselves up in a style more or less unusual. One gentleman on the platform divides his hair down the centre, instead of on one side; another brushes it back off the forehead, in ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Fortnightly Review for July 1865. ] British speculation, to which, the chief initial ideas and established truths of Modern Philosophy are due, is no longer dormant. By his System of Logic , Mr. Mill probably did more than any other writer to re-awaken it. And to the great service he thus rendered some twenty years ago, he now adds by his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy —a work which, taking the views of Sir William Hamilton as texts, reconsiders sundry ultimate questions that still remain unsettled. Among these questions is one of much importance ...
Category: Philosophy
The greatest defect in our programmes of education is entirely overlooked. While much is being done in the detailed improvement of our systems in respect both of matter and manner, the most pressing desideratum has not yet been even recognised as a desideratum. To prepare the young for the duties of life is tacitly admitted to be the end which parents and schoolmasters should have in view; and happily, the value of the things taught, and the goodness of the methods followed in teaching them, are now ostensibly judged by their fitness to this end. The propriety of substituting for ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Fortnightly Review for April, 1871.] If a writer who discusses unsettled questions takes up every gauntlet thrown down to him, polemical writing will absorb much of his energy. Having a power of work which unfortunately does not suffice for executing with anything like due rapidity the task I have undertaken, I have made it a policy to avoid controversy as much as possible, even at the cost of being seriously misunderstood. Hence it resulted that when in Macmillan's Magazine , for July, 1869, Mr. Richard Hutton published, under the title "A Questionable Parentage for Morals," ...
Category: Philosophy
The article by Mr. Martineau, in the April number of the Contemporary Review , on "The Place of Mind in Nature, and Intuition of Man," recalled to me a partially-formed intention to deal with the chief criticisms which have from time to time been made on the general doctrine set forth in First Principles ; since, though not avowedly directed against propositions asserted or implied in that work, Mr. Martineau's reasoning tells against them by implication. The fulfilment of this intention I should, however, have continued to postpone, had I not learned that the arguments of Mr. Martineau are supposed ...
Category: Philosophy
[ The following was contained in the first edition of First Principles. I omitted it from the re-organized second edition, because it did not form an essential part of the new structure. As it is referred to in the foregoing pages, and as its general argument is germane to the contents of those pages, I have thought well to insert it here. Moreover, though I hope eventually to incorporate it in that division of the Principles of Sociology which treats of Intellectual Progress, yet as it must be long before it can thus re-appear in its permanent place, and as, ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for July 1853. ] From time to time there returns on the cautious thinker, the conclusion that, considered simply as a question of probabilities, it is unlikely that his views upon any debatable topic are correct. “Here,” he reflects, “are thousands around me holding on this or that point opinions differing from mine—wholly in many cases; partially in most others. Each is as confident as I am of the truth of his convictions. Many of them are possessed of great intelligence; and, rank myself high as I may, I must admit that some ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1860 .] Thirty years ago, the dread of impending evils agitated not a few breasts throughout England. Instinctive fear of change, justified as it seemed by outbursts of popular violence, conjured up visions of the anarchy which would follow the passing of a Reform Bill. In scattered farm-houses there was chronic terror, lest those newly endowed with political power should in some way filch all the profits obtained by rearing cattle and growing corn. The occupants of halls and manors spoke of ten-pound householders almost as though they formed an army ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Leader for April 15, and May 13, 1854. ] It is a common opinion that beauty of character and beauty of aspect are unrelated. I have never been able to reconcile myself to this opinion. Indeed, even those who hold it do so in an incomplete sense; for notwithstanding their theory they continue to manifest surprise when they find a mean deed committed by one of noble countenance—a fact implying that underneath their professed induction lies a still living conviction at variance with it. Whence this conviction? How is it that a belief in the ...
Category: Philosophy
Equally at the squire's table after the withdrawal of the ladies, at the farmers' market-ordinary, and at the village ale-house, the topic which, after the political question of the day, excites the most general interest, is the management of animals. Riding home from hunting, the conversation usually gravitates towards horse-breeding, and pedigrees, and comments on this or that "good point;" while a day on the moors is very unlikely to end without something being said on the treatment of dogs. When crossing the fields together from church, the tenants of adjacent farms are apt to pass from criticisms on the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for June 10, 1865 .] A Hindoo, who, before beginning his day’s work, salaams to a bit of plastic clay, out of which, in a few moments, he has extemporized a god in his own image, is an object of amazement to the European. We read with surprise bordering on scepticism of worship done by machinery, and of prayers which owe their supposed efficacy to the motion given by the wind to the papers they are written on. When told how certain of the Orientals, if displeased with their wooden deities, take them down ...
Category: Philosophy
Excepting those which have appeared as articles in periodicals during the last eight years, the essays here gathered together were originally re-published in separate volumes at long intervals. The first volume appeared in December 1857; the second in November 1863; and the third in February 1874. By the time the original editions of the first two had been sold, American reprints, differently entitled and having the essays differently arranged, had been produced; and, for economy's sake, I have since contented myself with importing successive supplies printed from the American stereotype plates. Of the third volume, however, supplies have, as they ...
Category: Philosophy
The two antagonist theories of morals, like many other antagonist theories, are both right and both wrong. The a priori school has its truth; the a posteriori school has its truth; and for the proper guidance of conduct, there must be due recognition of both. On the one hand, it is asserted that there is an absolute standard of rectitude; and, respecting certain classes of actions, it is rightly so asserted. From the fundamental laws of life and the conditions of social existence, are deducible certain imperative limitations to individual action—limitations which are essential to a perfect life, individual and ...
Category: Philosophy
[ From the Contemporary Review for Feb. 1881. It would not have occurred to me to reproduce this essay, had it not been that there has lately been a reproduction of the essay to which it replies. But as Mr. Nettleship, in his editorial capacity, has given a permanent shape to Professor Green’s unscrupulous criticism, I am obliged to give a permanent shape to the pages which show its un­scru­pu­lous­ness. ] Dreary at best, metaphysical controversy becomes especially dreary when it runs into rejoinders and re-rejoinders; and hence I feel some hesitation in inflicting, even upon those readers of the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April, 1857. Though the ideas and illustrations contained in this essay were eventually incorporated in First Principles, yet I think it well here to reproduce it as exhibiting the form under which the General Doctrine of Evolution made its first appearance. ] The current conception of progress is shifting and indefinite. Sometimes it comprehends little more than simple growth—as of a nation in the number of its members and the extent of territory over which it spreads. Sometimes it has reference to quantity of material products—as when the advance of agriculture and ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in the Edinburgh Review for October 1854 .] Believers in the intrinsic virtues of political forms, might draw an instructive lesson from the politics of our railways. If there needs a conclusive proof that the most carefully-framed constitutions are worthless, unless they be embodiments of the popular character—if there needs a conclusive proof, that governmental arrangements in advance of the time will inevitably lapse into congruity with the time; such proof may be found over and over again repeated in the current history of joint-stock enterprises. As devised by Act of Parliament, the ad­min­i­stra­tions of our public ...
Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in April 1864 as an appendix to the foregoing essay. ] While the preceding pages were passing through the press, there appeared in the Revue des Deux Mondes for February 15th, 1864, an article on a late work of mine— First Principles . To M. Auguste Laugel, the writer of the article, I am much indebted for the careful exposition he has made of some of the leading views set forth in that work; and for the catholic and sympathetic spirit in which he has dealt with them. In one respect, however, M. Laugel conveys to his ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Fortnightly Review for November and December 1873. ] When made by a competent reader, an objection usually implies one of two things. Either the statement to which he demurs is wholly or partially untrue; or, if true, it is presented in such a way as to permit mis­app­re­hen­sion. A need for some change or addition is in any case shown. Not recognizing the errors alleged, but thinking rather that mis­app­re­hen­sions cause the dissent of those who have attacked the me­ta­phys­i­co-the­o­lo­gi­cal doctrines held by me, I propose here to meet, by explanations and arguments, the chief ...
Category: Philosophy
Shakspeare’s simile for adversity― Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous, Wears yet a precious jewel in his head, might fitly be used also as a simile for a disagreeable truth. Repulsive as is its aspect, the hard fact which dissipates a cherished illusion, is presently found to contain the germ of a more salutary belief. The experience of every one furnishes instances in which an opinion long shrunk from as seemingly at variance with all that is good, but finally accepted as irresistible, turns out to be fraught with benefits. It is thus with self-knowledge: much as we dislike ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Fortnightly Review for December 1871 .] It is contrary to common-sense that fish should be more difficult to get at the sea-side than in London; but it is true, nevertheless. No less contrary to common-sense seems the truth that though, in the West Highlands, oxen are to be seen everywhere, no beef can be had without sending two or three hundred miles to Glasgow for it. Rulers who, guided by common-sense, tried to suppress certain opinions by forbidding the books containing them, never dreamed that their interdicts would cause the diffusion of these opinions; and ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for January 1858 .] A mong unmitigated rogues, mutual trust is impossible. Among people of absolute integrity, mutual trust would be unlimited. These are truisms. Given a nation made up of liars and thieves, and all trade among its members must be carried on either by barter or by a currency of intrinsic value: nothing in the shape of promises -to-pay can pass in place of actual payments; for, by the hypothesis, such promises being never fulfilled, will not be taken. On the other hand, given a nation of perfectly honest men—men as ...
Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in America and afterwards published in England in The Contemporary Review for January 1883, preceded by the following editorial note:—“The state of Mr. Spencer’s health unfortunately not permitting him, to give in the form of articles the results of his observations on American society, it is thought useful to reproduce, under his own revision and with some additional remarks, what he has said on the subject; especially as the accounts of it which have appeared in this country are imperfect: reports of the conversation having been abridged, and the speech being known only by telegraphic summary. “The ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published as a brochure in April 1864. The preface to the second edition, published in April 1869, I reproduce because of certain facts contained in it which are not without interest. ] The first edition of this Essay is not yet out of print. But a proposal to translate it into French having been made by Professor Réthoré, I have decided to prepare a new edition free from the imperfections which criticism and further thought have disclosed, rather than allow these imperfections to be reproduced. The occasion has almost tempted me into some amplification. Further arguments against the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for April 15, 1865 .] A test of senatorial capacity is a desideratum. We rarely learn how near the mark or how wide of the mark the calculations of statesmen are: the slowness and complexity of social changes, hindering, as they do, the definite comparisons of results with anticipations. Occasionally, however, parliamentary decisions admit of being definitely valued. One which was arrived at a few weeks ago furnished a measure of legislative judgment too significant to be passed by. On the edge of the Cotswolds, just above the valley of the Severn, occur certain ...
Category: Philosophy
While discussing with two members of the Anthropological Institute the work to be undertaken by its psychological section, I made certain suggestions which they requested me to put in writing. When reminded, some months after, of the promise I had made to do this, I failed to recall the particular suggestions referred to; but in the endeavour to remember them, I was led to glance over the whole subject of comparative human psychology. Hence resulted the following paper. That making a general survey is useful as a preliminary to deliberate study, either of a whole or of any part, scarcely ...
Category: Philosophy
[ Originally published in The Leader, for March 20, 1852. Brief though it is, I place this essay before the rest, partly because with the exception of a similarly-brief essay on "Use and Beauty", it came first in order of time, but chiefly because it came first in order of thought, and struck the keynote of all that was to follow. ] I n a debate upon the development hypothesis, lately narrated to me by a friend, one of the disputants was described as arguing that as, in all our experience, we know no such phenomenon as transmutation of species, ...
Category: Philosophy
[ From the Fortnightly Review for July 1888. This essay was called forth by attacks on me made in essays published in preceding numbers of the Fortnightly Review— essays in which the Kantian system of ethics was lauded as immensely superior to the system of ethics defended by me. The last section now appears for the first time. ] If, before Kant uttered that often-quoted saying in which, with the stars of Heaven he coupled the conscience of Man, as being the two things that excited his awe, he had known more of Man than he did, he would probably ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Nineteenth Century, for April and May , 1886.] I. Within the recollection of men now in middle life, opinion concerning the derivation of animals and plants was in a chaotic state. Among the unthinking there was tacit belief in creation by miracle, which formed an essential part of the creed of Christendom; and among the thinking there were two parties, each of which held an indefensible hypothesis. Immensely the larger of these parties, including nearly all whose scientific culture gave weight to their judgments, though not accepting literally the theologically-orthodox doctrine, made a compromise between ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The British Quarterly Review for July 1854 .] There still prevails among men a vague notion that scientific knowledge differs in nature from ordinary knowledge. By the Greeks, with whom Mathematics—literally things learnt —was alone considered as knowledge proper, the distinction must have been strongly felt; and it has ever since maintained itself in the general mind. Though, considering the contrast between the achievements of science and those of daily unmethodic thinking, it is not surprising that such a distinction has been assumed; yet it needs but to rise a little above the common point of ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for April 1859 .] We are not about to repeat, under the above title, the often-told tale of adulterations: albeit, were it our object to deal with this familiar topic, there are not wanting fresh materials. It is rather the less-observed and less-known dishonesties of trade, to which we would here draw attention. The same lack of con­scien­tious­ness which shows itself in the mixing of starch with cocoa, in the dilution of butter with lard, in the colouring of confectionery with chromate of lead and arsenite of copper, must of course come out ...
Category: Philosophy
Inquiring into the pedigree of an idea is not a bad means of roughly estimating its value. To have come of respectable ancestry, is prima facie evidence of worth in a belief as in a person; while to be descended from a discreditable stock is, in the one case as in the other, an unfavourable index. The analogy is not a mere fancy. Beliefs, together with those who hold them, are modified little by little in successive generations; and as the modifications which successive generations of the holders undergo do not destroy the original type, but only disguise and refine ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in Fraser’s Magazine for October 1857. ] When Carlo, standing, chained to his kennel, sees his master in the distance, a slight motion of the tail indicates his but faint hope that he is about to be let out. A much more decided wagging of the tail, passing by-and-by into lateral undulations of the body, follows his master’s nearer approach. When hands are laid on his collar, and he knows that he is really to have an outing, his jumping and wriggling are such that it is by no means easy to loose his fastenings. And when ...
Category: Philosophy
Mr. McLennan's recent essays on the Worship of Animals and Plants have done much to elucidate a very obscure subject. By pursuing in this case, as before in another case, the truly scientific method of comparing the phenomena presented by existing uncivilized races with those which the traditions of civilized races present, he has rendered both of them more comprehensible than they were before. It seems to me, however, that Mr. McLennan gives but an indefinite answer to the essential question—How did the worship of animals and plants arise? Indeed, in his concluding paper, he expressly leaves this problem unsolved; ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Westminster Review for October 1852. ] Commenting on the seeming incongruity between his father’s argumentative powers and his ignorance of formal logic, Tristram Shandy says:—“It was a matter of just wonder with my worthy tutor, and two or three fellows of that learned society, that a man who knew not so much as the names of his tools, should be able to work after that fashion with them.” Sterne’s implied conclusion that a knowledge of the principles of reasoning neither makes, nor is essential to, a good reasoner, is doubtless true. Thus, too, is it ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in Macmillan’s Magazine for March 1860. ] Why do we smile when a child puts on a man’s hat? or what induces us to laugh on reading that the corpulent Gibbon was unable to rise from his knees after making a tender declaration? The usual reply to such questions is, that laughter results from a perception of incongruity. Even were there not, on this reply, the obvious criticism that laughter often occurs from extreme pleasure or from mere vivacity, there would still remain the real problem—How comes a sense of the incongruous to be followed by these ...
Category: Philosophy
Sir James Macintosh got great credit for the saying, that "constitutions are not made, but grow." In our day, the most significant thing about this saying is, that it was ever thought so significant. As from the surprise displayed by a man at some familiar fact, you may judge of his general culture; so from the admiration which an age accords to a new thought, its average degree of enlightenment may be inferred. That this apophthegm of Macintosh should have been quoted and requoted as it has, shows how profound has been the ignorance of social science. A small ray ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Leader for October 23, 1852. ] When lately looking through the gallery of the Old Water-Colour Society, I was struck with the incongruity produced by putting regular architecture into irregular scenery. In one case, where the artist had introduced a symmetrical Grecian edifice into a mountainous and wild landscape, the discordant effect was particularly marked. “How very unpicturesque,” said a lady to her friend, as they passed; showing that I was not alone in my opinion. Her phrase, however, set me speculating. Why unpicturesque? Picturesque means, like a picture—like what men choose for pictures. Why ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Leader for June 25, 1853. ] With Spirit-rappings and Table-movings still the rage, and with the belief in Spontaneous Combustion still unextinguished, it seems desirable that something should be said in justification of that general scepticism with which the philosophical meet the alleged wonders that periodically turn the heads of the nation. Nothing less than a bulky octavo would be needed to contain all that might be written on the matter; and unfortunately such an octavo, when written, would be little read by those most requiring it. A brief hint or two, however, may find ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The National Review for October, 1857 , under the title of "The Ultimate Laws of Physiology". The title "Transcendental Physiology", which the editor did not approve, was restored when the essay was re-published with others in 1857.] The title Transcendental Anatomy is used to distinguish that division of biological science which treats, not of the structures of individual organisms considered separately, but of the general principles of structure common to vast and varied groups of organisms,—the unity of plan discernible throughout multitudinous species, genera, and orders, which differ widely in appearance. And here, under the head ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Leader for January 3, 1852. ] In one of his essays, Emerson remarks, that what Nature at one time provides for use, she afterwards turns to ornament; and he cites in illustration the structure of a sea-shell, in which the parts that have for a while formed the mouth are at the next season of growth left behind, and become decorative nodes and spines. Ignoring the implied teleology, which does not here concern us, it has often occurred to me that this same remark might be extended to the progress of Humanity. Here, too, the ...
Category: Philosophy
[ First published in The Reader for November 19, 1864. ] Probably few, if any, competent physicists have, of late years, used the term “electric fluid” in any other than a conventional sense. When distinguishing electricity into the two kinds, “positive” and “negative,” or “vitreous” and “resinous,” they have used the ideas suggested by these names merely as convenient symbols, and not as representatives of different entities. And, now that heat and light are proved to be modes of motion, it has become obvious that all the allied manifestations of force must be modes of motion. What is the particular ...
Category: Philosophy
It has been truly remarked that, in order of time, decoration precedes dress. Among people who submit to great physical suffering that they may have themselves handsomely tattooed, extremes of temperature are borne with but little attempt at mitigation. Humboldt tells us that an Orinoco Indian, though quite regardless of bodily comfort, will yet labour for a fortnight to purchase pigment wherewith to make himself admired; and that the same woman who would not hesitate to leave her hut without a fragment of clothing on, would not dare to commit such a breach of decorum as to go out unpainted. ...