Spencer, Herbert (1820–1903)

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Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) made a significant contribution to nineteenth-century thought through innovative conceptual enquiry, gaining recognition in his native England and across the world. He is chiefly remembered today for his classical liberalism, and for his theory of evolution, which presented the mechanisms and processes of (largely progressive) change as universal phenomena. Spencer’s applications of the theory influenced psychology, sociology, political thought, and ethics in particular.

Many of Spencer’s publications pre-dated Darwin’s Origin of Species of 1859, and its advocacy of ‘natural selection’ as a mechanism of the modification of species led to no major deviation in subsequent ones. The supposition that there were ideas and related ideological movements needing unification under the category of ‘social Darwinism’ in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries is now questioned, while positioning Spencer within it, as is often done, is ill-judged, given his work’s intellectual content.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 2021


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