Herbert Spencer was
born on April 27, 1820 in Derby, England (Bolender 2004). He was the
first child born in a family that had nine children. Of the nine
children, Spencer was the only child to survive infancy. His parents
were George and Harriet. His father was highly individualistic in his
views as was their entire family. His mother was known for her patience
and kindness. However, due to his father’s beliefs, his parents
marriage might not have been a happy one (Bolender 2004).
As a child Herbert was often sick and weak. He did
not attend regular school due to him being too ill. Therefore, he was
educated at home by his father who was a school teacher and later by
his uncle Thomas, a clergyman, whom he went to live with at the age of
13. His education did not include much information on history or
literature, but he was strong in mathematics and natural sciences. In
his early years, Herbert was taught to resist authority based upon the
radical views of his father and uncle. He was seen as an intelligent
and argumentative boy, full of ideas in such areas as mathematics and
natural sciences (Bolender 2004).
Herbert as an adult
was seen as having a lack of tact when dealing with other people; he
attributed this to his father and his uncle individualistic views.
Herbert did not view himself fit to attend college, so he went to work
for the railways as a civil engineer at the age of 16 (Wikipedia 2005).
He continued with this work until the project was completed in 1841,
then he went back to live in Derby. From the age of 21 to 28, Herbert
tried inventing, writing, and editing with some success (Bolender
2004). However, he went back to work for the railroad that supported
him financially. Then a break for him came, when he accepted a position
as a sub editor in 1848, with an important newspaper called “The
Economist” (Sweet 2004). When his uncle died in 1853, he was left
enough money so that he no longer had to work and could live as a
private scholar (Bolender 2004). This is when he devoted much of his
time to writing. At some point he courted a lady by the name of Marion
Evans who later changed her name to George Elliot, but the relationship
did not lead to marriage. Herbert remained a life-long bachelor
At the age of 35, he developed a neurotic
condition. It would further be aggravated by people he did not want to
be around him and with interruptions in his daily routine. He wore
earmuffs to keep out unwanted sounds, that way he could work. He would
only work for a couple of hours a day. Herbert also had chronic
insomnia and he used substantial amounts of the drug opium to help him
sleep. As a result of his health issues, the idea of him lecturing in
public was out of the question (Bolender 2004).
Hebert believed that the development of all things
in the world is evolutionary to include social institutions and human
character. If his evolution principle was allowed to operate, then only
the fittest would endure. He felt institutions, especially governments,
should not interfere with regulations, as individualism and a
laissez-faire system of government should be allowed to operate.
Herbert felt that the government’s role was not interfere in anything
except for protecting citizens rights and them from foreign enemies.
Everything else should be left to private enterprise (Bolender 2004).
Hebert felt there should be no laws, as a society
with superior intelligence would not have a need for them. Within this
society, he felt the government should not help the poor. They should
not have a standard educational system. There should not be an
established church to attend. He also supported no factory laws, or
laws that place restrictions on commerce. He felt if the government did
intervene and put laws into place, then this would hurt the process of
natural selection (Bolender 2004). In the end, he died following a
lengthy illness on December 8, 1903 in Brighton (Sweet 2004). He is
buried at the High Gate Cemetery (Wee 2000).
adult life, he had many professional accomplishments ( Bolender 2004
and Wenstein 2002). He began by writing many radical articles of his
views for publishing in different journals. In 1851 Herbert published
his first book called Social Statics. He presented human freedom and
defended individualism based upon the evolutionary theory. He wrote a
paper about his theory of evolution called “The Developmental
Hypothesis” in 1852, that proceeded Darwin’s work by seven years. He
published his second book in 1855, called The Principles of Psychology.
It was not received very well, unlike his first book. He then presented
his most intensive work called Synthetic Philosophy from 1862-1893.
This was a ten volume set that included books on his views about the
following areas: politics, sociology, biology, and ethics based upon
his evolutionary theory. Other works included The Man Versus the State
in 1884. and had an autobiography that was published in 1904
posthumously. It seems that even though he was having mental issues in
his life, his writing was not impacted. Herbet wrote many books, even
tough he had limited formal education. His level of intelligence had to
be superior to most in order for him to write about the many different
topic areas (Bolender 2004).
Contributions to Psychology
Herbert wrote many publications and had
many ideas, it is no wonder he had the impact he did during his time,
which then led to his impact on psychology. According to Schultz and
Schultz (2004), his writings were accepted by the people of the United
States because his views were compatible with the American way of life
of the times. Only those people who were able to adapt to the hostile
environment were able to survive and could understand to some degree
what Herbert was implying in the phrase “survival of the fittest”.
William James used Herbert’s The Principles of Psychology text to teach
the first psychology class (Schultz and Schultz 2004).
According to Bolender (2004) , his Synthetic
Philosophy was formulated based upon evolutionary principles that
included human knowledge and experience. Herbert presented the mind
exists in its current state due to past and continuous efforts of the
mind to adapt to its environment. Many scholars of his time thought
that his Synthetic Philosophy was the work of a genius. His
evolutionary writings led to “Social Darwinism”. In 1902 he was
nominated for the Nobel Prize for literature. He was also offered
honors by universities, governments, and scientific bodies, but he
always refused all awards and honors, as he claimed no affiliation to
anyone or anything.
In conclusion, Herbert had an influence on many
people during his lifetime. Some might agree that he continues to have
an impact on life as we know it.