Herbert Spencer
Researched and written by:  Jansen Judy
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

Two quotes by Herbert “the ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools” and “opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect” (The Quotations Page, 2005).


Childhood/Family Life

      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).

Adult Life

      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 (Bolender 2004).

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).

Professional Accomplishments

      During Herbert’s 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.



Bolender, R.A. (2004). Herbert Spencer. Retrieved March 21, 2005 from,%20Herbert/spencer_herbert.htm.

Schultz, D.P. & Schultz, S.E. (2004). A History of Modern Psychology: Eighth Edition, New York: Harcourt.

Sweet, A. (2004). Herbert Spencer (1820-1903). The Internet Encyclopdia of Philosophy.

Retreived March 9, 2005 from

The Quotations Page. Retrieved March 21, 2005 from

Weinstein, D. (2002). Herbert Spencer. Retrieved March 11, 2005 from

Wee, A. (2000). A Victorian biologist and philosopher, Herbert Spencer was born April 27th , 1820, at the height of British industrialism. Retrieved March 11, 2005 form

Wikipedia, the free encyclopdia. Retrieved March 11, 2005 from



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