Herbert Spencer : The Evolutionary Philosophy – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era by John Lord
Richard Wagner : Modern Music
John Ruskin : Modern Art
Herbert Spencer : The Evolutionary Philosophy
Charles Darwin : His Place in Modern Science
John Ericsson : Navies of War and Commerce
Li Hung Chang : The Far East
David Livingstone : African Development
Sir Austen Henry Layard : Modern Archaeology
Michael Faraday : Electricity and Magnetism
Rudolf Virchow : Medicine and Surgery
John Lord – Beacon Lights of History, Volume XIV : The New Era
Constructs a philosophical system in harmony with the theory of evolution.
Birth, parentage, and early career.
Scheme of his system of Synthetic Philosophy.
His “Facts and Comments;” views on party government, patriotism, and style.
His religious attitude that of an agnostic.
The doctrine of the Unknowable and the knowable.
“First Principles;” progress of evolution in life, mind, society, and morality.
The relations of matter, motion, and force.
“Principles of Biology;” the data of; the development hypothesis.
The evolutionary hypothesis versus the special creation hypothesis; arguments.
Causes and interpretation of the evolution phenomena.
Development as displayed in the structures and functions of individual organisms.
“Principles of Psychology;” the evolution of mind and analysis of mental states.
“Principles of Sociology;” the adaptation of human nature to the social state.
Evolution of governments, political and ecclesiastical; industrial organizations.
Qualifications; Nature’s plan an advance, and again a retrogression.
Social evolution; equilibriums between constitution and conditions.
Assisted by others in the collection, but not the systemization, of his illustrative material.
“Principles of Ethics;” natural basis for; secularization of morals.
General inductions; his “Social Statics”.
Relations of Mr. Spencer and Mr. Darwin to the thought of the Nineteenth Century.
Herbert Spencer : The Evolutionary Philosophy
By Mayo W. Hazeltine
Herbert Spencer occupies a unique place in the history of human thought, because he has been the first to attempt the construction of a philosophical system in harmony with the theory of Evolution and with the results of modern science. To his contemporaries he is known almost exclusively as the author of the colossal work which he has chosen to call the “Synthetic Philosophy.” Concerning his personality very little information has been published, and it is doubtful whether he will deem it worth while to leave behind him the materials for a detailed biography. About his private life we know even less than we know about that of Kant. The very few facts obtainable may be summed up in a score of sentences.
Herbert Spencer was born on April 27, 1820, at Derby, in England, and was an only surviving child. His father was a schoolmaster in the town named, and secretary of a philosophical society. From him the son seems to have imbibed the love of natural science and the faculty of observation conspicuous in his work. The father was particularly interested in entomology, and Spencer himself used to collect, describe, and draw insects when a boy. At the age of thirteen he was sent to study with an uncle, Rev. Thomas Spencer, a liberal clergyman and a scholar, with whom he remained three years, carrying on the study of natural history, which he had begun in childhood. He now devoted himself to mathematics, evincing a singular capacity for working out original problems. At this time, too, he became familiar with physical and chemical investigations, and already exhibited a strong tendency to experimental inquiry and original research. His aversion to linguistic studies put a university career out of the question. At the age of seventeen he entered the office of Sir Charles Fox and began work as a civil engineer, but about eight years afterward he gave up this profession, and devoted the whole of his time to scientific experiments and studies, and to contributions on philosophical questions to various periodicals. As early as 1842, in a series of letters to the Nonconformist newspaper on “The Proper Sphere of Government,” he propounded a belief in human progress based on the modifiability of human nature through adaptation to its social surroundings, and he asserted the tendency of these social arrangements to assume of themselves a condition of stable equilibrium. From 1848 to 1853 he was sub-editor of the Economist newspaper, and in his first important work, “Social Statics,” published in 1850, he developed the ethical and sociological ideas which had been set forth in his published letters. The truth that all organic development is a change from a state of homogeneity to a state of heterogeneity is regarded by Spencer as the organizing principle of his subsequent beliefs. It was gradually expounded and applied by him in a series of articles contributed to the “North British,” the “British Quarterly,” the “Westminster,” and other reviews. In these essays, and especially in the volume of “Principles of Psychology,” published in 1855, the doctrine of Evolution began to take definite form, and to be applied to various departments of inquiry. It was not until four years later–a fact to be carefully borne in mind by those who would estimate correctly the relation of Spencer to Darwin–that the publication of the latter’s “Origin of Species” afforded a wide basis of scientific truth for what had hitherto been matter of speculation, and demonstrated the important part played by natural selection in the development of organisms. As early as March, 1860, Spencer issued a prospectus, in which he set forth the general aim and scope of a series of works which were to be issued in periodical parts, and would, collectively, constitute a system of philosophy. In 1862 appeared the “First Principles,” and in 1867 the “Principles of Biology.” In 1872 the “Principles of Psychology” was published; the first part of the “Principles of Ethics” in 1879; and his “Principles of Sociology” in three volumes, begun in 1876, was completed in 1896. In the preface to the third volume of the last-named work the author explains that the fourth volume originally contemplated, which was to deal with the linguistic, intellectual, moral, and aesthetic phenomena, would have to remain unwritten by reason of the author’s age and infirmities. The astounding extent of Herbert Spencer’s labors becomes, indeed, the more marvellous when one considers that impaired health has for many years incapacitated him for persistent application. Owing partly to his ill health, and partly to the absorbing nature of his occupation, his life has been a retired one, and in the ordinary sense of the term, uneventful. He has never married, and, although the high opinion of his writings formed by contemporaries has led to many academic honors being pressed upon him at home and abroad, these have all been declined. It only remains to mention that in 1882 he visited the United States, where the importance of his speculations had been early recognized, and that his home is now in Brighton, England.
In Mr. Spencer’s latest book, “Facts and Comments,” a little light is thrown on the author’s habits, opinions, and predilections. Referring to the athleticism to which so much attention is paid just now in English and American universities, he points out how erroneous it is to identify muscular strength with constitutional strength. Not only is there error in assuming that increase of muscular power and increase of general vigor necessarily go together, but there is error in assuming that the reverse connection cannot hold. As a matter of fact, the abnormal powers acquired by gymnasts may be at the cost of constitutional deterioration. In a paper on “Party Government” the author maintains that what we boast of as political freedom consists in the ability to choose a despot, or a group of oligarchs, and, after long misbehavior has produced dissatisfaction, to choose another despot or group of oligarchs: having meanwhile been made subject to laws, some of which are repugnant. Abolish the existing conventional usages, with respect to party fealty,–let each member of parliament feel that he may express by his vote his adverse belief respecting a government measure, without endangering the government’s stability,–and the whole vicious system of party government would disappear. In a paper on “Patriotism,” Mr. Spencer says that to him the cry “Our country, right or wrong,” seems detestable. The love of country, he adds, is not fostered in him by remembering that when, after England’s Prime Minister had declared that Englishmen were bound in honor to the Khedive to reconquer the Soudan, they, after the reconquest, forthwith began to administer it in the name of the Queen and the Khedive, thereby practically annexing it; and when, after promising through the mouths of two colonial Ministers not to interfere in the internal affairs of the Transvaal, the British Government proceeded to insist on certain electoral arrangements, and made resistance the excuse for a desolating war. As to the transparent pretence that the Boers commenced the war, Mr. Spencer reminds us that in the far West of the United States, where every man carries his life in his hands and the usages of fighting are well understood, it is held that he is the real aggressor who first moves his hand toward his weapon. The application to the South African contest is obvious. In an essay on “Style,” Mr. Spencer tells us that his own diction has been, from the beginning, unpremeditated. It has never occurred to him to take any author as a model. Neither has he at any time examined the writing of this or that author with a view of observing its peculiarities. The thought of style, considered as an end in itself, has rarely, if ever, been present with him, his sole purpose being to express ideas as clearly as possible, and, when the occasion called for it, with as much force as might be. He has observed, however, he says, that some difference has been made in his style by the practice of dictation. Up to 1860 his books and review articles were written with his own hand. Since then they have all been dictated. He thinks that there is foundation for the prevailing belief that dictation is apt to cause diffuseness. The remark was once made to him, it seems, by two good judges–George Henry Lewes and George Eliot–that the style of “Social Statics” is better than the style of his later volumes; Mr. Spencer would ascribe the contrast to the deteriorating effect of dictation. A recent experience has strengthened him in this conclusion. When lately revising “First Principles,” which originally was dictated, the cutting out of superfluous words, clauses, sentences, and sometimes paragraphs, had the effect of abridging the work by about one-tenth. Touching the style of other writers, Mr. Spencer points out the defects in some passages quoted from Matthew Arnold and Froude. He says that he is repelled by the ponderous, involved structure of Milton’s prose, and he dissents from the applause of Ruskin’s style on the ground that it is too self-conscious, and implies too much thought of effect. On the other hand, he has always been attracted by the finished naturalness of Thackeray.
A word should here be said about the misconception of Mr. Spencer’s position with reference to the fundamental postulate of religions,–a misconception which used to be more current than it is now. He cannot fairly be described as a materialist. He is no more a materialist than he is a theist. He is, in the strictest sense of the word, an agnostic. He was the most conspicuous example of the thing before Huxley invented the word. The misconception was shared by no less a man than the late Benjamin Jowett, the well-known master of Balliol College, Oxford, who, in one of his published “Letters,” says: “I sometimes think that we platonists and idealists are not half so industrious as those repulsive people who only ‘believe what they can hold in their hand,’ Bain, H. Spencer, etc., who are the very Tuppers of philosophy.” It is hard to see how the law of evolution and other generalizations of an abstract kind with which Mr. Spencer’s name is associated can be held in anybody’s hands. Letting that pass, however, Mr. Spencer has himself suggested that, since the system of synthetic philosophy begins with a division entitled the “Unknowable,” having for its purpose to show that all material phenomena are manifestations of a Power which transcends our knowledge,–that “force as we know it can be regarded only as a Conditioned effect of the Unconditioned Cause”–there has been thereby afforded sufficiently decided proof of belief in something which cannot be held in the hands. It is, indeed, absurd to apply the epithet “materialist” to a man who has written in “The Principles of Psychology”: “Hence, though of the two it seems easier to translate so-called matter into so-called spirit than to translate so-called spirit into so-called matter (which latter is, indeed, wholly impossible), yet no translation can carry us beyond our symbols.”
Any exposition of the “Synthetic Philosophy” must, of course, begin with the volume entitled “First Principles.” In the first part of this preliminary work the author carries a step further the doctrine of the Unknowable put into shape by Hamilton and Mansel. He points out the various directions in which science leads to the same conclusion, and shows that in their united belief in an Absolute that transcends not only human knowledge but human conception lies the only possible reconciliation of science and religion. In the second part of the same book Mr. Spencer undertakes to formulate the laws of the Knowable. That is to say, he essays to state the ultimate principles discernible throughout all manifestations of the Absolute,–those highest generalizations now being disclosed by science, such, for example, as “the Conservation of Force,” 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.
The conclusions reached in “First Principles” may be thus summed up: over and over again in the five hundred pages devoted to their formulation, it is shown in various ways that the deepest truths we can reach are simply statements of the widest uniformities in our experiences of the relations of Matter, Motion, and Force; and that Matter, Motion, and Force are but symbols of the Unknown reality. A Power of which the nature remains forever inconceivable, and to which no limits in Time and Space can be imagined, works in us certain effects. These effects have certain likenesses of kind, the most general of which we class together under the names of Matter, Motion, and Force; and between these effects there are likenesses of connection, the most constant of which we class as laws of the highest certainty. Analysis reduces these several kinds of effects to one kind of effect; and these several kinds of uniformity to one kind of uniformity. The highest achievement of Science is the interpretation of all orders of phenomena as differently conditioned manifestations of this one kind of effect, under differently conditioned modes of this one kind of uniformity. When science has done this, however, it has done nothing more than systematize our experiences, and has in no degree extended the limits of our experiences. We can say no more than before whether the uniformities are as absolutely necessary as they have become to our thought relatively necessary. The utmost possibility for us is an interpretation of the process of things, as it presents itself to our limited consciousness; but how this process is related to the actual process we are unable to conceive, much less to know.
Similarly we are admonished to remember that, while the connection between the phenomenal order and the ontological order is forever inscrutable, so is the connection between the conditioned forms of being and the unconditioned form of being forever inscrutable. The interpretation of all phenomena in terms of Matter, Motion, and Force is nothing more than the reduction of our complex symbols of thought to the simplest symbols; and when the equation has been brought to its lowest terms, the symbols remain symbols still. Hence the reasonings contained in “First Principles” afford no support to either of the antagonist hypotheses respecting the ultimate nature of things. Their implications are no more materialistic than they are spiritualistic, and no more spiritualistic than they are materialistic. The establishment of correlation and equivalence between the forces of the outer and the inner worlds serves to assimilate either to the other, according as we set out with one or the other. He who rightly interprets the doctrine propounded in “First Principles” will see that neither the forces of the outer, nor the forces of the inner, world can be taken as ultimate. He will see that, though the relation of subject and object renders necessary to us the antithetical conceptions of Spirit and Matter, the one is no less than the other to be regarded as but a sign of the Unknown Reality which underlies both.
In logical order the formulation of “First Principles” should have been followed by the application of them to Inorganic Nature. This great division of Mr. Spencer’s subject is passed over, however; partly because, even without it, the scheme is too extensive to be carried out in the lifetime of one man; and partly because the interpretation of Organic Nature, after the proposed method, is of more immediate importance. Before noting how Mr. Spencer applies his fundamental principles to the interpretation of the phenomena of life, it may be well to put before the reader’s eye the “formula of evolution” in the author’s own language: “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.” This law of evolution is equally applicable to all orders of phenomena,–“astronomic, geologic, biologic, psychologic, sociologic, etc.,”–since these are all component parts of one cosmos, though disguised from one another by conventional groupings. It is obvious that, so long as evolution is merely established by induction, it belongs, not to philosophy, but to science. To belong to philosophy it must be deduced from the persistence of force. Mr. Spencer holds that this can be done. For any finite aggregate, being unequally exposed to surrounding forces, will become more diverse in structure, every differentiated part will become the parent of further differences; at the same time, dissimilar units in the aggregate tend to separate, and those which are similar, to cluster together (“segregation”); and this subdivision and dissipation of forces, so long as there are any forces unbalanced by opposite forces, must end at last in rest; the penultimate stage of this process “in which the extremest multiformity and most complex moving equilibrium are established,” being the highest conceivable state. The various derivative laws of phenomenal changes are thus deducible from the persistence of force. It remains to apply them to inorganic, organic, and superorganic existences. The detailed treatment of inorganic evolution is omitted, as we have said, from Spencer’s plan, and he proceeds to interpret “the phenomena of life, mind, and society in terms of Matter, Motion, and Force.”
The first volume of the “Principles of Biology” consists of three parts, the first of which sets forth the data of biology, including those general truths of physics and chemistry with which rational biology must start. The second part is allotted to the inductions of biology, or, in other words, to a statement of the leading generalizations which naturalists, physiologists, and comparative anatomists have established. The third and final part of the first volume of the “Principles of Biology” deals with the speculation commonly known as “the development hypothesis,” and considers its a priori and a posteriori evidences.
The inductive evidences for the evolutionary hypothesis, as contra-distinguished from the special-creation hypothesis, are dealt with in four chapters. The “Arguments from Classification” are these: Organisms fall into groups within groups; and this is the arrangement which we see results from evolution where it is known to take place. Of these groups within groups, the great or primary ones are the most unlike, the sub-groups are less unlike, the sub-sub-group still less unlike, and so on; and this, too, is a characteristic of groups demonstrably produced by evolution. Moreover, indefiniteness of equivalence among the groups is common to those which we know have been evolved, and to those supposed in the volume before us to have been evolved. There is the further significant fact that divergent groups are allied through their lowest rather than their highest members. Of the “Arguments from Embryology,” the first is that, when developing embryos are traced from their common starting-point, and their divergencies and re-divergencies are symbolized by a genealogical tree, there is manifest a general parallelism between the arrangement of its primary, secondary, and tertiary branches, and the arrangement of the divisions and subdivisions of Mr. Spencer’s classifications. Nor do the minor deviations from this general parallelism, which look like difficulties, fail on closer observation to furnish additional evidence; since those traits of a common ancestry which embryology reveals are, if modifications have resulted from changed conditions, liable to be disguised in different ways and degrees, in different lines of descendants. Mr. Spencer next considers the “Arguments from Morphology.” Apart from those kinships among organisms disclosed by their developmental changes, the kinships which their adult forms show are profoundly significant. The unities of type found under such different externals are inexplicable, except as results of community of descent, with non-community of modification. Again, each organism analyzed apart shows, in the likenesses obscured by unlikenesses of its component parts, a peculiarity which can be ascribed only to the formation of a more heterogeneous organism out of a more homogeneous one. And, once more, the existence of rudimentary organs, homologous with organs that are developed in allied animals or plants, while it admits of no other rational interpretation, is satisfactorily interpreted by the hypothesis of evolution. Last of the inductive evidences are the “Arguments from Distribution.” While the facts of distribution in space are unaccountable as results of designed adaptation of organisms to their habitats, they are accountable as results of the competition of species, and the spread of the more fit into the habitats of the less fit, followed by the changes which new conditions induce. Though the facts of distribution in time are so fragmentary that no positive conclusion can be drawn, yet all of them are reconcilable with the hypothesis of evolution, and some of them yield strong support,–especially the near relationship existing between the living and extinct types in each great geographical area. Thus of these four categories of evidence, each furnishes several arguments which point to the same conclusion. This coincidence would give to the induction a very high degree of probability, even were it not enforced by deduction. As a matter of fact, the conclusion deductively reached is in harmony with the inductive conclusion. Mr. Spencer has deductively shown that, by its lineage and its kindred, the evolution-hypothesis is as closely allied with the proved truths of modern science as is the antagonist hypothesis, that of special creation, with the proved errors of ancient ignorance. He has shown that, instead of being a mere pseud-idea, it admits of elaboration into a definite conception, so showing its legitimacy as an hypothesis. Instead of positing a purely fictitious process, the process which it alleges proves to be one actually going on around us. To which may be added that the evolution-hypothesis presents no radical incongruities from a moral point of view. On the other hand, the special-creation hypothesis is shown to be not even a thinkable hypothesis, and, while thus intellectually illusive, to have moral implications irreconcilable with the professed beliefs of those who hold it.
Passing from the evidence that Evolution has taken place to the question–How has it taken place?–Mr. Spencer finds in known agencies and known processes adequate causes of its phenomena. In astronomic, geologic, and meteorologic changes, ever in progress, ever combining in new and more involved ways, we have a set of inorganic factors to which all organisms are exposed; and in the varying and complicated actions of organisms on one another we have a set of organic factors that alter with increasing rapidity. Thus, speaking generally, all members of the Earth’s flora and fauna experience perpetual rearrangements of external forces. Each organic aggregate, whether considered individually or as a continuously existing species, is modified afresh by each fresh distribution of external forces. To its pre-existing differentiations new differentiations are added; and thus that lapse to a more heterogeneous state, which would have a fixed limit were the circumstances fixed, has its limits perpetually removed by the perpetual change of the circumstances. These modifications upon modifications, which result in evolution, structurally considered, are the accompaniments of those functional alterations continually required to re-equilibrate inner with outer actions. That moving equilibrium of inner actions corresponding with outer actions, which constitutes the life of an organism, must either be overthrown by a change in the outer actions or must undergo perturbations that cannot end until there is a readjusted balance of functions and correlative adaptation of structures. But where the external changes are either such as are fatal when experienced by the individuals, or such as act on the individuals in ways that do not affect the equilibrium of their functions, then the readjustment results through the effects produced on the species as a whole: there is indirect equilibration. By the preservation in successive generations of those whose moving equilibria are less at variance with the requirements, there is produced a changed equilibrium completely in harmony with the requirements.
Even were this the whole of the evidence assignable for the belief that organisms have been gradually evolved, Mr. Spencer holds that the belief would have a warrant higher than is possessed by many beliefs which are regarded as established. As a matter of fact, however, the evidence is far from exhausted. At the outset of the first volume of “Principles of Biology,” it was remarked by the author that the phenomena presented by the organic world as a whole cannot be properly dealt with apart from the phenomena presented by each organism in the course of its growth, development, and decay. The interpretation of either class of phenomena implies interpretation of the other, since the two are in reality parts of one process. Hence the validity of any hypothesis respecting the one class of phenomena may be tested by its congruity with phenomena of the other class. In the second volume of “The Principles of Biology,” Mr. Spencer passes to the more special phenomena of development, as displayed in the structures and functions of individual organisms. If the hypothesis that plants and animals have been progressively evolved be true, it must furnish us with keys to these special phenomena. Mr. Spencer finds that the hypothesis does this, and by doing it gives numberless additional vouchers for its truth. It is impossible for us here to review, even in outline, the extensive field traversed in the second volume of “Principles of Biology.” We would not omit, however, to direct attention to the interesting conclusion reached by Mr. Spencer toward the close of the volume with regard to the future of the human race considered from the viewpoint of the possible pressure of population upon subsistence. He points out that in man all the equilibrations between constitution and conditions, between the structure of society and the nature of its members, between fertility and mortality, advance simultaneously towards a common climax. In approaching an equilibrium between his nature and the ever-varying circumstances of his inorganic environment, and in approaching an equilibrium between his nature and all the requirements of the social state, man is at the same time approaching that lowest limit of fertility at which the equilibrium of population is maintained by the addition of as many infants as there are subtractions by death.
Next in logical order and in order of publication come the two volumes collectively entitled “The Principles of Psychology.” In these volumes an attempt is made to trace objectively the evolution of mind from reflex action through instinct to reason, memory, feeling, and will, from the interaction of the nervous system with its environment. Subjectively, mental states are analyzed, and it is contended that all of them–including those primary scientific ideas, the perceptions of matter, motion, space, and time, assumed in the “First Principles”–can be analyzed into a primitive element of consciousness, something which can be defined only as analogous to a nervous shock. These perceptions have now become innate in the individual. They may be called–as Kant called space and time–forms of intuition; but they have been acquired empirically by the race, through the persistence of the corresponding phenomena in the environment, and from the accumulated experiences of each individual being transmitted in the form of modified structure to his descendants. This principle of heredity is one of the laws by which individuals are connected with one another into an organic whole; and we thus pass to what Spencer calls super-organic evolution, implying the co-ordinated actions of many individuals, and giving rise to the science of sociology.
It is this science which Mr. Spencer undertakes to expound in the three volumes entitled the “Principles of Sociology.” The first of these volumes presents a statement of the several sets of factors entering into social phenomena. These factors are, first, human ideas and feelings considered in their necessary order of evolution; secondly, surrounding natural conditions; and, thirdly, those ever-complicating conditions to which society itself gives origin. Under the caption “The Inductions of Sociology,” are set forth the general facts, structural and functional, gathered from a survey of societies and their changes; in other words, the empirical generalizations that are arrived at by comparing different societies, or successive stages of the same societies. The author then examines the evolution of governments, general and local, as this is determined by natural causes; their several types and metamorphosis; their increasing complexity and specialization, and the progressive limitation of their functions. From political the author turns to ecclesiastical organization. He traces the differentiation of religious government from secular; its successive complications and the multiplication of sects; the growth and continued modification of religious ideas, as caused by advancing knowledge and changing moral character; and the gradual reconciliation of these ideas with the truths of abstract science. A good deal of space is devoted to what the author calls ceremonial organization, by which he means that third kind of government which, having a common root with the others, and slowly becoming separate from and supplementary to them, serves to regulate the minor actions of life. Finally, Mr. Spencer discusses industrial organization; that is to say, the development of productive and distributive agencies, considered in its necessary causes, comprehending not only the progressive division of labor and the increasing complexity of each industrial agency, but also the successive forms of industrial government as passing through like phases with political government.
Many pages would be requisite adequately to describe the result of the inquiries prosecuted by Mr. Spencer during some twenty years, and embodied in the three volumes entitled “Principles of Sociology.” The ultimate conclusions reached, however, may be summed up in a few paragraphs. It is the author’s final conviction that, if the process of evolution, which, unceasing throughout past time, has brought life to its present height, continues throughout the future, as we cannot but anticipate, then, amid all the rhythmical changes in each society, amid all the lives and deaths of nations, amid all the supplantings of race by race, there will go on that adaptation of human nature to the social state which began when savages first gathered together into hordes for mutual defence,–an adaptation finally complete. Mr. Spencer foresees that many will think this a wild imagination. Though everywhere around them are creatures with structures and instincts which have been gradually so moulded as to subserve their own welfares and the welfares of their species, yet the immense majority ignore the implication that human beings, too, have been undergoing in the past, and will undergo in the future, progressive adjustments to the lives imposed on them by circumstances. There are a few, nevertheless, who think it rational to conclude that what has happened with all lower forms must happen with the highest forms,–a few who infer that among types of men those most fitted for making a well-working society will hereafter, as heretofore, from time to time, emerge and spread at the expense of types less fitted, until a fully fitted type has arisen.
It is, at the same time, conceded that the view thus suggested cannot be accepted without qualification. If we carry our thoughts as far forward as palaeolithic implements carry them back, we are introduced, not to an absolute optimism, but to a relative optimism. The cosmic process brings about retrogression, as well as progression, where the conditions favor it. Only amid an infinity of modifications, adjusted to an infinity of changes of circumstances, do there now and then occur some which constitute an advance: other changes, meanwhile, caused in other organisms, usually not constituting forward steps in organization, and often constituting steps backward. Evolution does not imply a latent tendency to improve everywhere in operation. There is no uniform ascent from lower to higher, but only an occasional production of a form, which, in virtue of greater fitness for more complex conditions, becomes capable of a longer life of a more varied kind. And, while such higher type begins to dominate over lower types, and to spread at their expense, the lower types survive in habitats or modes of life that are not usurped, or are thrust into inferior habitats or modes of life in which they retrogress.
Mr. Spencer’s examination of “The Principles of Sociology” has led him to the belief that what holds with organic types must hold also with types of society. Social evolution throughout the future, like social evolution throughout the past, must, while producing, step after step, higher societies, leave outstanding many lower. Varieties of men adapted here to inclement regions, there to regions that are barren, and elsewhere to regions unfitted, by ruggedness of surface or insalubrity, for supporting large populations, will, in all probability, continue to form small communities of simple structures. Moreover, during future competitions among the higher races, there will probably be left, in the less desirable regions, minor nations formed of men inferior to the highest; at the same time that the highest overspread all the great areas which are desirable in climate and fertility. But while the entire assemblage of societies thus fulfils the law of evolution by increase of heterogeneity,–while within each of them contrasts of structure, caused by differences of environments and entailed occupations, cause unlikenesses implying further heterogeneity, we may infer that the primary process of evolution–integration–which, up to the present time, has been displayed in the formation of larger and larger nations, will eventually reach a still higher stage, and bring yet greater benefits. 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, eventually, this peace-maintaining federation has been formed, Mr. Spencer looks for effectual progress towards that equilibrium between constitution and conditions,–between inner faculties and outer requirements,–implied by the final stage of human evolution. Adaptation to the social state, now perpetually hindered by anti-social conflict, 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 from exercise over him of nothing more than passive influence by the aggregate. On the one hand, by continual repression of aggressive instincts and by continual exercise of feelings which prompt ministration to public welfare, and, on the other hand, by the lapse of restraints gradually becoming less necessary, there will be produced, in Mr. Spencer’s forecast, a kind of man so constituted that, while fulfilling his own desires, he will fulfil also the social needs. Already, small groups of men, shielded by circumstances from external antagonisms, have been moulded into forms of moral nature so superior to our own that the account of their goodness almost savors of romance; and it is reasonable to infer that what has even now happened on a small scale may, under kindred conditions, ultimately happen on a large scale. Prolonged studies, showing among other things the need for certain qualifications above indicated, but also revealing facts like that just named, have not caused our author 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 fulfil his own nature by all others doing the like.”
Before taking leave of the “Principles of Sociology,” we should caution the reader against a misconception that might seem, at first sight, to find some warrant in the following remark of a sympathetic reviewer: “Like Aristotle, he [Mr. Spencer] has had to delegate large portions of his work to be done for him by others.” As our author has himself pointed out in “Facts and Comments,” the reviewer’s reference will be rightly interpreted by those who know that the work delegated by Aristotle to others was simply the collection of materials for his Natural History, not the classification of those materials, much less the drawing of inductions from them. As not one reader in ten knows this, however, wrong impressions are likely to be made by the reviewer’s remark. Mr. Spencer’s name being especially associated with the “Synthetic Philosophy,” the sentence quoted will suggest to many the thought that large portions of that work were written by deputy. This, of course, the reviewer did not mean to say. The work to which he referred is entitled “Descriptive Sociology, or groups of sociological facts, classified and arranged by Herbert Spencer, compiled and abstracted by David Duncan, Richard Scheppig and James Collier,” eight parts of which have thus far appeared. Knowing that he should be unable to read all the works of travel and history containing the facts he should need when dealing with the science of society, Mr. Spencer engaged these gentlemen–first one, then two, then three–to read up for him and arrange the extracts they made in a manner prescribed. With much material he had himself accumulated in the course of many years, our author incorporated a much larger amount of material derived from the compilations just mentioned when writing the “Principles of Sociology.”
It is the two volumes entitled the “Principles of Ethics” to which we shall lastly invite attention. The six parts of which this work is composed were published in an irregular manner. Part I., presenting the data of ethics, was issued in 1879; Part IV., a treatise on “Justice,” in 1891; Parts II. and III., which set forth respectively the inductions of ethics and the ethics of individual life, and which, along with Part I., form the first volume, were issued in 1892; Parts V. and VI., which treat respectively of negative beneficence and positive beneficence, were issued in 1893, and, along with Part IV., constitute the second volume. With regard to the “Principles of Ethics,” considered as a whole, it should be noted that the author was prompted to prepare the work, notwithstanding the ill health by which he was incessantly interrupted, by the conviction that the establishment of rules of 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. Those who reject the current creed appear to assume that the controlling agency conferred by it may safely be thrown aside. On the other hand, those who defend the current creed allege that, in the absence of the guidance it yields, no guidance can exist, divine commandments being, in their opinion, the only possible guides. Dissenting from both of these beliefs, Mr. Spencer has had for his primary purpose in the two volumes under review to show that, apart from any supposed supernatural basis, the principles of ethics have a natural basis. In these two volumes this natural basis is set forth, and its corollaries are elaborated. If the conclusions to which the general law of evolution introduces us are not in all cases as definite as might be wished, yet our author submits that they are more definite than those to which we are introduced by the current creed. Complete definiteness is not, of course, to be expected. Right regulation of the actions of so complex a being as man, living under conditions so complex as those presented by a society, evidently forms a subject-matter unlikely to admit of specific statements throughout its entire range.
The principal inductions drawn from the data collected in the first of these volumes may be set forth in a few sentences. Multitudinous proofs are brought forward of the fact that the ethical sentiment prevailing in different societies, and in the same society under different conditions, are sometimes diametrically opposed. In Europe and in the United States to have committed a murder disgraces for all time a man’s memory, and disgraces for generations all who are related to him. By the Pathans, however, a contrary sentiment is displayed. One who had killed a Mellah (priest) and failed to find refuge from the avengers, said at length: “I can but be a martyr; I will go and kill a Sahib.” He was hanged after shooting a sergeant, perfectly satisfied “at having expiated his offence.” The prevailing ethical sentiment in England is such that a man who should allow himself to be taken possession of and made an unresisting slave would be regarded with scorn; but the people of Drekete, a slave-district of Fiji, “said it was their duty to become food and sacrifices for the chiefs,” and that “they were honored by being considered adequate to such a noble task.” Less extreme, though akin in nature, is the contrast between the feelings which the history of Englishmen has recorded within a few centuries. In Elizabeth’s time, Sir John Hawkins initiated the slave-trade, and, in commemoration of the achievement, was allowed to put in his coat-of-arms: “a demi-moor proper, bound with a cord,”–the honorableness of his action being thus assumed by himself, and recognized by Queen and public. At the present day, on the other hand, the making slaves of men, called by Wesley “the sum of all villanies,” is regarded in England with detestation; and for many years the British government maintained a fleet to suppress the slave-trade. Again, peoples who have emerged from the primitive family-and-clan organization, hold that one who is guilty of a crime must himself bear the punishment, and it is thought extreme injustice that the punishment should fall upon any one else. The remote ancestors of the English people thought and felt differently, as do still the Australians, whose “first great principle with regard to punishment is that all the relatives of a culprit, in the event of his not being found, are implicated in his guilt: the brothers of the criminal conceive themselves to be quite as guilty as he is.” Then, too, among civilized peoples the individualities of women are so far recognized that the life and liberty of a wife are not supposed to be bound up with those of her husband; and she now, having obtained a right to exclusive possession of property, contends for complete independence, domestic and political. It is, or was, otherwise in Fiji. The wives of the Fijian chiefs consider it a sacred duty to suffer strangulation on the deaths of their husbands. A woman who had been rescued by an Englishman “escaped during the night, and, swimming across the river, and presenting herself to her own people, insisted upon the completion of the sacrifice which she had in a moment of weakness reluctantly consented to forego.” Another foreign observer tells of a Fijian woman who loaded her rescuer “with abuse, and ever afterwards manifested the most deadly hatred towards him.” In England and on the Continent the religious prohibition of theft and the legal punishment of it are joined with a strong social reprobation, so that the offence of a thief is never condoned. In Beloochistan, on the other hand, quite contrary ideas and feelings are current. There “a favorite couplet is to the effect that the Biloch who steals and murders, secures Heaven to seven generations of ancestors.” In England and the United States reprobation of untruthfulness is strongly expressed, alike by the gentleman and the laborer. In many parts of the world it is not so. In Blantyre, for example, according to MacDonald, “to be called a liar is rather a compliment.” Once more: English sentiment is such that the mere suspicion of incontinence on the part of a woman is enough to blight her life; but there are peoples whose sentiments entail no such effect, and, in some cases, a reverse effect is produced: “Unchastity is, with the Wetyaks, a virtue.” It seems, then, that in respect of all the leading divisions of human conduct, different races of men, and the same races at different stages, entertain opposite beliefs, and display opposite feelings.
In Mr. Spencer’s opinion, the evidence here brought to a focus ought to dissipate once for all the belief in a moral sense, as commonly entertained. A long experience of mankind, however, prevents him from indulging in such an expectation. Among men at large, lifelong convictions are not to be destroyed either by conclusive arguments or multitudinous facts. Only to those who are not by creed or cherished theory committed to the hypothesis of a supernaturally created human species will the evidence above summed up prove that the human mind has no originally implanted conscience. Mr. Spencer himself at one time espoused the doctrine of the intuitive moralists, but it has gradually become clear to him that the qualifications required practically obliterate the doctrine as enunciated by them. It has become clear to him, in other words, that if among civilized folk the current belief is that a man who robs and does not repent will be eternally damned, while an accepted proverb among the Bilochs is, that “God will not favor a man who does not steal and rob,” it is impossible to hold that men have in common an innate perception of right and wrong.
At the same time, while the inductions drawn by Mr. Spencer from the data of ethics show that the moral-sense doctrine in its original form is not true, they also show that it adumbrates a truth, and a much higher truth. For the facts cited, chapter after chapter, unite in proving that the sentiments and ideas current in each society become adjusted to the kinds of activity predominating in it. A life of constant external enmity generates a code in which aggression, conquest, revenge, are inculcated, while peaceful occupations are reprobated. Conversely, a life of settled internal amity generates a code inculcating the virtues conducing to harmonious co-operation,–justice, honesty, veracity, regard for others’ claims. The implication is that, if the life of internal amity continues unbroken from generation to generation, there must result not only the appropriate code, but the appropriate emotional nature,–a moral sense adapted to the moral requirements. Men so conditioned will acquire to the degree needful for complete guidance that innate conscience which the intuitive moralists erroneously supposed to be possessed by mankind at large. There needs but a continuance of absolute peace externally and a rigorous insistence on non-aggression internally, to insure the moulding of men into a form naturally characterized by all the virtues. This general induction is re-enforced by especial induction. Now as displaying this high trait of nature, now as displaying that, Mr. Spencer has instanced various uncivilized peoples who, inferior to us in other respects, are morally superior to us. He has also pointed out that such peoples are, one and all, free from inter-tribal antagonisms. The peoples showing this connection between external and internal peacefulness on the one hand, and superior morality on the other, are of various races. In the Indian Hills are found some who are by origin Mongolian, Kelarian, Dravidian; in the forests of Malacca, Burma, and in secluded parts of China exist such tribes of yet other bloods; in the East Indian archipelago are some belonging to the Papuan stock; in Japan there are the amiable Ainos, who have no traditions of internecine strife; and in North Mexico exists yet another such people unrelated to the rest, the Pueblos. Our author holds that no more conclusive proof could be wished than that supplied by these isolated groups of men, who, widely remote in locality and differing in race, are alike in the two respects that circumstances have long exempted them from war, and that they are now organically good. May we not reasonably infer, asks Mr. Spencer, in conclusion, that the state reached by these small, uncultured tribes may be reached by the great cultured nations, when the life of internal amity shall be unqualified by the life of external enmity?
We bring to an end our review of the “Synthetic Philosophy” by pointing out that the ethical doctrine constituting the culmination of the system which is set forth in the “Principles of Ethics” is fundamentally a corrected and elaborated version of the doctrine propounded in “Social Statics” issued as long ago as 1850. The correspondence between the two works is shown not only by the coincidence of their constructive divisions, but also by the agreement of their cardinal ideas. As in the one, so in the other, Man, in common with lower creatures, is held to be capable of indefinite change by adaptation to conditions. In both he is regarded as undergoing transformation from a nature appropriate to his aboriginal wild life, to a nature appropriate to a settled civilized life; and in both this transformation is described as a moulding into a form fitted for harmonious co-operation. In both works, too, this moulding is said to be effected by the repression of certain primitive traits no longer needed, and the development of needful traits. As in the first work, so in this last, the great factor in the progressive modification is shown to be sympathy. It was contended in “Social Statics,” as it is contended in the “Principles of Ethics,” that harmonious social co-operation implies that limitation of individual freedom which results from sympathetic regard for the freedoms of others; and that the law of equal freedom is the law in conformity to which equitable individual conduct and equitable social arrangements co-exist. Mr. Spencer’s theory in 1850 was, as his theory still is, that the mental products of Sympathy which constitute what is called “the moral sense,” arise as fast as men are disciplined into social life; and that along with them arise intellectual perceptions of right human relations, which become clearer as the form of social life becomes better. Further, in the earlier work it was inferred, as it is inferred in the latest, that there is being effected a conciliation of individual natures with social requirements; so that there will eventually be achieved the greatest individuation, along with the greatest mutual dependence,–an equilibrium of such kind that each, in fulfilling the wants of his own life, will aid in fulfilling the wants of all other lives. We observe, finally, that, in the first work, there were drawn essentially the same corollaries respecting the rights of individuals and their relations to the State that are drawn in the “Principles of Ethics.”
A word may be said in conclusion about the difference between the relation of Mr. Spencer on the one hand and Darwin on the other to the thought of the Nineteenth Century. The fact is not to be lost sight of that the principles of the Evolutionary, or, as Mr. Spencer prefers to term it, the Synthetic, philosophy were formulated before the publication of the “Origin of Species.” What the ultimately general acceptance of the theory propounded in Darwin’s work did for Mr. Spencer was precisely this: it greatly strengthened the biological evidence for the evolutionary hypothesis. That hypothesis was upheld, however, by evidence drawn not merely from biology, but from many other sources. Moreover, while the Darwinian theory of natural selection, supplemented as it was by the adoption of the Lamarkian factors,–the effect of use and disuse and the assumed transmissibility of acquired character,–merely attempted to explain the mode in which the changes in organic life have taken place upon the earth, the evolutionary hypothesis put forth by Mr. Spencer professed to be applicable to the whole sphere of the knowable. It is further to be borne in mind that Mr. Spencer has devoted a large part of his life to tracing in detail the applications of his fundamental principles to social, political, religious, and ethical phenomena. Darwin, on the other hand, strictly confined himself to the biological field, and left to disciples the task of indicating the bearing of the Darwinian theory upon sociology, theology, and morals.
The Complete Works of Herbert Spencer (The Synthetic Philosophy).
Also, “Facts and Comments,” by Herbert Spencer (Appleton’s).
John Fiske’s “Outlines of Cosmic Philosophy.”
F.H. Collins’s “Epitome of the Synthetic Philosophy.”
A.D. White’s “Herbert Spencer: The Completion of the Synthetic Philosophy.”