Author: Herbert Spencer

Title: 'Progress: Its Law and Causes', The Westminster Review, Vol 67 (1857)

Keywords: Race

Pages: Introduction |  1  |  


Born in Derby in 1820, Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher and sociological theorist, and one of the Victorian age’s leading classical liberal political theorists. He was also to become, from around the middle of the nineteenth century onwards, one of the principal proponents of evolutionary theory. His reputation in some quarters rivalled that of Charles Darwin and he was particularly influential in the United States. The first clear articulation of Spencer’s evolutionary perspective occurred in his essay Progress: Its Law and Cause published in Chapman’s Westminster Review in 1857. Here he expounded a theory of evolution that combined insights from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s essay The Theory of Life - itself derived from Friedrich von Schelling’s Naturphilosophie - with a generalisation of Karl Ernst von Baer’s law of embryological development.

Spencer asserted a development of all of the universe’s structures from a simple, undifferentiated homogeneity to a complex, differentiated heterogeneity, while the differentiated parts become ever more integrated. Spencer held that this evolutionary process was a universal law, and could be seen at work throughout the cosmos, in the stars and the galaxies as much as in biological organisms, and in human social organisation and the human mind alike. Spencer died in 1903.

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