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Herbert Spencer’s Influences and Contributions to Sociology

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  • Category: Sociology

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Herbert Spencer has contributed to various fields of knowledge like philosophy, biology, psychology, anthropology and sociology. Herbert Spencer is popularly known for his treatment of evolution. The evolutionary doctrine was no doubt the foundation of Spencer’s sociological theory. He, however, presented the organic analogy, a secondary doctrine which also played a vital role in his thought system. He identified society with a biological organism. (Agarwal) One of the main reasons that Herbert Spencer was important to sociology was because of his views and ideas about evolution. Charles Darwin is always given credit for the idea of survival of the fittest, but most likely it was Spencer who coined this phrase. This phrase was almost always used to explain part of science, but in Spencer’s work it took on some political meaning as well. Spencer had many very extreme political views and grew to despise government programs that were aimed to help the poor. In the end it was his harsh views on politics that held his ideas back from being accepted right away. Writings such as Principles of Sociology and others were set-aside for years.

Spencer was like Darwin in some ways, but when it came down to the theory of evolution, Spencer took it one step further than Darwin by saying that it involved much more that just biology. (Smith) Perhaps the reason why Herbert Spencer was very influential was because his theory was applicable to the condition of the people during his time. Another reason is because he wrote in English while other theorists did not. Herbert Spencer made it a point that we should try to understand society rather than change it. He has a unique view of society that has indeed caught the attention of many critics however, the credibility of his theories were not affected by this and he remains one of the most influential people in the study of society.

He has a darwinistic view about society to the point that he would go as far as comparing society to organisms and adapted Charles Darwin’s principle which is “survival of the fittest”. He states that “ it is only natural that the rich are rich and that the poor are poor”. (Emergence of Sociology) In his statement it is implied that he believes that like in natural environments where one organism is above another it is only natural that the same can be said in our societies. Humans have a natural instinct to seek a more comfortable way of living than what they are already experiencing. Some people are never satisfied and this only supports Herbert Spencer’s theory. To this day his theories are the subject of many debates and references to current and future social theorists.


Agarwal, P. (n.d.). What are the major contributions of herbert spencer to sociology? Retrieved from preservearticles.com: http://www.preservearticles.com/201104306125/what-are-the-major-contributions-of-herbert-spencer-to-sociology.html Emergence of Sociology. (n.d.).

Smith, J. Herbert Spencer. In J. Smith.

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