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Quotes of the day: Herbert Spencer

Published Sunday, April 26, 2015 @ 7:00 PM EDT
Apr 26 2015

Herbert Spencer (April 27, 1820 – December 8, 1903) was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era. Spencer developed an all-embracing conception of evolution as the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms, the human mind, and human culture and societies. He was an enthusiastic exponent of evolution and even wrote about evolution before Darwin did. As a polymath, he contributed to a wide range of subjects, including ethics, religion, anthropology, economics, political theory, philosophy, literature, biology, sociology, and psychology. During his lifetime he achieved tremendous authority, mainly in English-speaking academia. The only other English philosopher to have achieved anything like such widespread popularity was Bertrand Russell, and that was in the 20th century. Spencer was the single most famous European intellectual in the closing decades of the nineteenth century but his influence declined sharply after 1900. (Click here for full Wikipedia article)


All evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions.

Architecture, sculpture, painting, music, and poetry, may truly be called the efflorescence of civilised life.

Education has for its object the formation of character. To curb restive propensities, to awaken dormant sentiments, to strengthen the perceptions, and cultivate the tastes, to encourage this feeling and repress that, so as finally to develop the child into a man of well proportioned and harmonious nature- this is alike the aim of parent and teacher.

Equity knows no difference of sex. In its vocabulary the word man must be understood in a generic, and not in a specific sense.

Every cause produces more than one effect.

Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man.

Every man may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberties by every other man.

Every pleasure raises the tide of life; every pain lowers the tide of life.

Evolution is definable as a change from an incoherent homogeneity to a coherent heterogeneity, accompanying the dissipation of motion and integration of matter.

How often misused words generate misleading thoughts!

If a single cell, under appropriate conditions, becomes a man in the space of a few years, there can surely be no difficulty in understanding how, under appropriate conditions, a cell may, in the course of untold millions of years, give origin to the human race.

Like the majority of men who are born to a given belief they demand the most rigorous proof of any adverse belief but assume that their own needs none.

Limiting the liberty of each by the like liberty of all, excludes a wide range of improper actions, but does not exclude certain other improper ones.

Morality knows nothing of geographical boundaries, or distinctions of race.

Music must take rank as the highest of the fine arts- as the one which, more than any other, ministers to human welfare.

No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy.

Old forms of government finally grow so oppressive, that they must be thrown off even at the risk of reigns of terror.

Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings, and not by the intellect.

People... become so preoccupied with the means by which an end is achieved, as eventually to mistake it for the end.

Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity.

Surely if a single cell may, when subjected to certain influences, become a man in the space of twenty years; there is nothing absurd in the hypothesis that under certain other influences, a cell may, in the course of millions of years, give origin to the human race.

The blindness of those who think it absurd to suppose that complex organic forms may have arisen by successive modifications out of simple ones becomes astonishing when we remember that complex organic forms are daily being thus produced. A tree differs from a seed immeasurably in every respect... Yet is the one changed in the course of a few years into the other: changed so gradually, that at no moment can it be said- Now the seed ceases to be, and the tree exists.

The essential trait in the moral consciousness, is the control of some feeling or feelings by some other feeling or feelings.

The fact disclosed by a survey of the past that majorities have usually been wrong, must not blind us to the complementary fact that majorities have usually not been entirely wrong.

The primary use of knowledge is for such guidance of conduct under all circumstances as shall make living complete. All other uses of knowledge are secondary.

The Republican form of government is the highest form of government; but because of this it requires the highest type of human nature- a type nowhere at present existing.

The saying that beauty is but skin deep is but a skin-deep saying.

The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly, is to fill the world with fools.

Those who cavalierly reject the Theory of Evolution, as not adequately supported by facts, seem quite to forget that their own theory is supported by no facts at all.

Time: That which man is always trying to kill, but which ends in killing him.

Volumes might be written upon the impiety of the pious.

We have to deal with man as a product of evolution, with society as a product of evolution, and with moral phenomena as products of evolution.

We too often forget that not only is there 'a soul of goodness in things evil,' but very generally also, a soul of truth in things erroneous.

When men hire themselves out to shoot other men to order, asking nothing about the justice of their cause, I don't care if they are shot themselves.

With a higher moral nature will come a restriction on the multiplication of the inferior.


(April 27 is also the birthday of Ulysses S. Grant.)

Categories: Herbert Spencer, Quotes of the day


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