DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 4 Herbert Spencer (1820—1903)

DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes Chapter 4 Herbert Spencer (1820—1903)

Question 1.
Critically examine Herbert Spencer’s views about Social Evolution.
OR
Discuss Herbert Spencer’s view about individual organisms and society. How far do you agree with these views ?
Answer:
Herbert Spencer has beautifully and scientifically dealt with the problem of social evolution. In this regard, he has certain novel ideas which have been put forth in a peculiar way. He has bused his theory of social evolution on physical and biological evolution system and as such it is necessary to understand these as well.

Spencer’s Principles of Evolution. According to Spencer, universe can be divided into known and unknown. The unkown is primarily concerned with religion, God and soul and thus much of it cannot be tested on the basis of scientific reasoning. On the other hand, known is based on reasoning and helps in understanding laws governing evolution, growth and development. He is of the opinion that laws of physical evolution can also be applied to evolution of society.

Spencer has further said that fundamental cause of physical world is energy but the form of energy is unknown. Though it cannot be seen yet its manifestation can be felt and experienced. He is also of the view that energy manifests itself in matter and motion and it is by their combination that evolution takes places which is according to certain specific laws. The laws again fall into two categories namely primary laws and secondary laws. The former are really very important.

Primary laws of Evolution. According to Spencer, there are certain primary laws of evolution. These are that energy tends to persist. In the course of evolution quantity of energy persists and does not undergo any charge. Though it is cause of evolution, yet in evolutionary process it does not get affected. Then another law is that the matter is indestructible. Though it may undergo formal changes, yet it does not destroyed. It can only wither away or vanish but never gets destroyed. When matter changes its form with that evolutionary process starts. Then his third law is that motion is, continuous. He believes that motion never gets destroyed but there can be changes in the form of motion. Various stages of evolutionary process are linked closely with the changes in the form of motion.

Secondary Laws of Evolution. Herbert has also pointed out that there are some secondary laws of evolution. First such law according to Spencer, is that there must be harmony among, various, laws of evolution. In other words, two laws of social evolution should not contradict with each other. Then another law is that neither motion nor matter is completely destroyed. These only undergo changes. Not only this but while undergoing changes quantity of motion or matter still remains unchanged. Third law of Spencer is that direction in evolution is either of maximum attraction or that of least resistance. In other words, direction in which evolution is resisted does not take place. Still another law is that for evolution, there is need for motion but it is not essential that than will remain at the same level. The speed of motion can change. Whereas at time it may be fast, at other times it may be slow.

Spencer is of the view that evolution is a process through, which matter passes from indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent homogeneity. In this process latent becomes manifest and indefinite become definite.

Spencer’s Theory of Biological Evolution. His theory of social evolution is linked with biological evolution in which he has said that every living struggles for existence and in this struggle for survival the strong are always victorious and they alone make progress. From the strong, he means those who adjust themselves to all situations and circumstances under all conditions. These creatures which cannot adjust get perished and thus the question of their making any-progress does not arise.

Spencer’s Theory of Social Evolution. According to Spencer, like biological organism, society is also an organism. Both grow from simple to complex and from homogeneous to heterogeneous. He has also said that in it only those survive. who adjust themselves to all environments. Those who fail so do so perish. He had said that every where society is moving front a homogeneous structure to a heterogeneous structure.

At the same time, it is moving from indefinite to definite stage. In the world, only those cultures survive which adjust themselves to the changing situations. Every culture and civilization which fails to adjust itself to changing times definitely gets destroyed.

According to Spencer, as everyone knows that primitive society w as simple and in that every individual lived a self centred lite. He was always concerned with himself. The life was then simple and unorganised. It was unsystematic and not coherent. It was gradually and slow ly that out of this unorganised life, an organised and systematic society emerged.

Spencer on Individual and Social Organism. Herbert Spencer is fully convinced that there is very close similarity between human and social organism. He believes that.both arc not inanimate because both are continuously developing and growing. Neither ot these two can live without growth and development. Then in both the cases there are different systems which make it possible to function the system efficiently. Thus body has circulatory system whereas society has transport, distribution, production system, etc- Each system has specific functions to perform in the structure.

Then another point of similarity between the two is that as soon as in both the cases quantity of cells increases with that change also come:: in the structure. When body cells increases with that differentiation of organs becomes unavoidable. Similarly, in the case of society as long as the structure of the society remains simple. each one works for one self and there is no differentiation of functions. But when quantity increases with that whole structure becomes complex and differentiation in social functions increases. Then another point of similarity, to which Spencer has drawn attention, is that the because loss of some organ does not necessarily result in the death. Similarly, dissolution or improper functioning of any association or union does not mean end of the society.

Still another function to which Spencer has focussed attention is that in both the cases organs have both differentiation as well as harmony. Each organ is, or course, required to perform different functions but at the same time for successful working of the structure all are expected to work in harmony and close cooperation. Any disharmony is bound to destroy smooth working of both the society as well as that of the individual.

Then another point of similarity between the two is that in both the cases change in structure leads to change in functions. When structure changes with that functions become more and more specialised and this applies equally to the living structure as well as the society.

He has also pointed out that when differentiation increases with that dependence of the component parts also increases. The life and normal functioning of each become dependent on the life of the whole.

Points of dis-similarities between the two. There are of course several points of similarities between the two but dis-similarities are no less serious whereas parts of the body are not capable of independent existence those of the society can independently exist, withoul the society. Whereas family and association can exist without society, limb of the society like leg and hand cannot exist without body. Then another point of difference is that in living beings there is one centre of consciousness. Each limb of the body gets his consciousness through this centre alone. On the other hand in the society there is no central point of consciousness. Each organ of the society has consciousness of its own.

Still another point of difference between the two is that Spencer believes that parts of human organism, i.e., of the body exist for the sake of body, on the other hand parts of the society are more significant than the society. In fact, society exists for the good of the constituents.

Then it is pointed out that in the growth of social organism individuals play a very big and vital role. But in so far as biological organism is concerned in that limbs of the body play no part and growth is a natural phenomenon.

Criticism of tbs Theory of Social Evolution. Herbert Spencer’s theory of social evolution has been very much criticised.

In this theory, an effort has been made to point out that there is only one theory which is responsible for the development of the society or in fact of all the societies. But as we all know that in different societies there have been different basis and stages of evolution. Thus it is basically wrong to apply the same principles to all societies

He has also been criticised because it is said that his theory is far away from practical life because many tribes even today are not showing signs of evolution.

It is also said that this theory does not take into consideration the theory of diffusion of cultures. It has practically failed to recognise that when two different cultures come in contact with each other, there is diffusion of cultures which plays a big role in social evolution.

Still another criticism against Spencer is that though he had laid stress on struggle for existence yet he has failed to appriciate the role of sympathy, kindness and sacrifice in social evolution.

Spencer has also failed to recognise the role of technological advancements and scientific developments in the field of social evolution. No one can deny that in evolution science and technology has its own role to play.

But even then his view about social evolution are important because he has for the first time tried to compare human organism own social organism. Again credit goes to him for stressing that sov al organism is not merely collection of cells, i.e., individuals but much more than that.

Spencer and Darwin’s Views about Evolution. Darwin was another thinker who gave his views about evolution in a systematic way. According to Darwin continuous struggle is going on in all races for their very existence. He has said that in this Sttuggle only those races have been surviving in the past and will survive in future which are better equipped and have capacity to adjust themselves to the changing circumstances. Only such societies can pass on their heritage to the succeeding generations. Like Spencer he also believes in the theory of the survival of the fittest.

But even then both differ. Whereas Darwin has concerned himself with living beings, spencer has touched entire physical world. In other words, scope of Spencer’s theory of evolution is wider than that of Darwin.

Question 2.
Spencer claimed to be a scientist but his approach to political theory was nòt scienti6c He twisted his arguments to justify his pre-deterinined conclusion”. Discuss.
OR .
What conclusion did Spencer draw from the application of biology to social thought ? How far their conclusions are logically justifiable ?
Answer:
Spencer is a curiously strange figure in the history of English social Thought. He started as an individualist and almost became anarchist in the end as he wanted to restrict the sphere of activities of the state to the barest minimum. In fact he gave a long list of things which the state should not undertake. He claimed to be a sciensist but his approach towards social theory was not scientific. He did not draw his conclusions from the scientific study of social institutions. On the contrary, he was already charged with pre-conceptions and he sought to find in science examples or analogies to justify his pre-determined conelusions.

He was an individualist and the twisted his arguments like that of ‘survival of the fittest’ or an analogy between organism and state, which if pursued scientifically and logically would have led to collectivist conception of state. But he distorted them in such a manner and rounded them off in a way to fit in with his individualistic conception of state. In fact, his goal or individualism was pre-determined and he distorted every, argument to support that by hook or by crook. The fundamental confusion, which be could not surmount, is that the conception of individual rights with which he starts do not and cannot accord with the organic and evolutionary conception of the state which he attains through the use of natural science. He was essentially an individualist and his individualistic conclusions were based on two major arguments resting on two different methodologies, each contradictory to the other.

One argument was based on natural rights regarding society as an artificial, mechanical structure and presumed to have been an outcome of contract. Thus state was expected to respect the the right of the individual and keep its activities strictly confined to the functions of a police-state. Any increase in the activity of the state was looked upon as an in fringement Of individual liberty and violation of encroachment upon his rights. But in his other argument he regards society as an organism governed by laws of evolution. But the conclusion of the argument is also individualistic which is not commensurate with its foundations in which society is regarded as an organism. But the conclusion is twisted and forced to be individualistic in both cases. He was, in fact, never able to trace the two contradictory contentions in his philosophy which ultimately made a mess of it and is the basis of all the confusion in his philosophy.

Too individualistic element in his ideas may be traced to several factors. He was the son of non-conformist parents.

Moreover, he was self-made man and abhored all types of restraints and limitations imposed upon a person and that is why his curiosity to diminish the activities of the state to the barest minimum of justice and order. The other cause of his individualism was due to the fact that general atmosphere of his age was deeply under the sway of liberal philosophy of Locke which emphasised move for the liberty of an individual and his rights and looked upon state as an instrument to minister the needs of the individual. The most potent and influential of these factors was his association with Hodgskin who was an extreme of individualists and his ideas had profound effect on Spencer. The collectivist trend and his writing may be attributed to his study of Coleridge.

Spencer, in his social statics’ regards that the society is the result of social contract. It is only an artificial and mechanical structure. The state was expected to obey the rights of the individual. In fact, the functions of the state were very limited. Every increase in the activities of the state was looked upon with suspicion. The activity of the state was strictly confined to three factors, i.e., law and order; justice, and police or defence.

Any increase in the state-activity was regarded as an infringement of individual liberty and inrcroachment upon his rights. Prof. Barker has rightly remarked that ‘Spencer’s account to the function of state is mainly an account of what state ought not to do.’ It ought not to regulate industry, it ought not to establish state, church, it ought not to attempt colonisation, it ought not to give poor relief or undertake the care of public health. Spencer believes that in case of public health and poor relief, the operation of law of natural selection is effected – law of the ‘survival of the fittest’.

The state must not undertake education and must not institute a public mint or work a postal system or erect a light house. Indeed, in ‘Social Statics’ he proposed that state should transfer postal system and public mint to private enterprise. These are the most natural and logical conclusions of his Theory regarding the state as a mere product of social contract. In fact, he visualised the picture of a society when the state will no more be needed ands society will regulate its business by its ownself without any interference from state.

But in ‘social statics’ he also believed that the society was the product of evolution and was moving towards a higher equilibrium. In the beginning it was the militant stage, then higher form of feudal society and then still higher from which was visible in the modern industrial capitalist society and it was finally moving towards its final goal of a stateless society. He believed that every stage was a higher stage and was a step nearer towards the final goal when state would no more be needed. He believed that law of natural selection was operative in this universe which only permitted the survival of the fittest and the weakest were removed as a result of struggle and conflict with the sronger. The society gained’ theory as only the fittest and the ablest could survive. That is why he opposed all regulation of trade, industry, education, church, mint etc. as it helped to weak and was inconsistent with the law of natural selection and consequently impaired the improvement of society.

The evolutionary conception of state and society was further proved by the fact that he made a long comparison between human organism and state organism. Like state brain was sconsidered to be at the highest” pedestal in human body and as the regulator of the whole human organism. The arteries and other veins in the body were compared to railway and telegraph lines which run parallel to each other in the state. But the natural conclusion of these arguments would have been collectivist and would have vested ae state with a great prestige and authority. But Spencer had a pre-conceived conception of individual rights.

He twisted the whole-argument to prove his individualistic conceptions stating thereby that these two organism differ with each other; In the state each constituent organism has its consciousness possessed by the constituent parts of human body and secondly that organism in one case was concrete and in the other it was discrete and therefore state should abandon its activities and reduce them to the barest minimum.

Following these two arguments regarding society as at evolution and leading towards a higher equilibrium and then detracting from it was certainly the work of a quack and not scientist. The scientific conclusion of these two arguments would -have completely overturned the whole pyramid of his conclusions. They would not have led to the natural rights of the individual but would certainly have led to glorification and exaltation of state to such an extent that individual rights and liberties would have been completely thrown to the mercy and dictates of state, which, being an organism, would have controlled its parts—the individuals,which in organism would not have been able to lead an independent life but for organism It naturally leads even to the sacrifice of the individual at the alter of the state if the occasion so warrants.

To regard society as an organism and a mere mechanical structure are the two basis which are diametrically opposed to each, other in their consequences. Either the society is a result of a social contract in which the individal has natural rights and can, legitimately, claim for their protection. But looking upon society as a product of evolution and then too deriving individualistic conclusions from it would have been the work of not a scientist but an extermly confused mind. The individualistic conclusion of evolutionary basis of society is not. commensurate with its foundations.

They are the irreconciliable trends in his philosophy which could never be reconciled. In fact, he never knew of this confusion permeating his philosophy. These two moves in his thought are responsible for this confusion in his philosophy. The devices which he employed in the second case regarding society as an organism and then again have individual right etc. reveal nothing but the colossal ignorance of Spencer to perceive these two antagonistic trends in his philosophy.

His philosophy won admiration from all quarters of his country and profoundly influenced the people of his age. But this was not so because he was a very original, scientific and a great philosophei like Aristotle or Hobbes but because it was in perfect  accord with the atmosphere Of the times. In nineteenth century England was an individualistic England and Spencer’s philosophy being essentially individualistic was accepted by the people. Whe the trend took a turn towards collectivism, the philosophy of Spencer was discredited. In the present days when state has undertaken enormous enterprise of social welfare, the philosophy of Spencer is almost dead. In the words of Barker Spencer’s philosophy begins and ends as an incongruous mixture.

But Spencer’s philosophy did serve a purpose. It championed the rights and liberties of the people against the all sweeping commands and absolutist tendencies found in the writing of Hegel and other idealises who spared no pains and lost no chance to extend the sphere of the states to the greatest heights and reducing the individual to the status of a mere slave. Spencer by advocating the right of the individual, correctly laid emphasis on the right point. But his emphasis was only one-sided like those of German idealists, though the idealists supported the cause of the state’ and Spencer of the individuals.

Judged in terms of present time Spencer’s philosophy stands discredited and falsified completely today. He had anticipated that with the passage of time state would wither away as an unpleasant reality but we find that state control is constantly on the increase in all the spheres of life. Green made a great break into him when he stressed the necessity for state regulation for industry ; education and various other matters. He looked upon these things not as right of state but imposed upon state as its duties. In the present time state has almost interferred in every walk of social life. From a police state of the imagination of Spencer it has become a social service organisation. It is regulating industry, commerce, means of communication, post office, education and other barest wants of the individual. State is reponsible for the welfare and progress of the people.

It would, in fact, be a paradox to say, on the one hand, that society is becoming more and more complex with each new stage, and, on the other hand, to visualise its abolition altogether in the higher form. With passage of time new techniques and complexities arise and state control is required to be more tightly governed than to relax it completely. There were some glimpses of utopianism in his philosophy of anticipating the fall of state with the growing complexities of society.

Spencer openly and emphatically argued that he regarded. Bentham’s principle of the happiness of the greatest number as a mere nonsense. But he was unconsciously doing and saying the same thing ns Bentham had done. His belief in the abolition of state was due to the fact that individual will be able to lead a more prosperous and happy life without state, a principle which Bentham had also advocated, but in different language. If he restricts the
sphere of the state that is also because without it individual will be able to lead a batter life as he regarded that all state interference was mischievious and will, in the long run, strongly affect and diminish the liberty and happiness of the individual. His principle of the survival of the fittest was only a device to secure greater happiness and greater prosperity to the individual by this natural law of selection which will carry away the weaker, will be of help to the stronger and will ultimately, be of great beneficence and prosperity to the society at large.

Question 3.
“Every man has freedom to do all that he will provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man’’. (Spencer). Discuss.
Answer:
According to Maxey, “No reputable thinker of the present time acknowledge Spencer as his master. For the critical mind of today he is an amateur scientist and a psuedo-philosopher”. Herbert Spencer was a biologist by training. His most famous work was on the theory of biological evolution. The conclusions which he derived from biology he applied to sociology and politics. But what is true of biological evolution can hardly be of the human disciplines of sociology or political science.

Spencer w as an advocate of the organic theory of the state and society, Be drew close analogies between the human organism and social body politic. The laws of birth growth and decay apply similarly in the case of both the organisms. Both the animal and society begin as germs and undergo a process of growth, the parts, as they grow, become more and more unlike and exhibit greater complexity of structure.

As the lowest type of animal was all stomach, respiratory surface or limb, so primitive society was all warrier, all hunter, all hunt builder or all tool maker. As society grow, division of labour appeared similarly as new organs appear in the body as it grows. In each case, there is a mutual interdependence of parts, the full performance of the functions of each member being essential to the health and preservation of the rest. If any of the parts suffers, the whole suffers. The slow but constant replacement of all-tissue and blood cospuscle in the animal organism by which it was destroyed and reproduced again, was paralleled by the processes in society by which it was permanently maintained, notwithstanding the deaths of’ the competant members.

Herbert Spancer attributed to the animal organism and the society a ‘sustaining system’ consisting of alimentation in the former.

Spencer openly and emphatically argued that he regarded Bentham’s principle of the happiness of the greatest number as a mere nonsense. But he was unconsciously doing and saying the same thing as Bentham had done. His belief in the abolition of state was due to the fact that individual will be able to lead a more prosperous and happy life without state, a principle which Bentham had also advocated, but in different language.

If he restricts the sphere of the state that is also because without it individual will be able to lead a batter life as he regarded that all state interference was mischievious and will, in the long run, strongly affect and diminish the liberty and happiness of the individual. His principle of the survival of the fittest’ was only a device to secure greater happiness and greater prosperity to the individual by this natural law of selection which will carry away the weaker, will be of help to the stronger and will ultimately, be of great beneficence and prosperity to the society at large.

Question 3.
“Every man has freedom to do all that he will, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man”. (Spencer). Discuss.
Answer:
According to Maxey, “No reputable thinker of the present time acknowledge Spencer as his master. For the critical mind of today he is an amateur scientist and a psuedo-philosopher”. Herbert Spencer was a biologist by training. His most famous work was on the theory of biological evolution. The conclusions which he derived from biology he applied to sociology and politics. But what is true of biological evolution can hardly be of the human disciplines of sociology or political science.

Spencer was an advocate of the organic theory of the state and society, He drew close analogies between the human organism and social body politic. ThefJaws of birth growth and decay apply similarly in the case of both the organisms. Both the animal and society begin as germs and undergo a process of growth, the parts, as they grow, become more and more unlike and exhibit greater complexity of structure. As the lowest type of animal was all stomach, respiratory surface or limb, so primitive society was all warrier, all hunter, all hunt builder or all tool maker. As society grow’, division of labour appeared similarly as new organs appear in the body as it grows. In each case, there is a mutual interdependence of parts, the full performance of the functions of each member being essential to the health and preservation of the rest.

If any of the parts suffers, the whole suffers. The slow but constant replacement of all-tissue and blood cospuscle in the animal organism by which it wms destroyed and reproduced again was paralleled by the processes in society by which it was permanently maintained, notwithstanding the deaths of’ the competant members.

Herbert Spancer attributed to the animal organism and the society a ‘sustaining system’ consisting of alimentation jn the former and production in the latter a “distributory system” consisting of the circulatory apparatus in the human body and the transportation system in the society ; and a ‘regulatory system’ consisting of the nervous system in animal and of government and armies in the state. On the basis of these analogies Spancer concluded that society is an organism.

But, Spencer has been able to see some differences between the animal organism and body politic. According to him, the animal bodv was concrete in structure while the body politic was discrete. Another difference between the two was that there was no ‘sensoriuny in the social body. In the case of animal organism, consciousness was concentrated in a small part of the aggregate. In the case of the social organism, that was diffused throughout the aggregate. It followed from this that the welfare of the aggregate in society, considered apart from that of the units, was not an end to be sought. Society existed for the benefit of its members and not members for the benefit of society. These differences between the physical organism and social organism led Spencer to build up  individualistic theory of the state.

Spencer did not look upon the state with favour. He started with the belief that the state was the result of man’s inherent perversity and egoism. As a matter of fact, the state was mere an aggressor than a protector. In a morally perfect society. there could be no reason for the state.

In short, two points in Spencer’s thought seem to be mest prominent. One, he believed that the process of social evolution worked best when it was free from governmental interference . n this respect he was an extreme individualist for he rejected all kind of governmental interference. Second, being a student of social and political evolution he knew that there are major differences between societies at different stages of development. In particular he differentiated between the militant and industrial societies. As he holds, in the militant society the Government become the end. His study of social evolution made him to acquire a deep district of government’s powers.

Spencer’s belief in social organism on the one hard and in the theory of natural rights on the other is hardly reconcilable. His whole analogies are confusing. To say that the society is born the same way as a human body is to show ignorance of the birth of both. The association of male germ with the female germ, if rat the same as the association of human beings in society. Nor do the two organisms grow under the same law. Nor does the state come to an end in the way a human body comes to end.

His individualism is virtually a complete rejection of the organic theory. The state is not an organism because it is not a physical structure. It is mental structure a union of different minds in a common purpose. In spite of the many analogies drawn by Spencer the fact remains that the state is not an organism and the whole analogy leads to confusion. The doctrine of social organism has been hedged with many reservations. Spencer adopted it where it was useful and rejected where it was not. Consistency demands that he should have abandoned either his belief in natural rights or his belief in the organic theory but he sticks to both and produces confusion.

Thus, Spencer’s social philosophy is full of inconsistancies and confusions which are due to the existence of two different and incompetible systems in his philosophy. On the one hand, he is the champion of extreme individualism anxious to preserve people’s freedom from the encroachments of the state. He writes of man vs. the state and set up the individual against the state. He regards state as an evil.

As a believer in the theory of natural rights he cannot but view the state as the result of some sort of contract, though he nowhere clearly and explicitly accepts the contract theory. On the other hand, as the apostle of the theory of evolution he preaches theory of social organism. But it is difficult to reconcile these incompatible ideas. It is indeed curious to find the advocate of the theory of social organism maintaining that society is an aggregate of individuals and that the welfare of the aggregate considered apart from that of the units is not an end to be sought. Spencer tried hard to reconcile the tw o opposed views, but he could not succeed.

DU SOL BA 3rd Year History of Social Thought Notes

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