The following is a simple guide to the theory developed by Herbert Spencer which influenced Social Darwinism. It is not intended as a complete representation, but merely as an overview to the principles.

The Organic Analogy

  1. Both society and organism grow during most of their existence; baby to adult, town to city.
  2. As they grow, they become increasingly complex.
  3. The progressive differentiation of structure is also accompanied by progressive differentiation of function.

There are fundamental differences between society and organism:

  1. The parts of an organism form a concrete whole, whereas different areas of society are free and relatively dispersed.
  2. Parts of the organism invariably exist to benefit the whole (tautological), whereas in society, the whole exists merely for the benefit of the individual.

Importance to sociologists:

Herbert Spencer's theories are relevant to understanding the basics and development of sociology.

Social Statics: The characteristics of a society depend wholly upon the characteristics of the individuals. In sociological principles conceives of a life different from that of the individual but ultimately produced by individuals.

  1. Learning by inspection. Society can be understood in terms of the co-existence of social phenomena and the way in which they relate to one another.
  2. The comparison of different societies at different stages can reveal the way size, structure, and function relate to one another.

The Nature of Social Evolution

  1. Societies move from simple structures to various levels of compound structures.
    • Simple: consists of separate families.
    • Compound: consists of families organized into clans.
    • Doubly Compound: Clans are organized into tribes.
    • Trebly Compound: Tribes are further organized into nations.

    An increase in size of the society results in increase in structure, which in turn produces differences in power and roles of the members. Different members or groups of members also start to play different, specialized roles.

  2. There is a movement from a military to an industrial society.
    • At the beginning, society is characterized by the compulsory cooperation of its members -- the military society.
    • The industrial society is characterized by the voluntary cooperation of its members.
    • The highest order is called the Ethical State, where common resources may be used to perfect the human character.

Related Materials

Bibliography and Web Resources

Much of the information in this article was obtained from the following University of Minnesota Duluth site: Herbert Spencer. Development of Sociological Theory


Philosophy Victorian Psychology Herbert Spencer

Last modified 6 November 2000