Social Darwinism: Herbert Spencer And William Graham Sumner

1823 words - 7 pages

Social Darwinism is term that is used for application of biological concepts of Charles Darwin to sociology and political science. The goal of this paper is to introduce two most known social Darwinists – Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Herbert Spencer is sometimes named as the founder of social Darwinism. However, labeling him as such is problematic. Spencer came with his concepts and with the term “survival of the fittest” before he got to know Darwin’s. His ideas are based on the theory of Lamarckian inheritance by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. William Graham Sumner was influenced by Spencer’s work. Neither is Sumner always called social Darwinist. Some historians don’t believe that he actually believed in social Darwinism.
There are two different interpretations of the term social Darwinism. Generalists use this term in broader sense. They claim that Darwin’s evolutional theory inspired many different interpretations. They classify all evolutionary theories with even small connection to Darwin’s, as social Darwinism. This approach allows labeling Herbert Spencer as social Darwinist. On the other hand, Restictionists choose more strict definition. They limit the usage of the term to social theory that is based on the main Darwin’s concepts. Under this definition, Spencer would be considered social Lamarcksist.
Whether they are considered social Darwinist, evolutionary theorist or something else, their ideas influenced others and they both belong to the biggest sociologists. There are many others important thinkers. However because the length of this paper, I decided to focus only on these two. The first chapter introduces Herbert Spencer, his life and concepts. In the second one I introduce life and theory of William Graham Sumner.
Herbert Spencer and his theory
Herbert Spencer was an English philosopher, anthropologist, political thinker and he is also considered one of the co-founders of sociology together with August Comte. He was born on 27 April 1820 in Derby, England. He gained some basic education from his father and his uncles. However he acquired most of his knowledge from readings and self-education. When he grew up, he had found it difficult to settle to any discipline. He worked as a civil engineer, but at the same time he also devoted a lot of his time to writing articles for some journals. In 1848 he became an editor of The Economist. During this time he published his first book, Social Statics (1851). In this book he predicted that humanity would eventually become completely adapted to the requirements of living in society with the consequential withering away of the state.
The publication of this book got Spencer into the circle of well-known authors. He built acquaintances and friendships with John Stuart Mill, Harriet Martineau, George Henry Lewes and George Eliot. Through them, he got to know the theory of positivism by Auguste Comte. In 1855 he finished his second book Principles of...

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