The Study of Sociology.

From the library of Charles Darwin: First edition of Herbert Spencer's The Study of Sociology; with a presentation inscription from Spencer to Darwin

The Study of Sociology.

SPENCER, Herbert.


Item Number: 141586

London: Henry S. King & Co, 1873.

First edition, association copy of famed English philosopher Herbert Spencer’s classic work on the evolution of society; presented and inscribed by him to Charles Darwin. Octavo, original publisher’s cloth with gilt titles to the spine, dark green endpapers. Association copy, inscribed by the author on the title page, “Charles Darwin with the Author’s kind regards.” English philosopher, biologist, sociologist, and anthropologist Herbert Spencer invented the expression “survival of the fittest” which he coined in his Principles of Biology (1864) after reading Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species (1859). A description of the mechanism of natural selection, in Principles of Biology, Spencer drew parallels between his own economic theories and Darwin’s biological ones: “This survival of the fittest, which I have here sought to express in mechanical terms, is that which Mr. Darwin has called ‘natural selection’, or the preservation of favoured races in the struggle for life.” Darwin responded positively to Alfred Russel Wallace’s suggestion of using Spencer’s new phrase “survival of the fittest” as an alternative to “natural selection”, and adopted the phrase in The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication published in 1868. In On the Origin of Species, he introduced the phrase in the fifth edition published in 1869, intending it to mean “better designed for an immediate, local environment” (Gould). Darwin wrote on page 6 of The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication published in 1868, “This preservation, during the battle for life, of varieties which possess any advantage in structure, constitution, or instinct, I have called Natural Selection; and Mr. Herbert Spencer has well expressed the same idea by the Survival of the Fittest. The term ‘natural selection’ is in some respects a bad one, as it seems to imply conscious choice; but this will be disregarded after a little familiarity.” He defended his analogy as similar to language used in chemistry, and to astronomers depicting the “attraction of gravity as ruling the movements of the planets”, or the way in which “agriculturists speak of man making domestic races by his power of selection.” Spencer and Darwin were occasional correspondents and would regularly send each other copies of their latest works. Accompanied by an autograph letter signed by Charles Darwin’s great grandson, Edward Darwin, gifting the book to a relative dated November 27th 1969. In very good condition. Housed in a custom half morocco clamshell box by the Harcourt Bindery. Books from Darwin’s library are very rare to the market.

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. “It is a function that no one has performed since” (DSB). During his lifetime he was considered "the single most famous European intellectual" (Eriksen, 37). "The only other English philosopher to have achieved anything like such widespread popularity was Bertrand Russell, and that was in the 20th century" (Richards). Spencer's philosophies were heavily influenced by Darwin, he cites Darwin several times in this book and references On the Origin of Species as "one of the most influential scientific publications of recent times." Given the primacy which Spencer placed on evolution, his sociology might be described as social Darwinism mixed with Lamarckism. However, despite its popularity, this view of Spencer's sociology is mistaken. While his political and ethical writings had themes consistent with social Darwinism, such themes are absent in Spencer's sociological works, which focus on how processes of societal growth and differentiation lead to changing degrees of complexity in social organization. The evolutionary progression from simple, undifferentiated homogeneity to complex, differentiated heterogeneity was exemplified, Spencer argued, by the development of society. He developed a theory of two types of society, the militant and the industrial, which corresponded to this evolutionary progression. Militant society, structured around relationships of hierarchy and obedience, was simple and undifferentiated; industrial society, based on voluntary, contractually assumed social obligations, was complex and differentiated. Society, which Spencer conceptualised as a 'social organism' evolved from the simpler state to the more complex according to the universal law of evolution. Moreover, industrial society was the direct descendant of the ideal society developed in Social Statics, although Spencer now equivocated over whether the evolution of society would result in anarchism (as he had first believed) or whether it pointed to a continued role for the state, albeit one reduced to the minimal functions of the enforcement of contracts and external defense.

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