History: Britain – The Industrial Revolution

Liberal individualism [vs. reformism], Herbert Spencer, and Charles Darwin.

The SP that emerged in Britain in the 19th Century

Characterised by Herbert Spencer’s (and Darwin’s?) reading of the social through their theories of evolution. (Stenner, 2017, p. 4)

The industrial revolution had produced a concentrated and large urban poor. This came with social problems: “deviance, madness and distress” (Stenner, 2017, p. 3)

“what part of all this misery is the result of personal defects and vices…; how much of what may be called inaptitude of the State!”

(Guy, W. (1873), in Rose, N. 1985, in Stenner, 2017, p. 4)

Herbert Spencer

[F]or Spencer, all social actions are the actions of individuals who are in turn governed by biological laws. Social phenomena thus demand biological explanations.

(Stenner, 2017, p. 4)

Spencer understood both individuals and society through the lens of biology; highly influenced by theories of evolution. His theory of “the social” was based on a biological understanding of the individual; instinct driven feelings, thoughts, acts of individuals that, in sum, make up the social.

Perhaps the instincts were understood to express a social biological law or dynamic, such as “survival of the fittest”? Further reading would be necessary to ascertain this.

‘The social’ is thus understood as the expression of the social instincts of an essentially biological mind.

(Stenner, 2017, p. 4)

Herbert Spencer: coined “the survival of the fittest” (The Principles of Biology, 1864)

Social Darwinism?

G.E. Moore (1873-1958), accused Spencer of Social Darwinism, accusing him of committing the naturalistic fallacy:

“According to Moore, Spencer’s practical reasoning was deeply flawed insofar as he purportedly conflated mere survivability (a natural property) with goodness itself (a non-natural property).” (SEP)

Moore accuses Spencer of making “the survival of the fittest” a moral principle. But for Moore, survival of the fittest was an empirical description of nature not a moral principle.

(Similarly Moore accused proponents of metaphysical ethics, the idea that moral principles exist in a (non-natural-empirical) “super-sensible space”, of also conflating a supposed non-moral property with a moral one – suggesting “naturalistic fallacy” is not a good name).

“The naturalistic fallacy is the assumption that because the words ‘good’ and, say, ‘pleasant’  necessarily describe the same objects, they must attribute the same quality to them.”[4] (Principa Ethica, 1904)

But actually:

 “Responding to T. H. Huxley’s accusation that he conflated good with “survival of the fittest,” Spencer insisted that “fittest” and “best” were not equivalent.” (SEP)