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Herbert Spencer

Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was born in Derby, England. He was the only one of his parent’s nine children to survive into adulthood. Spencer himself was an unhealthy child, so he was educated at home by his father and, as a teen, by a clergyman uncle. This education was heavily oriented toward the sciences. In addition to sociology, Spencer influenced the development of disciplines including biology, psychology, and anthropology (Carneiro 1968, 121).

In 1837, Spencer became a railroad engineer and draftsman. He was also an inventor, but did not profit significantly from his work in that area. After his work with the railroad was completed, Spencer began to publish articles on the social and political issues of the day. Unable to make a living as a writer, he eventually returned to the railroad, continuing to invent, write, and travel. In 1848, he finally landed stable employment in an editorial position with the Economist. Spencer wrote his first book, Social Statistics (1851), while in that position. He also published a theory of evolution that predated Charles Darwin’s famous On the Origin of Species (1996, orig. 1859) by several years (Coser 1977, 102–5).

Shortly after these publications, Spencer’s uncle died and left him a sizable inheritance. His newfound wealth allowed him to quit his job and live as a private scholar. He also had a nervous breakdown and developed a nervous condition at age 35 that left him unable to work long hours for the rest of his life. It also severely impaired his social interactions (Peel 1971). However, Spencer was able to continue to write prolifically on topics including biology, philosophy, and sociology. He became a renowned scientist. His writings were published in England and the United States, used as textbooks, and translated into French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian by the turn of the century. Yet Herbert Spencer never held a university degree or university position (Coser 1977, 102–7; Peel 1971).

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KATHY S. STOLLEY
(The Basics of Sociology) - ISBN 0-313-32387-9

 

 
 
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