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Home > Dictionary of Science Quotations > Scientist Names Index S > Herbert Spencer Quotes

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Herbert Spencer
(27 Apr 1820 - 8 Dec 1903)

English sociologist and philosopher who had early interests in science. He coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” (1852). Spencer published an article defending the theory of biological evolution, seven years ahead of Charles Darwin’s book, Origin of Species.


Science Quotes by Herbert Spencer (29 quotes)

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Herbert Spencer at age 73
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A function to each organ, and each organ to its own function, is the law of all organization.
— Herbert Spencer
Social Statics: Or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of them Developed (1851), 274.
Science quotes on:  |  Function (90)  |  Law (418)  |  Organ (60)  |  Organization (79)

Alike in the external and the internal worlds, the man of science sees himself in the midst of perpetual changes of which he can discover neither the beginning nor the end.
— Herbert Spencer
In First Principles (1864, 1898), 68.
Science quotes on:  |  Alike (10)  |  Beginning (114)  |  Change (291)  |  Discover (115)  |  End (141)  |  External (45)  |  Internal (18)  |  Perpetual (10)  |  Science (1699)  |  See (197)  |  World (667)

Doubtless it is true that while consciousness is occupied in the scientific interpretation of a thing, which is now and again “a thing of beauty,” it is not occupied in the aesthetic appreciation of it. But it is no less true that the same consciousness may at another time be so wholly possessed by the aesthetic appreciation as to exclude all thought of the scientific interpretation. The inability of a man of science to take the poetic view simply shows his mental limitation; as the mental limitation of a poet is shown by his inability to take the scientific view. The broader mind can take both.
— Herbert Spencer
In An Autobiography (1904), Vol. 1, 485.
Science quotes on:  |  Aesthetic (26)  |  Appreciation (19)  |  Beauty (171)  |  Both (52)  |  Broader (3)  |  Consciousness (71)  |  Doubtless (5)  |  Exclusion (11)  |  Inability (4)  |  Interpretation (61)  |  Limitation (20)  |  Man Of Science (27)  |  Mind (544)  |  Occupation (37)  |  Poet (59)  |  Possession (37)  |  Science And Art (157)  |  Scientific (169)  |  Thought (374)  |  View (115)

During human progress, every science is evolved out of its corresponding art.
— Herbert Spencer
Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical (1861), 77.
Science quotes on:  |  Correspondence (8)  |  Humanity (104)  |  Progress (317)  |  Science And Art (157)

Every science begins by accumulating observations, and presently generalizes these empirically; but only when it reaches the stage at which its empirical generalizations are included in a rational generalization does it become developed science.
— Herbert Spencer
In The Data of Ethics (1879), 61.
Science quotes on:  |  Accumulate (18)  |  Begin (52)  |  Developed (8)  |  Empirical (15)  |  Generalize (9)  |  Observation (418)  |  Rational (42)  |  Science (1699)

Evolution is an integration of matter and concomitant dissipation of motion during which the matter passes from an indefinite incoherent homogeneity to a definite coherent heterogeneity, and during which the retained motion undergoes a parallel transformation.
— Herbert Spencer
First Principles of a New System of Philosophy (1864), 407.
Science quotes on:  |  Evolution (482)

If a single cell, under appropriate conditions, becomes a man in the space of a few years, there can surely be no difficulty in understanding how, under appropriate conditions, a cell may, in the course of untold millions of years, give origin to the human race.
— Herbert Spencer
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), 350.
Science quotes on:  |  Cell (125)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Human Race (49)

If there be an order in which the human race has mastered its various kinds of knowledge, there will arise in every child an aptitude to acquire these kinds of knowledge in the same order. So that even were the order intrinsically indifferent, it would facilitate education to lead the individual mind through the steps traversed by the general mind. But the order is not intrinsically indifferent; and hence the fundamental reason why education should be a repetition of civilization in little.
— Herbert Spencer
Education: Intellectual, Moral and Physical (1861), 76.
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In science the important thing is to modify and change one's ideas as science advances.
[Misattributed? See instead Claude Bernard]
— Herbert Spencer
Webmaster believes this is a quote by Claude Bernard, for whom examples date back to at least 1935, whereas Webmaster has found attribution to Spencer only as early as 1997. If you know the primary source from either Spencer or Bernard, please contact Webmaster.
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Life is the continuous adjustment of internal relations to external relations.
— Herbert Spencer
In The Principles of Biology (1862), Vol. 1, 84.
Science quotes on:  |  Adjustment (12)  |  Continuous (24)  |  External (45)  |  Internal (18)  |  Life (917)  |  Relation (96)

No physiologist who calmly considers the question in connection with the general truths of his science, can long resist the conviction that different parts of the cerebrum subserve different kinds of mental action. Localization of function is the law of all organization whatever: separateness of duty is universally accompanied with separateness of structure: and it would be marvellous were an exception to exist in the cerebral hemispheres.
— Herbert Spencer
The Principles of Psychology (1855), 607.
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Now, we propose in the first place to show, that this law of organic progress is the law of all progress. Whether it be in the development of the Earth, in the development in Life upon its surface, in the development of Society, of Government, of Manufactures, of Commerce, of Language, Literature, Science, Art, this same evolution of the simple into the complex, through a process of continuous differentiation, holds throughout. From the earliest traceable cosmical changes down to the latest results of civilization, we shall find that the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous is that in which Progress essentially consists.
— Herbert Spencer
'Progress: Its Law and Cause', Westminster Review (1857), 67, 446-7.
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Only when Genius is married to Science can the highest results be produced.
— Herbert Spencer
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 81.
Science quotes on:  |  Genius (186)  |  Highest (16)  |  Production (105)  |  Result (250)  |  Science (1699)

Organs, faculties, powers, capacities, or whatever else we call them; grow by use and diminish from disuse, it is inferred that they will continue to do so. And if this inference is unquestionable, then is the one above deduced from it—that humanity must in the end become completely adapted to its conditions—unquestionable also. Progress, therefore, is not an accident, but a necessity.
— Herbert Spencer
Social Statics: Or, The Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of them Developed (1851), 65.
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Religion has been compelled by science to give up one after another of its dogmas—of those assumed cognitions which it could not substantiate. In the mean time, Science substituted for the personalities to which Religion ascribed phenomena certain metaphysical entities; and in doing this it trespassed on the province of religion; since it classed among the things which it comprehended certain forms of the incomprehensible.
— Herbert Spencer
In First Principles (1864), 109.
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Science is for Life, not Life for Science.
— Herbert Spencer
As quoted, without citation, in John Arthur Thomson, 'The Utility of Science', Introduction to Science (1911), 245. Webmaster has so far not found the primary source — can you help?
Science quotes on:  |  Life (917)  |  Science (1699)

Science is organised knowledge.
— Herbert Spencer
…...
Science quotes on:  |  Knowledge (1128)  |  Organise (2)  |  Science (1699)

Science is organized knowledge.
— Herbert Spencer
Often (almost certainly) misattributed to Immanuel Kant, since there seems to be no generally known existent citation. The sentence does appear in an essay by Herbert Spencer, 'The Art of Education', The North British Review (May 1854), 137. When “Wisdom is organized life” is added to the misattributed quote, these are the words used by Will Durant when explaining, but not quoting, Kant (see Science Quotes by Will Durant).
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Science is organized knowledge; and before knowledge can be organized, some of it must first be possessed. Every study, therefore, should have a purely experimental introduction; and only after an ample fund of observations has been accumulated, should reasoning begin.
— Herbert Spencer
In essay 'The Art of Education', The North British Review (May 1854), 137.
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So far from science being irreligious, as many think, it is the neglect of science that is irreligious—it is the refusal to study the surrounding creation that is irreligious.
— Herbert Spencer
'What Knowledge is of Most Worth'. Lectures in Education delivered at the Royal Institution (1855). In The Westminster Review (Jul 1859), 22. Collected in Essays on Education and Kindred Subjects (1911), 41.
Science quotes on:  |  Creation (211)  |  Irreligious (2)  |  Neglect (23)  |  Refusal (20)  |  Science (1699)  |  Study (331)  |  Surrounding (11)

The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiations, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity which constitute the environment of our daily life. From the remotest past which Science can fathom, up to the novelties of yesterday, that in which Progress essentially consists, is the transformation of the homogeneous into the heterogeneous.
— Herbert Spencer
Progress: Its Law and Cause (1857), 35.
Science quotes on:  |  Abstract (43)  |  Activity (97)  |  Advancement (36)  |  Aggregation (4)  |  Change (291)  |  Civilization (155)  |  Climate (38)  |  Complexity (80)  |  Concrete (21)  |  Contemplation (37)  |  Daily Life (5)  |  Differentiation (17)  |  Early (39)  |  Earth (487)  |  Economy (46)  |  Environment (138)  |  Establishment (29)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Fathom (5)  |  Geology (187)  |  Heterogeneity (3)  |  Homogeneity (4)  |  Humanity (104)  |  Individual (177)  |  Induction (45)  |  Kind (99)  |  Multiplication (14)  |  Novelty (19)  |  Organism (126)  |  Organization (79)  |  Past (109)  |  Politics (77)  |  Process (201)  |  Product (72)  |  Race (76)  |  Reason (330)  |  Religion (210)  |  Remoteness (7)  |  Simplicity (126)  |  Society (188)  |  Succession (39)  |  Surface (74)  |  Transformation (47)  |  Unfolding (5)  |  Universe (563)  |  Yesterday (14)

The existence of a first cause of the universe is a necessity of thought ... Amid the mysteries which become more mysterious the more they are thought about, there will remain the one absolute certainty that we are over in the presence of an Infinite, Eternal Energy from which all things proceed.
— Herbert Spencer
As quoted in John Murdoch, India's Needs: Material, Political, Social, Moral, and Religious (1886), 126.
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This survival of the fittest implies multiplication of the fittest.
[The phrase “survival of the fittest” was not originated by Charles Darwin, though he discussed Spencer's “excellent expression” in a letter to A. R. Wallace (Jul 1866).]
— Herbert Spencer
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), Vol. 1, 444.
Science quotes on:  |  Charles Darwin (284)  |  Evolution (482)  |  Survival Of The Fittest (34)

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.”
— Herbert Spencer
Principles of Biology (1865, 1872), Vol. 1, 444-445.
Science quotes on:  |  Charles Darwin (284)  |  Natural Selection (79)  |  Survival Of The Fittest (34)

Though, probably, no competent geologist would contend that the European classification of strata is applicable to all other parts of the globe, yet most, if not all geologists, write as though it were so.
— Herbert Spencer
'Illogical Geology', The Universal Review (1859), 2, 54.
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We must infer that a plant or animal of any species, is made up of special units, in all of which there dwells the intrinsic aptitude to aggregate into the form of that species: just as in the atoms of a salt, there dwells the intrinsic aptitude to crystallize in a particular way.‎
— Herbert Spencer
In The Principles of Biology (1872), Vol. 1, 181.
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Whether the minds of men and women are or are not alike, are obviously psychological questions.
— Herbert Spencer
In 'Preparation in Psychology', The Study of Sociology (1896), 348. Also published in a series of articles in Contemporary Review (1873) https://books.google.com/books?id= Herbert Spencer - 1880
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[Defining Life] The definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive, in correspondence with external co-existences and sequences.
— Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer, "Principles of Psychology" 1835, p. 354. Compare "Physiology of Common Life" 1860, ii., 426. In The British Controversialist and Literary Magazine (1865), 234.
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[L]et us not overlook the further great fact, that not only does science underlie sculpture, painting, music, poetry, but that science is itself poetic. The current opinion that science and poetry are opposed is a delusion. ... On the contrary science opens up realms of poetry where to the unscientific all is a blank. Those engaged in scientific researches constantly show us that they realize not less vividly, but more vividly, than others, the poetry of their subjects. Whoever will dip into Hugh Miller's works on geology, or read Mr. Lewes's “Seaside Studies,” will perceive that science excites poetry rather than extinguishes it. And whoever will contemplate the life of Goethe will see that the poet and the man of science can co-exist in equal activity. Is it not, indeed, an absurd and almost a sacrilegious belief that the more a man studies Nature the less he reveres it? Think you that a drop of water, which to the vulgar eye is but a drop of water, loses anything in the eye of the physicist who knows that its elements are held together by a force which, if suddenly liberated, would produce a flash of lightning? Think you that what is carelessly looked upon by the uninitiated as a mere snow-flake, does not suggest higher associations to one who has seen through a microscope the wondrously varied and elegant forms of snow-crystals? Think you that the rounded rock marked with parallel scratches calls up as much poetry in an ignorant mind as in the mind of a geologist, who knows that over this rock a glacier slid a million years ago? The truth is, that those who have never entered upon scientific pursuits know not a tithe of the poetry by which they are surrounded. Whoever has not in youth collected plants and insects, knows not half the halo of interest which lanes and hedge-rows can assume. Whoever has not sought for fossils, has little idea of the poetical associations that surround the places where imbedded treasures were found. Whoever at the seaside has not had a microscope and aquarium, has yet to learn what the highest pleasures of the seaside are. Sad, indeed, is it to see how men occupy themselves with trivialities, and are indifferent to the grandest phenomena—care not to understand the architecture of the Heavens, but are deeply interested in some contemptible controversy about the intrigues of Mary Queen of Scots!—are learnedly critical over a Greek ode, and pass by without a glance that grand epic written by the finger of God upon the strata of the Earth!
— Herbert Spencer
Education: Intellectual, Moral, and Physical (1889), 82-83.
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Quotes by others about Herbert Spencer (6)

I fully agree with all that you say on the advantages of H. Spencer's excellent expression of 'the survival of the fittest.' This, however, had not occurred to me till reading your letter. It is, however, a great objection to this term that it cannot be used as a substantive governing a verb; and that this is a real objection I infer from H. Spencer continually using the words, natural selection.
Letter to A. R. Wallace July 1866. In F. Darwin (ed.), The Life and Letters of Charles Darwin, Including an Autobiographical Chapter (1887), Vol. 3, 45-6.
Science quotes on:  |  Survival Of The Fittest (34)

In the future I see open fields for more important researches. Psychology will be securely based on the foundation already laid by Mr. Herbert Spencer, that of the necessary acquirement of each mental power and capacity by graduation.
Origin of Species
Science quotes on:  |  Psychology (125)

The expression often used by Mr. Herbert Spencer of the Survival of the Fittest is more accurate, and is sometimes equally convenient
Origin of Species, Ch. 3.
Science quotes on:  |  Survival Of The Fittest (34)

Your printers have made but one blunder,
Correct it instanter, and then for the thunder!
We'll see in a jiffy if this Mr S[pencer]
Has the ghost of a claim to be thought a good fencer.
To my vision his merits have still seemed to dwindle,
Since I have found him allied with the great Dr T[yndall]
While I have, for my part, grown cockier and cockier,
Since I found an ally in yourself, Mr L[ockyer]
And am always, in consequence, thoroughly willin',
To perform in the pages of Nature's M[acmillan].
Postcard from Tait to Lockyer, editor of Nature, cited by H. Dingle, Nature (1969), 224, 829.
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The one who stays in my mind as the ideal man of science is, not Huxley or Tyndall, Hooker or Lubbock, still less my friend, philosopher and guide Herbert Spencer, but Francis Galton, whom I used to observe and listen to—I regret to add, without the least reciprocity—with rapt attention. Even to-day. I can conjure up, from memory’s misty deep, that tall figure with its attitude of perfect physical and mental poise; the clean-shaven face, the thin, compressed mouth with its enigmatical smile; the long upper lip and firm chin, and, as if presiding over the whole personality of the man, the prominent dark eyebrows from beneath which gleamed, with penetrating humour, contemplative grey eyes. Fascinating to me was Francis Galton’s all-embracing but apparently impersonal beneficence. But, to a recent and enthusiastic convert to the scientific method, the most relevant of Galton’s many gifts was the unique contribution of three separate and distinct processes of the intellect; a continuous curiosity about, and rapid apprehension of individual facts, whether common or uncommon; the faculty for ingenious trains of reasoning; and, more admirable than either of these, because the talent was wholly beyond my reach, the capacity for correcting and verifying his own hypotheses, by the statistical handling of masses of data, whether collected by himself or supplied by other students of the problem.
In My Apprenticeship (1926), 134-135.
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A hundred years ago … an engineer, Herbert Spencer, was willing to expound every aspect of life, with an effect on his admiring readers which has not worn off today.
Things do not happen quite in this way nowadays. This, we are told, is an age of specialists. The pursuit of knowledge has become a profession. The time when a man could master several sciences is past. He must now, they say, put all his efforts into one subject. And presumably, he must get all his ideas from this one subject. The world, to be sure, needs men who will follow such a rule with enthusiasm. It needs the greatest numbers of the ablest technicians. But apart from them it also needs men who will converse and think and even work in more than one science and know how to combine or connect them. Such men, I believe, are still to be found today. They are still as glad to exchange ideas as they have been in the past. But we cannot say that our way of life is well-fitted to help them. Why is this?
In 'The Unification of Biology', New Scientist (11 Jan 1962), 13, No. 269, 72.
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Carl Sagan Thumbnail In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) -- Carl Sagan
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- 90 -
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