Herbert Spencer (1820-1903 A.D.)
By Richard E. Noble
Despite being hooked on morphine and opium, and suffering from some kind of incurable sickness, causing serious pain and incapacities, headaches, insomnia, sensitivity to sound and light and an eventual nervous breakdown, Herbert Spencer became a very prolific philosophical writer of his day. He didn't become rich though. And it seems almost a miracle not only that he was actually able to accomplish what he did, but that he was even able to get any of it published. If it weren't for the wealthy John Stewart Mill secretly financing Herbert by buying subscriptions to Herbert's Synthetic Philosophy and convincing his other rich friends to do so, the work would probably never have been completed.
Herbert's 'Synthetic Philosophy' went on for volumes and took him between thirty and fifty years to complete. Herbert was an advocate and proponent of the theory of evolution long before Darwin ever set pen to paper in his Origins of the Species. It was Herbert's goal to compile all the scientific knowledge of his day, according to the principles that all knowledge was basically empirical and inductive and had become known basically through the processes of evolution.
In his first volume he lost almost all of his subscribers when he matter-of-factly dismissed Theism as misinformation based on superstition and primitiveness. He further dismissed Pantheism and all other religious beliefs on the premise that God was basically unknowable and undiscoverable. He said that Religion had its place, though, because of its historical and socializing aspects. He basically implied that religion kept folks of the streets and stopped men from screwing rabbits, so what the hell. The only belief, according to Herbert, acceptable to a rational, intelligent human being was Agnosticism. Needless to say the entire Synthetic Philosophy subscription department was laid off almost immediately.
Herbert, that little devil, was quite a romantic, though a little reserved. He had only one girlfriend and her name was George (Eliot, Marion Evans). In describing her he once poetically exclaimed, “Usually heads have, here and there, either places or slight hollows, but her head was everywhere convex.” Obviously Herbert was not a big T & A man.
He was also a great advocate of Capitalism, industrialization and the economic policy of Laissez faire. He hated Socialism and Militarism. He prophesied an eventual world filled with wealth, prosperity and peace due to the advantages of Capitalism, Industrialism and laissez faire. And, of course, he was absolutely right. In the hundred years since his death we have pretty much lived in a Capitalistic world of peace and prosperity, with virtually no economic downturns or any serious wars to speak of. Milton Friedman, Nobel Prize winning economist, went so far as to claim in one of his public appearances a few years back that the U.S.A. was free of poverty. I wonder, when a Nobel Prize winning economist has his policies fail, and most everything he had to say proved false, do they take back his Nobel Prize?
This is why I love Philosophy. You know, reading men who have all of the answers and the right ones too. My second favorite subject is Religion, and after that politics can be fun.