Social Darwinism: Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner Essay

Social Darwinism: Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner Essay

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Social Darwinism is term that is used for application of biological concepts of Charles Darwin to sociology and political science. The goal of this paper is to introduce two most known social Darwinists – Herbert Spencer and William Graham Sumner. Herbert Spencer is sometimes named as the founder of social Darwinism. However, labeling him as such is problematic. Spencer came with his concepts and with the term “survival of the fittest” before he got to know Darwin’s. His ideas are based on the theory of Lamarckian inheritance by French biologist Jean-Baptiste Lamarck. William Graham Sumner was influenced by Spencer’s work. Neither is Sumner always called social Darwinist. Some historians don’t believe that he actually believed in social Darwinism.
There are two different interpretations of the term social Darwinism. Generalists use this term in broader sense. They claim that Darwin’s evolutional theory inspired many different interpretations. They classify all evolutionary theories with even small connection to Darwin’s, as social Darwinism. This approach allows labeling Herbert Spencer as social Darwinist. On the other hand, Restictionists choose more strict definition. They limit the usage of the term to social theory that is based on the main Darwin’s concepts. Under this definition, Spencer would be considered social Lamarcksist.
Whether they are considered social Darwinist, evolutionary theorist or something else, their ideas influenced others and they both belong to the biggest sociologists. There are many others important thinkers. However because the length of this paper, I decided to focus only on these two. The first chapter introduces Herbert Spencer, his life and concepts. In the second one I introduce life and...


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...ism-pessimism-case-herbert-spencer-part-7 (accessed May 16, 2014).
• "Social Darwinism in America." Boundless Open Textbook. https://www.boundless.com/u-s-history/race-empire-and-culture-in-the-gilded-age-1870-1900/culture-in-the-gilded-age/social-darwinism-in-america/ (accessed May 16, 2014).
• Spencer, Herbert. Social Statics: Or, the Conditions Essential to Human Happiness Specified, and the First of Them Developed. London: John Chapman, 1851.
• Spencer, Herbert. The principles of psychology. Authorized ed. London: Longman, Brown, Green and Longmans, 1855.
• Spencer, Herbert. The man versus the state: containing "The new Toryism," "The coming slavery," "The sins of legislators," and "The great political superstition". London: Williams & Norgate, 1884.
• Sumner, William Graham. Folkways: a study of mores, manners, customs and morals. New York: Cosimo Inc., 2007.

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