Theory of Social Evolution :- Herbert Spencer

Evolution was in the air and developmental thinking can be found in
a variety of different fields.

The word evolution was borrowed from Latin ēvolūtiō, ēvolūtiōnis, which means , “the act of unrolling, unfolding or opening .



Evolution is a process full of complexity .
Evolution is a principle of internal growth . It shows not merely what happens to a thing but also what happens within it .

Their term evolution is borrowed from the biological science of sociology ,Frome the term ” organic evolution ” .
Whereas organic evolution is used to denote the evolution of organisms ,social evolution is used to denote the evolution of human society .



Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, and sociologist famous for his hypothesis of social Darwinism.




Spencer in his essay “The Social Organism”,
stated that the social organism itself is subject to evolutionary developments as a separate entity and much of the idea that societies, like individual organisms, “spontaneously evolved” .


On passing from Humanity under its individual form, to Humanity as socially
embodied, social evolution can be exemplified .

Spencer said , “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.”


One of the most important contribution of Herbert Spencer to Sociology is the theory of evolution

His principles included physical and biological evolution in order to elaborate and explain his theory of Social evolution.
He sketches a comprehensive account of evolution of the inorganic, organic, and
human and social realms.

He stated ,
In respect to that progress which individual organisms display
in the course of their evolution,”


He explained this course of evolution through , the development of a seed into a tree, or an ovum into an animal, constitute an
advance from homogeneity of structure to heterogeneity of structure .

He continue with, the change
from the homogeneous to the heterogeneous is displayed in the progress of civilization as a whole, as well as in the progress of every nation; and is still going
on with increasing rapidity.



Spencer adopted his principle of evolution from naturalist Charles Darwin, who developed the concept of evolution in his “Origin of Species” in 1859.

Herbert Spencer, used Darwin’s theory and applied it to how societies change and evolve .According to Spencer societies were bound to change automatically .

Spencer in his theory applied a comparison of societies with organisms that progress through changes similar to that of a living species.



He included three types of systems where societies can be compared to organisms .



The first system is the regulative system.
In animals, that would be the central nervous system and in societies, it would be a government that regulates everything.


The second system is the sustaining system.
For animals, that’s the giving and receiving of nourishment. For societies, that would be industry – jobs, money, economy and those sorts of things.

The third system would be the distribution system.
In animals, that would be the veins and arteries. In societies, it would be roads, transportation, internet – anything in which information and goods and services are exchanged.



Survival of the fittest” expounded by Darwin was highly believed by him . According to Spencer only strong creatures survive and evolve; only strong makes progress. And that animal has to struggle to preserve its existence.


All universal phenomena-inorganic, organic, super organic—are subject to the natural law of evolution.

A definite pattern of change is followed by all the phenomena of nature—the stars and planetary systems, the earth and all terrestrial phenomena, biological organisms and the development of species, all the psychological and sociological processes of human experience.

Herbert Spencer includes physical evolution in the form of indefinite incoherent situations to definite and coherent situations.
The underlying principles of physical evolution are a movement from simple to complex and homogeneity to heterogeneity.

According to him , following the Darwin theory of ” Survival of fittest ” the biological evolution only those creatures survive in the struggle for existence who are able to make effective adjustment with changing circumstances.

Herbert Spencer utilized these two principles, physical and biological evolution in order to explain social evolution.

Spencer’s theory of social evolution points out to two stages:

1. The movement from simple to compound societies.

This movement from simple to compound societies can be seen in four types of societies in terms of evolutionary levels

• Simple Society:
• Compound societies
• Double Compound societies
• Trebly Compound societies

2. Change from militant society to industrial society.


According to Spencer, the law of evolution is the supreme law of every becoming.
From the analysis of biological evolution Spencer established the theory of evolution.
He argued that the evolution of human societies, far from being different from other evolutionary phenomena. It is a special case of a universally applicable natural law.




According to some social thinkers Herbert Spencer’s has several criticism ,
They said that theory lacks practicability and is realistic.
It also lacks uniformity.
Qualities like sympathy, sacrifice, kindness, love etc. are of much Importance in human survival . These are quite different from the struggle for existence.

Despite of several criticism Spencer Theory of Evolution is the fundamental base for understanding evolution of man and society .

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