Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 41.djvu/15

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
5
SPENCER AND THE SYNTHETIC PHILOSOPHY.

growth, implied dissatisfaction with, the current ideas of progress as an irregular and fortuitous process, and bore testimony to at least a vague germinal belief in a social development or evolution.

The momentous questions thus raised and briefly dealt with by Mr. Spencer in this youthful production came in for more thorough and extended treatment a few years later in his first considerable work, Social Statics, which was published in 1850, when the author was just thirty years of age. The conception of this work had entered his mind not long after the appearance of the just-mentioned pamphlet; for, owing to the rapid growth and expansion of his ideas at the time, Spencer soon became aware of the inadequacy of his handling of the various problems there opened up. "The writing of Social Statics," he has since said, "arose from a dissatisfaction with the basis on which the doctrines set forth in those letters were placed."[1] Even the briefest comparison of the earlier and later books is sufficient to show the enormous strides which his mind had taken during the seven critical years which divide them one from the other. In Social Statics almost everything is made to turn upon the doctrine — previously hardly more than hinted at — that from the very beginning of social life down to the present time there has been going on, and that there still is going on, a process of slow but none the less certain adjustment of the natures of men to society, and of the social organization to the natures of its constituent units: this adjustment being the result of a perpetual interaction between units and aggregate which ever tends to bring them into more perfect adaptation the one to the other. Such adaptation, it is further shown, is produced by the direct action of circumstances upon the natures of men, and by the preservation and accumulation by inheritance from generation to generation of the modifications thus initiated; though another process comes in for passing recognition — the process of the dying out of those individuals who fail to adapt themselves to the changing conditions of their environment: which process may be conversely stated as the survival of those only who so far change as to fit themselves to the necessities imposed upon them by the totality of their surroundings. Here, it will be seen, is a faint and partial adumbration of the doctrine of the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence. Moreover, another important point is emphasized — the point that all our social evils and imperfections are due to want of complete adjustment between men and the conditions of social life — are, indeed, nothing more than the temporary jarring and wrenching of a machine the parts of which are

  1. Reasons for Dissenting from the Philosophy of M. Comte.