Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 6.djvu/622

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
604
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

SOCIAL EVOLUTION.
By Prof. J. E. CAIRNES.[1]

ANXIOUS as all who take an interest in social speculation cannot fail to be for the completion of Mr. Spencer's forthcoming work on the "Principles of Sociology," they will scarcely regret that he should have allowed himself to be drawn aside for a time from his principal occupation in order to compose the present volume. Several reasons concur to make it desirable that such an avant-coureur should be sent forth; but it is sufficient here to mention one. With every possible disposition to acknowledge the great services of M. Comte in his masterly ébauche and partial development of the science of society, it is impossible not to see that even the elementary principles of this branch of inquiry have yet to be formulated. To constitute these, or at least some portion of them, is doubtless the aim of Mr. Spencer's grand undertaking. It is to this that the labors of his life have been leading up; but, if his work is to prove in any sense definitive, it is plainly an indispensable condition that it should be preceded by a tolerably full and thorough discussion of the more elementary doctrines of the new science. Mr. Spencer has not, indeed, waited till now to give the world his ideas on many social topics of the highest importance; but it was well thus to bring together into a single volume his sociological views scattered over many essays, and, by giving them fresh exposition and illustration, to invite fresh criticism. Never before has the conception of a social science been put forth with equal distinctness and clearness; and never has its claim to take rank as a recognized branch of scientific investigation been placed upon surer grounds, or asserted with more just emphasis. The wealth of illustration lavished on the various topics discussed is almost marvelous; and, when one considers that Mr. Spencer has already on hand a great work on the same subject, augurs a rare profusion of resources. The purpose of the present essay, however, is not to render to Mr. Spencer a homage of which he has no need, but to invite attention to some positions of his philosophical system, so far as it has been given to the public, which have scarcely yet received that amount of consideration and criticism which their great importance demands. As will be seen, and indeed has already appeared, the following remarks have been conceived from the point of view of one who fully accepts the possibility of a social science, and who, to a large extent, concurs in Mr. Spencer's conception of the nature of that inquiry.

The part of Mr. Spencer's social philosophy to which he has hitherto given most prominence, and which he has elaborated with most care, is his doctrine of Social Evolution. The idea was put forward

  1. A review of "The Study of Sociology," by Herbert Spencer. D. Appleton & Co.