Chapter

Free agent or ‘conscious automaton’? The individual in Spencer’s social theory

John Offer

in An intellectual history of British social policy

Published by Policy Press

Published in print January 2006 | ISBN: 9781861345318
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9781447301455 | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1332/policypress/9781861345318.003.0004
Free agent or ‘conscious automaton’? The individual in Spencer’s social theory

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This chapter explores Herbert Spencer's complex interpretation of individuals and social life. It is primarily concerned with how Spencer understood ‘social individuals’ and ‘social life’, and to comment in this light on some recent interpretations of Spencer on moral and political ideas. It also tries to show that Spencerian individuals are psychically and socially so constituted as to be only indirectly responsive to moral suasion. David Weinstein's valuable interpretation of Spencer's equal freedom principle and its relationship to the principles of conduct and consequences has been recognised, and his own and Richard Hiskes' comments on beneficence have also been welcomed critically.

Keywords: Herbert Spencer; social theory; social individuals; social life; equal freedom principle; David Weinstein; Richard Hiskes

Chapter.  8450 words. 

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