Herbert Spencer's Social Science: Normative Values and Cultural Neutrality

By:
Prof. Mark Francis
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This paper will partly focus upon the history and philosphy of social science in that it assesses the work of Herbert Spencer against that of Weber, Marx, Tylor, Lubbock and Durkheim. This will be a contribution to the history of evolutionary social science. However, in addition, the paper will explore the potential of scientific analysis to retain ethical qualities. It will be demonstrated that Spencer's theory of culture was designed to ensure that science was not used to construct racist and imperial ideology: Instead, he crafted a notion of cultural neutrality which allowed the observer independence. Of course, such detachment carried its own costs, but they did not outweigh Spencer's determination to avoid employing scientific method in such a way as to promote cruelty or violence. It will be argued that Spencer's evolutionary theories still have valuable lessons for those social scientists whose research is motivated by Darwinianism or sociobiology.


Keywords: Spencer, History of Social Science, Ethics, Darwinism, Racism
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Herbert Spencer’s Social Evolution


Prof. Mark Francis

Professor, School of Political Science and Communication, University of Canterbury
Christchurch, New Zealand

In addition my work as a political theorist I publish in Politcal Philosophy and in the History of Ideas. My chief publications are "Governors and Settlers, Images of Authority in British Colonies, 1820-1860" (Cambridge Commonwealth Series,1992); "A History of English Politcal Thought in the 19th Century"(with John Morrow),1994; and "Herbert Spencer, The Invention of Modern Life"(forthcoming March 2007). This work on Spencer is the first intellectual biography of him in over thirty years, and covers his biological wriitngs, psychology, sociology, and politics. It presents the English founder of social science as an interdiciplinary figure who refused to abandon normative values.

I have held the chair in Political Science at the University of Canterbury for five years. I have been the Fowler Hamilton Senior Research Fellow at Christ Church, Oxford and the Leger Fellow in Canada.

Ref: I07P0387