Herbert Spencer's evolutionary
basis for ethics
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) coined the phrase "Social Darwinism" and developed Darwin’s theory further.
He felt that humans were motivated wholly by pleasure and avoiding pain, but he sought to find a balance
between altruism and egotism. He theorized that humans derived pleasure from three types of "good" moral
behavior by: 1) satisfying himself, 2) satisfying others, and 3) cooperation in satisfying everyone.
However Spencer attempted to develop an ethical system based on evolution. He believed that natural
selection was the force behind social progress, and his writings inspired the ruthless business practices
of Andrew Carnegie and John D. Rockefeller who saw that intentionally aggressive monopolies were not evil
but simply survival of the fittest.
Spencer would answer the two essential questions as: 1) the standard for judging good from evil was
whether the most people gained pleasure or least pain from one’s action, and 2) cooperation for the greater
good was self serving.
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