Herbert Spencer

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= first author to theorize Universal Evolutionism ?


"Morris R. Cohen (1958) maintains that the idea of universal evolution, starting with Spencer, has produced a very strong influence over people and has excited their imagination to such a degree that is only similar to a very limited number of major intellectual achievements since the Copernican revolution."

- Leonid Grinin et al. [1]


Leonid Grinin and Andrey Korotayev et al. :

"First Principles represented only the final, full-blown formulation of Spencer's concept of evolution. Previously, in a series of essays written during the 1850s, he had exhibited various aspects of the process as manifested in various domains of nature. Then in 1857, in the article entitled ‘Progress: Its Law and Cause’, he wrote: ‘The advance from the simple to the complex, through a process of successive differentiation, is seen alike in the earliest changes of the Universe to which we can reason our way back, and in the earliest changes which we can inductively establish; it is seen in the geologic and climatic evolution of the Earth; it is seen in the unfolding of every single organism on its surface, and in the multiplication of kinds of organisms; it is seen in the evolution of Humanity, whether contemplated in the civilized individual, or in the aggregate of races; it is seen in the evolution of Society in respect alike of its political, its religious, and its economical organization; and it is seen in the evolution of all those endless concrete and abstract products of human activity…’ (Spencer 1857: 465). Despite his use of ‘progress’ in the title of this article, Spencer came to realize that the word had normative overtones, and that he needed a word free of that. In ‘evolution’, he found a word – not often used in scientific writing up to that time – that proved to be the answer to his search.

It is worth to point that Spencer first hit upon the idea of evolution while reading a description of Karl von Baer's discussion of embryological development. Von Baer described it as essentially a process of successive differentiations, from very rudimentary beginnings. Starting out as a single fertilized egg, the embryo underwent a series of divisions and subdivisions, its parts becoming progressively more varied and more specialized. Spencer was struck by the fact that the process that marked the development of a single organism was also the process that characterized the development of all orders of phenomena."