Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Herbert Spencer

English Philosopher, Social Scientist, Journalist for The Economist

"Education has for its object the formation of character."

"It is the mind that maketh good or ill, that maketh wretch or happy, rich or poor."

"He that strives to touch the stars oft stumbles at a straw."

"It must be admitted that the conception of virtue cannot be separated from the conception of happiness-producing conduct."

"No one can be perfectly free till all are free; no one can be perfectly moral till all are moral; no one can be perfectly happy till all are happy."

"Not education, but character is man's greatest need - and man's greatest safeguard."

"Objects we ardently pursue bring little happiness when gained; most of our pleasures come from unexpected sources."

"The preservation of health is a duty. Few seem conscious that there is such a thing as physical morality."

"Civilization is a progress from an indefinite, incoherent homogeneity toward a definite, coherent heterogeneity."

"Life is the co-ordination of actions."

"Our lives are universally shortened by our ignorance."

"When a man's knowledge is not in order, the more of it he has the greater will be his confusion."

"Life is the continuous adjustment of external relations."

"The wise man must remember that while he is a descendent of the past, he is a parent of the future."

"Ancestor-worship is the root of every religion."

"[Education of the individual shall] progress from the simple to the complex, from the concrete to the abstract, from the empirical to the rational… shall be as much as possible a process of self-evolution, and… shall be pleasurable."

"Children should be led to make their own investigations and to draw their own inferences. They should be told as little as possible and induced to discover as much as possible. Humanity has progressed solely by self-instruction… If the subjects be put before him in right order and right form, any pupil of ordinary capacity will surmount his successive difficulties with but little assistance."

"Each child’s mind [should go] through a process like that which the mind of humanity at large has gone through. The truths of number, of form, of relationship in position, were all originally drawn from objects; and to present these truths to the child in the concrete is to let him learn them as the race learned them."

"Ethical truth is as exact and peremptory as physical truth."

"Every man is free to do what he will, provided he infringes not upon the equal freedom of any other man."

"It is the function of parents to see that their children habitually experience the true consequences of their conduct."

"Men are not rational beings, as commonly supposed. A man is a bundle of instincts, feelings, sentiments, which severally seek their gratification and those which are in power get hold of the reason and use it to their own ends, and exclude all other sentiments and feelings of power."

"Opinion is ultimately determined by the feelings and not by the intellect."

"Science is organized knowledge."

"The ultimate result of shielding people from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools."

"No apparatus of senators, judges, and police can compensate for the want of an internal governing sentiment… No administrative sleight of hand can save us from ourselves."

"Nature’s rules… have no exceptions."

"The highest conduct is that which conduces to the greatest length, breadth, and completeness of life."

"Time: That which people are always trying to kill, but which ends in killing them."

"There is no more mischievous absurdity than this judging of actions from the outside as they look to us, instead of from the inside as they look to the actors; nothing more irrational than to criticize deeds as though the doers of them had the same desires, hopes, fears, and restraints as ourselves."

"Truth generally lies in the coordination of antagonistic opinions."

"Vigorous health and its accompanying high spirits are larger elements of happiness than any other things whatever."

"How often misused words generate misleading thoughts."

"Hero worship is strongest where there is least regard for human freedom."

"Uniformity brings death, variety brings life."

"Morality knows nothing of geographical boundaries or distinctions of race."

"Progress, therefore, is not an accident but a necessity; it is a part of nature."

"There is a principle that is guaranteed to keep man in everlasting ignorance. That principle is contempt prior to investigation."

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action."

"Every cause produces more than one effect. "

"All evil results from the non-adaptation of constitution to conditions. This is true of everything that lives. "

"It cannot but happen that those individuals whose functions are most out of equilibrium with the modified aggregate of external forces, will be those to die; and that those will survive whose functions happen to be most nearly in equilibrium with the modified aggregate of external forces. But this survival of the fittest, implies multiplication of the fittest. Out of the fittest thus multiplied, there will, as before, be an overthrowing of the moving equilibrium wherever it presents the least opposing force to the new incident force."

"All socialism involves slavery. "

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action. "

"Evolution is definable as a change from an incoherent homogeneity to a coherent heterogeneity, accompanying the dissipation of motion and integration of matter."

"As there must be moderation in other things, so there must be moderation in self-criticism. Perpetual contemplation of our own actions produces a morbid consciousness, quite unlike that normal consciousness accompanying right actions spontaneously done; and from a state of unstable equilibrium long maintained by effort, there is apt to be a fall towards stable equilibrium, in which the primitive nature reasserts itself. Retrogression rather than progression may hence result."

"Ethical ideas and sentiments have to be considered as parts of the phenomena of life at large. We have to deal with man as a product of evolution, with society as a product of evolution, and with moral phenomena as products of evolution."