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Herbert Spencer (1820–1903) was one of the most influential thinkers of his time. To understand why, one must read Spencer as an evolutionary theorist. This is how he saw himself and how his contemporaries responded to him and his work. It is what marked his place in the history of sociology and what accounts for his influence far beyond the confines of the discipline he helped to found.

Who is Spencer? Spencer was born on April 27, 1820, at Derby, England, the only surviving child of William George Spencer and Harriet Holmes. In his autobiographical writings, Spencer offers a brief intellectual history of himself, identifying how key aspects of his life were linked to the origins and transformations of his evolutionary ideas. Not surprisingly, he begins ...

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