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Herbert Spencer, Principles of Ethics (1887)


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Author: The Principles of Ethics, 2 vols. (1897, 1978).

Description: A two volume work which Spencer considered to be his finest work. In volume I he covers the data of ethics, the inductions of ethics, and the ethics of individual life. In the second volume he covers the ethics of social life (or justice), negative beneficence, positive beneficence, and a number of topics in several appendices (such as Kant’s theory of rights, land ownership, and animal rights).

Though almost forgotten today, Herbert Spencer ranks as one of the foremost individualist philosophers. His influence in the latter half of the nineteenth century was immense. Spencer’s name is usually linked with Darwin’s, for it was he who penned the phrase, "survival of the fittest." Today in America he is most often admired for his trenchant essays in The Man Versus the State. But Spencer himself considered The Principles of Ethics to be his finest work. In volume I he covers the data of ethics, the inductions of ethics, and the ethics of individual life. In the second volume he covers the ethics of social life (or justice), negative beneficence, positive beneficence, and a number of topics in several appendices (such as Kant’s theory of rights, land ownership, and animal rights). In the large section on "Justice" he discusses property rights, free exchange, free speech, the rights of women and children, and the nature of the state. His formula for justice is summed up in these words: "Every man is free to do that which he wills, provided he infringes not the equal freedom of any other man."

A copy of the book can be ordered from Liberty Fund's at this site.

Last modified April 10, 2014