The “General Philosophy” Of Herbert Spencer -- By: M. Stuart Phelps

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 031:124 (Oct 1874)
Article: The “General Philosophy” Of Herbert Spencer
Author: M. Stuart Phelps


The “General Philosophy” Of Herbert Spencer

M. Stuart Phelps

Herbert Spencer defines philosophy as “knowledge of the highest degree of generality.” 1 “Knowledge of the lowest kind is un-unified knowledge “[whatever that may be]. “Science is partially unified knowledge. Philosophy is completely unified knowledge.” 2 “Knowledge has obviously not reached its limits, until it has united the past, present, and future histories into a whole.” 3 “Philosophy, then, has to formulate this passage from the imperceptible into the perceptible, and from the perceptible into the imperceptible.” 4

The system of philosophy which Spencer gives us is, then, an attempt to explain the ultimate a priori laws of the universe. By its success or its failure in that attempt must it be judged true or false philosophy.

Note.—References, unless otherwise specified, are to Spencer’s “First Principles of Philosophy” (2d edition). New York: D. Appleton and Co. 1872.

A system of philosophy is a product of thought. But a product implies a producer and a process of production. This process, logically intermediate between producer and produced, has a relation to each. It partakes of, is included in, the nature of the first; it regulates the second.

Philosophy, then, as the product of thought, must involve certain assumptions concerning the existence, the nature, and the laws of thought.

“The fundamental intuitions that are essential to the process of thinking must be temporarily accepted as unquestionable.” 5 “Speculators have habitually set out with some professedly simple datum or data, have supposed themselves to assume nothing beyond this datum or these data, and have thereupon proceeded to prove or disprove propositions which were, by implication, already unconsciously asserted along with that which was consciously asserted.” 6

Spencer, having acknowledged that philosophy must presuppose certain primary data, gives us three tests of the validity of such assumptions. Two of the three are simply implied; one only is distinctly stated.

The first of these is Necessity. Such assumptions are “fundamental intuitions, essential to the process of thinking.”

The second is Universality. Searching for the truth in...

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