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 the second volume, under "Justice," is his final statement on the role 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."
"The Rights of Free Speech and Publication
321. The subject matter of this chapter is scarcely separable from that of the last. As belief, considered in itself, does not admit of being controlled by external power–as it is only the profession of belief which can be taken cognizance of by authority and permitted or prevented, it follows that the assertion of the right to freedom of belief implies the right to freedom of speech. Further, it implies the right to use speech for the propagation of belief; seeing that each of the propositions constituting an argument or arguments, used to support or enforce a belief, being itself a belief, the right to express it is included with the right to express the belief to be justified.
Of course the one right like the other is an immediate corollary from the law of equal freedom. By using speech, either for the expression of a belief or for the maintenance of a belief, no one prevents any other person from doing the like: unless, indeed, by vociferation or persistence he prevents another from being heard, in which case he is habitually recognized as unfair, that is, as breaking the law of equal freedom."
Herbert Spencer (27 April 1820 – 8 December 1903) was an English philosopher, biologist, anthropologist, sociologist, and prominent classical liberal political theorist of the Victorian era.
Spencer developed an all-embracing conception of evolution as the progressive development of the physical world, biological organisms, the human mind, and human culture and societies. He was "an enthusiastic exponent of evolution" and even "wrote about evolution before Darwin did." As a polymath, he contributed to a wide range of subjects, including ethics, religion, anthropology, economics, political theory, philosophy, literature, biology, sociology, and psychology. During his lifetime he achieved tremendous authority, mainly in English-speaking academia. "The only other English philosopher to have achieved anything like such widespread popularity was Bertrand Russell, and that was in the 20th century." Spencer was "the single most famous European intellectual in the closing decades of the nineteenth century" but his influence declined sharply after 1900; "Who now reads Spencer?" asked Talcott Parsons in 1937.
Spencer is best known for coining the expression "survival of the fittest", which he did in Principles of Biology (1864), after reading Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species. This term strongly suggests natural selection, yet as Spencer extended evolution into realms of sociology and ethics, he also made use of Lamarckism.