Historical Reprints Philosophical First Principles : A New System of Philosophy

First Principles : A New System of Philosophy

First Principles : A New System of Philosophy
Catalog # SKU1214
Publisher TGS Publishing
Weight 2.00 lbs
Author Name Herbert Spencer


First Principles
of a
A New System of Philosophy

Herbert Spencer

We too often forget that not only is there "a soul of goodness in things evil," but very generally also, a soul of truth in things erroneous. While many admit the abstract probability that a falsity has usually a nucleus of verity, few bear this abstract probability in mind, when passing judgment on the options of others. A belief that is proved to be grossly at variance with fact, is cast aside with indignation or contempt; and in the heat of antagonism scarcely any one inquires what there was in this belief which commended it to men's minds. Yet there must have been something.

Excerpt from Chapter 1:

And there is reason to suspect that this something was its correspondence with certain of their experiences: an extremely limited or vague correspondence perhaps, but still, a correspondence.

Even the absurdest report may in nearly every instance be traced to an actual occurrence; and had there been no such actual occurrence, this preposterous misrepresentation of it would never have existed. Though the distorted or magnified image transmitted to us through the refracting medium of rumour, is utterly unlike the reality; yet in the absence of the reality there would have been no distorted or magnified image. And thus it is with human beliefs in general. Entirely wrong as they may appear, the implication is that they originally contained, and perhaps still contain, some small amount of truth.

Definite views on this matter would be very useful to us. It is important that we should form something like a general theory of current options, so that we may neither over-estimate nor under-estimate their worth. Arriving at correct judgments on disputed questions, much depends on the mental attitude preserved while listening to, or taking part in, the controversies; and for the preservation of a right attitude, it is needful that we should learn how true, and yet how untrue, are average human beliefs.

On the one hand, we must keep free from that bias in favour of received ideas which expresses itself in such dogmas as "What every one says must be true," or "The voice of the people is the voice of God." On the other hand, the fact disclosed by a survey of the past that majorities have usually been wrong, must not blind us to the complementary fact that majorities have usually not been entirely wrong. And the avoidance of these extremes being a pre-requisite to catholic thinking, we shall do well to provide ourselves with a safeguard against them, by making a valuation of opinions in the abstract.

To this end we must contemplate the kind of relation that ordinarily subsists between opinions and facts. Let us do so with one of those beliefs which under various forms has prevailed among all nations in all times.

Early traditions represent rulers as gods or demigods. By their subjects, primitive kings were regarded as superhuman in origin and superhuman in power. They possessed divine titles, received obeisances like those made before the altars of deities, and were in some cases actually worshipped. Of course along with the implied beliefs there existed a belief in the unlimited power of the ruler over his subjects, extending even to the taking of their lives at will; as until recently in Fiji, where a victim stood unbound to be killed at the word of his chief himself declaring, "whatever the king says must be done." In other times and among other races, we find these beliefs a little modified.

The monarch, instead of being thought god or demigod, is conceived to be a man having divine authority, with perhaps more or less of divine nature. He retains, however, titles expressing his heavenly descent or relationships, and is still saluted in forms and words as humble as those addressed to the Deity. While in some places the lives and properties of his people, if not so completely at his mercy, are still in theory supposed to be his.

Later in the progress of civilization, as during the middle ages in Europe, the current opinions respecting the relationship of rulers and ruled are further changed. For the theory of divine origin there is substituted that of divine right. No longer god or demigod, or even god-descended, the king is now regarded simply as God's vicegerent. The obeisances made to him are not so extreme in their humility; and his sacred titles lose much of their meaning. Moreover his authority ceases to be unlimited. Subjects deny his right to dispose at will of their lives and properties, and yield allegiance only in the shape of obedience to his commands.

With advancing political option has come still greater restriction of monarchical power. Belief in the supernatural character of the ruler, long ago repudiated by ourselves for example, has left behind it nothing more than the popular tendency to ascribe unusual goodness, wisdom, and beauty to the monarch. Loyalty, which originally meant implicit submission to the king's will, now means a merely nominal profession of subordination, and the fulfilment of certain forms of respect.

By deposing some and putting others in their places, we have not only denied the divine rights of certain men to rule, but we have denied that they have any rights beyond those originating in the assent of the nation. Though our forms of speech and our State-documents still assert the subjection of the citizens to the ruler, our actual beliefs and our daily proceedings implicitly assert the contrary. We have entirely divested the monarch of legislative power, and should immediately rebel against his or her dictation even in matters of small concern.

Nor has the rejection of primitive political beliefs resulted only in transferring the power of a autocrat to a representative body. The views held respecting governments in general, of whatever form, are now widely different from those once held. Whether popular or despotic, governments in ancient times were supposed to have unlimited authority over their subjects. Individuals existed for the benefit of the State; not the State for the benefit of individuals. In our days, however, not only has the national will been in many cases substituted for the will of the king, but the exercise of this national will has been restricted. In England, for instance, though there has been established no definite doctrine respecting the bounds to governmental action, yet, in practice, sundry bounds to it are tacitly recognized by all.

There is no organic law declaring that a legislature may not freely dispose of citizens' lives, as kings did of old, but were it possible for our legislature to attempt such a thing, its own destruction would be the consequence, rather than the destruction of citizens. How fully we have established the personal liberties of the subject against the invasions of State-power, would be quickly shown were it proposed by Act of Parliament to take possession of the nation, or of any class, and turn its services to public ends, as the services of the people were turned by Egyptian kings. Not only in our day have the claims of the citizen to life, liberty, and property been thus made good against the State, but sundry minor claims likewise.

Ages ago laws regulating dress and mode of living fell into disuse, and any attempt to revive them would prove that such matters now lie beyond the sphere of legal control. For some centuries we asserted in practice, and have now established in theory, the right of every man to choose his own religious beliefs, instead of receiving State-authorized beliefs. Within the last few generations complete liberty of speech has been gained, in spite of all legislative attempts to suppress or limit it. And still more recently we have obtained under a few exceptional restrictions, freedom to trade with whomsoever we please. Thus our political beliefs are widely different from ancient ones, not only as to the proper depositary of power to be exercised over a nation, but also as to the extent of that power.

500+pages - 8.25 x 5.25 inches SoftCover


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