Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


Herbert Spencer
Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) is often considered the founder of sociology (Turner, 1985). He was born in Derby, England to a family with ties to the Quaker religion (Elliot, 1970). From a spotty educational background, Spencer studied mathematics and engineering before branching out into an examination of a wide variety of topics and fields (Carneiro, 1967). A prolific writer, Spencer was "widely read, greatly admired, and enormously influential" in his time (Carneiro, 1967, p. ix). Among the topics Spencer wrote on in his lifetime were philosophy, sociology, politics, ethics, psychology, evolutionary theory, evolutionary epistemology, biology, and education. The depth and breadth of Spencer’s accomplishments are evident in Carneiro’s (1967) assertion that "no other thinker before or since has known so large a proportion of the scientific knowledge of his day" (p. lvii).

Spencer was a synthetic-systems theorist in that he sought to bring together clusters of phenomena around a single central principle (Elliot, 1970). This single unifying principle was his developmentally oriented pre-Darwinian evolutionary (and evolutionary epistemological) theory of an originally homogenous universe. For Spencer, the most characteristic feature of life and living matter was change (Elliot, 1970).

Weihs (2003) has examined the influence of Herbert Spencer on George Kelly and his personal construct psychology (PCP), noting that Spencer was one of the few theorists that Kelly referenced in his published writings (sf. Kelly, 1938, 1979) and that several Spenserian influences are discernable within Kelly’s theorizing and his personal construct psychology (1955/1991a, 1955/1991b). One of Kelly’s (1938) first publications, The assumption of an originally homogenous universe and some of its statistical implication, is pointed to as evidence of the early influence of Spencer on Kelly. This paper, which has not been widely considered in the PCP literature, is discussed as foundational for Kelly’s later articulation of personal construct theory.

Weihs (2003) discerns four aspects of Spencer’s influence on personal construct psychology:

The ontological position underlying PCP (substantival neutral monism)
The developmental process orientation of PCP
3) The nature of constructs and construing and the relational basis of knowing in PCP
4) The structure of the knower and the over coming of the realism/idealism dimension in PCP.
  • Carneiro, R. L. (Ed.), (1967). Herbert Spencer: The evolution of society. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Elliot, H. (1970). Herbert Spencer. Connecticut: Greenwood Press. (Original work published 1917).  
    Kelly, G. A. (1938). The assumption of an originally homogeneous universe and some of its statistical implications. Journal of Psychology, 5, 201-208.  
  • Kelly, G. A. (1979). Social Inheritance. In P. Stringer & D. Bannister (Ed.), Constructions of sociality and individuality (pp. 4-17). London: Academic Press.  
  • Kelly, G. A. (1991a). The psychology of personal constructs: Vol. 1. A theory of personality. London: Routledge. (Original work published 1955)  
  • Kelly, G. A. (1991b). The psychology of personal constructs: Vol. 2 . Clinical diagnosis and psychotherapy. London: Routledge. (Original work published 1955)  
  • Turner, J. H. (1985). Herbert Spencer: A renewed appreciation. Beverly Hills: Sage Publications.
  •  Weihs, K. D. (2003, July). The assumption of an originally homogeneous universe as underlying George Kelly’s Personal construct psychology. Paper presented at the XVth International Congress on Personal Construct Psychology, Huddersfield, UK.
Kristian David Weihs

Establ. 2003
Last update: 12 February 2004