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Spencer’s Evolutionary Entanglement: From Liminal Individuals to Implicit Collectivities

Spencer’s Evolutionary Entanglement: From Liminal Individuals to Implicit Collectivities

Chapter:
(p.158) 6 Spencer’s Evolutionary Entanglement: From Liminal Individuals to Implicit Collectivities
Source:
Biological Individuality
Author(s):
Snait Gissis
Publisher:
University of Chicago Press
DOI:10.7208/chicago/9780226446592.003.0007

Herbert Spencer’s notions of biological individuality as expounded from the 1850s until the late 1860s are presented. I argue that: 1) Spencer developed a basic epistemological and methodological tripartite frame of analysis of living nature, whereby the elements of that frame—"organism", “environment", and their evolving interactions and their evolved effects—are not separable. An organism can therefore never be viewed as a passive receiver of changes; 2) living nature is hierarchically ordered, and the main feature of Spencerian evolution is the growing complexity of interrelations 3) the Spencerian biological individual is the product of evolutionary work; 4) the same applies to Spencerian collectivities. Thus, Spencer’s biological individuals harbor within them plurality. Furthermore, hybrid categories of collective individuals and of collectivities composed of differing individuals are conceptually necessary for Spencer’s arguments. In a concluding section the possible contemporary interest in and relevance of the Spencerian problématique is addressed briefly.

Keywords:   Herbert Spencer, organism, environment, hierarchy, complexity, individual, collectivity

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