herbert spencer vs Franz Boaz

Herbert Spencer and Franz Boaz had two opposing theories on the social evolution

theory. Each theory was difficult to prove but great theories. But both theories had it’s “ups” and


Herbert Spencer was born in England, he is best known for developing and applying the

evolutionary theory to philosophy and psychology. The evolutionary theory states that societies

go from simple societies to complex societies. The more complex a society is the more evolved

they are.

A complex society is more civilized with different social levels of politics, such as slaves

and kings. He proclaimed, “Only the strongest survives.”. Spencer explained a king is the ruler

of everyone because he is the strongest. The different social levels caused a complex society to

be more competitive, thus progressive.

A simple society, consisting of hunters and gathers, are considered less evolved, thus

weaker then those of a complex society. A simple society was said to consist of all equal

social ranks. Spencer believed a competitive society was more realistic then a cooperative

society where everyone is equal because he believed everyone was affected by greed.

Spencer compared societies by categorizing race and culture, which he viewed at one

term. Spencer felt race and culture were not different enough to be classified as two different

terms. Spencer believed that every race that belonged to a society is the same as the next, but

some are more evolved then others.

A simple society developed into a complex society through prospective steps. A society

can go only from simple to complex. The only time a society could go from complex to simple

was if a national disaster occurred, but he explained that the most evolved society would develop

back at a faster rate.

Boaz was a Jewish German American anthropologist and ethnologist. His theory on

social evolution stated that no truly pure race existed and no race is innately superior to any

other. He confirmed the differences in peoples were the result of historical, social and

geographic conditions and all people had equally developed cultures.

Boaz was objective. He lived within different societies around the world while collecting

data on everything he saw, from language, customs and history. He concluded that a society can

survive through corporation just as well as a society can through competition. How a society

survives depends on it’s psychological conditions, what satisfies their human needs. No matter

how a society struggles to survive, no society is superior, or more evolved then the next.

Spencer was considered ethnocentric and racist in his theory on social evolution because

he was no objective. He may have not been open minded because he was not brought up in a

multicultural society. Spencer grew up and lived among the British all his life. Boaz, on the

other hand, was jewish and saw the differences in views of different cultures because he had grew

up among a semi multicultural society.

Herbert Spencer’s theory was very convincing, even enough for Darwin to take some of

his ideas and develop it into a biological evolution theory. Th problem was that Spencer was not

objective enough, he was not a “true” sociologist. As for Boaz, he was objective enough, since

he was a culture relativist.