About this Title:
Spencer’s first major work of political philosophy in which he attempts to lay the basis for a limited state on a rigorous development of a doctrine of natural rights. He begins with a defense of his “first principle” ’that every man, may claim the fullest liberty to exercise his faculties compatible with the possession of like liberty by every other man.” From that, he argues, follows all other rights.
Being somewhat at variance with precedent, the tone and mode of treatment occasionally adopted in the following pages will, perhaps, provoke criticism. Whether, in thus innovating upon established usage, the writer has acted judiciously or otherwise, the event must determine. He has not, however, transgressed without adequate motive; having done so under the belief that, as it is the purpose of a book to influence conduct, the best way of writing a book must be the way best fitted to effect this purpose.
Should exception be taken to the manifestations of feeling now and then met with, as out of place in a treatise having so scientific a title; it is replied that, in their present phase of progress, men are but little swayed by purely intellectual considerations—that to be operative, these must be enforced by direct or implied appeals to the sentiments—and that, provided such appeals are not in place of, but merelysupplementary to, the deductions of logic, no well-grounded objection can be made to them. The reader will find that the several conclusions submitted to him are primarily based on entirely impersonal reasoning, by which alone they may be judged; and if, for the sake of commending these conclusions to the [vi] many, the sympathies have been indirectly addressed, the general argument cannot have been thereby weakened, if it has not been strengthened.
Possibly the relaxations of style in some cases used, will be censured, as beneath the gravity of the subject. In defence of them it may be urged, that the measured movement which custom prescribes for philosophical works, is productive of a monotony extremely repulsive to the generality of readers. That no counterbalancing advantages are obtained, the writer does not assert. But, for his own part, he has preferred to sacrifice somewhat of conventional dignity, in the hope of rendering his theme interesting to a larger number.