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The Hedonism of Bentham and Mill is called Empirical Hedonism. The Hedonism of Herbert Spencer, Leslie Stephen and Samuel Alexander is  called Evolutionary Hedonism.

  • Herbert Spencer (1820-1903) propounded his doctrine in his Data of Ethics. Spencer applies the idea of evolution to morals. He traces the germs of morality to the conduct of animals. According to him, life consists in the continuous adjustment of the vital forces to the environment.
  • Conduct is an adjustment of the organism to the environment; that conduct is good which promotes effective adjustment of the organism to the environment and produces pleasure.
  • That conduct is bad which hinders such adjustment and produces pain. Pleasure is an index of increase of life; pain, of decrease of life.
  • That conduct is absolutely good which yields pleasure unmixed with pain. That conduct is relatively good which gives surplus of pleasure over pain.  EVOLUTIONARY HEDONISM
  • The ultimate end of life is happiness. The proximate end of life is length and breadth of life. Length is duration of life; breadth is volume or complexity of life.
  • In order to ensure happiness we should keep it in the background and directly aim at the proximate end, that is, length and breadth of life. Moral consciousness is due to the political, the social, the religious and the moral control. Moral obligation is transitory.
  • It is due to incomplete adaptation of the individual to the society. When the adaptation will be complete, there will be no sense of duty or moral obligation, and virtues will become spontaneous. Spencer distinguishes between Relative Ethics and Absolute Ethics; Relative ethics deals with relative morality in an imperfect society, Absolute Ethics deals with absolute morality in a perfect society. Spencer believes in the advent of a Utopia, where there will be no clash between egoism and altruism.


  1. By applying the idea of evolution to morality, Spencer seeks to evolve the ideal from the actual, the Ought from the Is, but this is impossible. Moral life is governed by the ideal and therefore cannot be explained by the actual.
  2. Critics point out that the adjustment of the organism to the environment presupposes the idea of an end or ideal. Thus, the process of adjustment can be explained by the ideal and not the ideal by the process of adjustment. In moral life the physical and social environment is molded in conformity with the moral ideal.
  3. Darwin’s principle of biological evolution, namely, natural selection or the survival of the fittest, cannot be applied to morality. In morality, might is not right, but right is might.
  4. In the kingdom of animals ‘survival of the fittest’ means the victory of the strongest; but in morality it means the ascendancy of the ‘morally best’, which includes the protection of the weakest. In morality, ruthless self-assertion is replaced by rational self-restraint, cut-throat competition by loving co-operation. This is admitted by Samuel Alexander, another advocate of evolutionary hedonism.
  5. Moral evolution cannot be a part of biological evolution. Biological evolution implies physical necessity. The organism is molded by heredity and environment. But moral evolution implies freedom of the will.
  6. Moral progress partly depends upon the social environment, but mainly upon the moral insight and free actions of persons. Hence, moral evolution cannot be regarded as a part of biological evolution.  EVOLUTIONARY HEDONISM



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