First Principles

by Herbert Spencer (1820-1903)


Preface to the Sixth Edition (1900)



In ten days more, forty years will have passed since the first lines of this work were written. Nothing was done to it until 1867, when a further development of its leading conception necessitated re-organization of the second part. In 1875 some changes were made in the Chapters on The Indestructibility of Matter, The Continuity of Motion, and The Persistence of Force, more fully harmonizing the views set forth in them with the conceptions art that time reached. Since then there have been introduced no alterations worth mentioning.

Of course the advances of knowledge in many directions during intervening years, have made needful sundry corrections in the illustrative passages. Criticisms, too, have prompted a few modifications of statement. Add to this that further developments of my own thoughts have suggested certain improvements in the exposition, among which may be included the explanatory Postscript to Part I. Passing over changes of little moment, I may name as chief amendments those contained in 71a-71c, 93, 150, 152, and 182-3; and as noticeable ones those contained in 46, 54, 65, 72, 79, 88, 111, 120, 123, 132, 139a, 157, 159, and 164; together with the Appendices A, C, and D.

Meanwhile neither the objections made by others nor further considerations of my own, have caused me to recede from the general principles set forth. Contrariwise, while writing the succeeding works on Biology, Psychology, Sociology, and Ethics, the multiplied illustrations of these principles furnished by the facts dealt with, and the guidance afforded by them in seeking interpretations, have tended continually to strengthen the belief that they rightly formulate the facts.

While the changes of substance in this edition constitute improvements of some significance, the changes of form constitute a greater general improvement. Between a too-curt presentation of ideas and a presentation too much amplified, it is difficult to find the judicious mean. Now that, after this long interval, I am able to criticize my exposition as though it had come from another, I discover a good deal of redundance superfluous words, clauses, sentences, and occasionally paragraphs. The erasure of these, while it has, I believe, conduced to lucidity, has entailed considerable abridgment; so that, notwithstanding many additions, the work is now diminished by fifty pages.

It is a source of much satisfaction to me that the opportunity has arisen for making these final amendments, both of matter and of manner.

H. S.

Brighton, 27 April, 1900.




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