Herbert Spencer: A Case History of Nietzsche’s Conception of Decadence

Hurrell, David (2020). Herbert Spencer: A Case History of Nietzsche’s Conception of Decadence. Nietzsche-Studien, 49(1) pp. 171–196.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/nietzstu-2020-0008


Nietzsche characterises some influential individuals – such as Socrates and Wagner – as ‘decadents’ because they promote life-inhibiting values that potentially undermine the flourishing of humanity. A clearly stated but less prominent example of such a decadent is Herbert Spencer. While Nietzsche’s observations concerning Spencer are far fewer than those on Socrates and Wagner, they still have considerably significance for understanding Nietzsche’s philosophy – particularly his views on morality and science – and consequently their role in his conception of decadence. This article argues that Nietzsche considers Spencer to be a decadent not just because of the latter’s advocating of a morality based on altruism, but also the projection of the decadent values of this morality as inevitable, as part of his belief in objective, scientific and sociological truths.

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