There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance – that principle is contempt prior to investigation.
I’ve always liked this quote and I happened upon it last night again. Regardless of Spencer’s (somewhat unearned) academic infamy as the father of Social Darwinism, it was other aspects of his thought that penetrated the way we think today.
In particular, Spencer emphasized the ability of individuals to learn and discern. His attempt to integrate 19th century concepts of evolution into this idea of perfectibility — an attempt to merge “nature” and “nurture” – ended up obscuring that optimistic message behind the more arbitrary and harsh ideas of natural selection.
His suggestion here, that everyone could use the ideals of scientific enquiry to progress and improve, highlights the most attractive dimension of his thinking.