What is the origin of the term “survival of the fittest?

Often incorrectly attributed to Darwin, I believe the term “survival of the fittest” came from elsewhere. Darwin actually talked of “natural selection.”



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    The origin of the phrase “survival of the fittest” was first described by Herbert Spencer in 1864 in his published work The Principles of Biology.  In his work, Spencer says, “This survival of the fittest, implies the multiplication of the fittest.”  He also goes on to describe that Darwin’s take of natural selection is similar in that they both refer to the species that are most likely to survive in their environment.  In the end, this phrase refers to the animals which are most adept at surviving in their given environment.

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    That quote originated from the theory of natural selection proposed by Charles Darwin and Alfred Russel Wallace. They argued that living things adapted and evolved to survive any changes in their environment. Failure to adapt would result in their extinction.

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    The phrase “survival of the fittest” was coined by Herbert Spencer, a British philosopher, after he read Charles Darwin’s 1859 edition of On the Origin of Species. Darwin himself used the phrase as a synonym for his concept of natural selection in the fifth edition of On the Origin of Species, published in 1869. The phrase “survival of the fittest” is now considered inaccurate by modern biologists, who claim that “fitness” is vague and that the phrase “natural selection” is a more descriptive and appropriate term. 

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    “Survival of the fittest”, the idea that species adapt through natural mutation to meet environmental needs, was coined by Herbert Spencer in The Principles of Biology in 1864. However, after Charles Darwin used it in his fifth edition of Origin of Species in 1869 to describe natural selection, the term became widely attributed to him. In fact, Social Darwinism, a social idea based on the work of economists Malthus and Ricardo, is named after Darwin for the idea that people “survive” economically based on natural talents (American Pageant).

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    Many people attribute this phrase to Charles Darwin, but that is incorrect.  Herbert Spencer, and English philosopher, sociologist, and biologist.  Spencer coined the phrase “survival of the fittest” in his 1894 research entitled Principles of Biology, after having read Darwin’s On the Origin of Species  (The Book of Lists Part II, entered under the 7 Well-Known Sayings Attributed to the Wrong Person, pg. 144).

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