JS Mill turns 200: you heard it last on Troppo

Visiting this site I discovered that we’ve missed JS Mill’s 200th birthday which occured on the 20th May 2006. He was a good guy and, exemplifies much of what was uplifting about the tradition of classical economics begun by our old friend Adam Smith. Like Smith, Mill abhored slavery, though Mill was more active in his opposition.

As Sandra Peart and David Levy have documented at great length both on the web and in a book, classical economists throughout the nineteenth century had a noble role supporting the anti-slavery movement.

It was because they preferred that horrible and impersonal ‘cash nexus’ between employer and employee to master and slave relationship that their discipline was first christened ‘the dismal science’ by supporters of slavery like Thomas Carlyle (whose views were supported by other people of great literary sensibility like John Ruskin and Charles Dickens).

Go and read the web account of the story if you’ve not read it before. It makes for very interesting reading. In the meantime, John Stuart Mill’s words adorn our banner every eight or nine times you visit.

Here’s a fuller reproduction of the quote – which is from on Liberty.

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. . . . He must be able to hear the arguments of adversaries; . . . He must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of. . . . Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men [do not do this], even those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know. They have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and considered what such persons may have to say, and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess.

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Christopher
Christopher
15 years ago

And since you’ve admitted enjoying the wonders of podcasts, Melvyn Bragg’s In our time did a profile in last week’s show.

cheers,
Christopher

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
15 years ago

I made a mess of dabbling with a few subjects at Adelaide Uni in the 60s, probably too immature for it (later made amends at UNE in the late 70s).

But Mill remains one of my lasting memories from then, especially as expressed in ‘On Liberty’. I still remember the analogy he used on drinking alcohol.

Mill was revolted by alcohol. But the reason he believed it could not be prohibited was that many people did not share his view. He could see no justification for imposing his morality by law on somebody with different beliefs.

That attitude stayed and probably affected my own attitudes to homosexuals, aborigines, women, immigrants and race. I wish a few more of our leaders had read and understood Mill.

Don Wigan
Don Wigan
15 years ago

Agreed Nicholas – even on the point that today we often seem bullied into conforming to one side or another.

While political Correctness was never as oppressive as RWDBs claimed, it did have many silly moments and much senseless diligence was wasted on side-issues.

I can remember people in the CES struggling for a gender-neutral word to replace waiter/waitress. The solution? List job vacancies for a “waitperson”. In a sexual harassment issues paper, ‘leering’ was one of the matters listed for disciplining somebody. I was once chided for using the term “lass” at a meeting.

In contrast, as you imply, Mill opened the door to considerable more enlightenment (I haven’t read Smith and will take your word for the same trend.)

At the time I encountered him (in the early 60s) SA was a Methodist and non-conformist church-dominated state equalled only by Rylah’s Victoria in wowserism. 6 o’clock closing, censorship (Tom Lehrer was banned from one concert.) etc.

There was even an organisation called The Lord’s Day Observance Society whose secretary would regularly write to The Advertiser deploring a few people playing and actually enjoying themselves in the parklands on a Sunday.

So Mill was a much less oppressive way of looking at things. It helped me understand another person’s defence of Oscar Wilde (still regarded then as a scandalous figure). “Why should a person who’s brought nothing but beauty to the world be persecuted for his sexual leanings?” She had a strong point, I believed. I might not have got that far without Mill.

Christopher
Christopher
15 years ago

but the BBC have already removed the podcast

OK – so I have nothing substantive to say about the matters discussed (apart from, wondering where do customs and morality fit in in a ‘live and live’ view)…but I don’t believe the above statement is entirely correct.

It is true that it is not at all obvious how to get that download from looking at the relevant webpage. And if you subscribe to the show after the event, their feed doesn’t pick up earlier posts.

But my podcast client (iTunes) has never had a problem downloading weeks old programs from that show – given that it’s already subscribed.

But I’ll concede that ‘not being able to easily figure out how to access it’ is almost equivalent to ‘removed the podcast’

cheers,
Christopher