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my father, his opinions, as I said before, were the principal element which gave its colour and character to the little group of young men who were the first propagators of what was afterwards called ' Philosophic Radicalism.' Their mode of thinking was characterized by ... a combination of Bentham's point of view with that of the modern political economy, and with the Hartleian metaphysics. Malthus's population principle was quite as much a banner, and point of union among us, as any opinion specially belonging to Bentham. This great doctrine ... we took up with ardent zeal, ... as indicating the sole means of realizing the improvability of human affairs by securing full employment at high wages to the whole labouring population through a voluntary restriction of the increase of their numbers."l
What was true of James Mill's personal influence on the entire circle of young Philosophic Radicals and over the whole range of their beliefs, was peculiarly true of his influence on the economic opinions of his son. The impress was deep and indelible. For good or for ill,—and it is not the purpose of this Introduction to interpose between the reader and the author and to assign either praise or blame—John Mill's economics remained those of his father down to the end of his life. His economics, that is to say, in the sense of what he himself afterwards described as "the theoretic principles,"3 or again as the "abstract and purely scientific " 3 element in his writings: the whole, in fact, of the doctrine of Distribution and Exchange in its application to competitive conditions. After reading through the first three Books of the son's Principles of 1848, one has but to turn to the father's Elements of 1821 to realize that, though on outlying portions of the field (like the subject of Currency) John Mill had benefited by the discussions that had been going on during the interval, the main conclusions, as well as the methods of reasoning, are the same in the two treatises. How much of "the deposit" of doctrine,— if we may borrow a theological term,—came originally from Ricardo, how much from Malthus, from Adam Smith, from the French Physiocrats of the eighteenth century, and from the general movement of philosophical and political thought, is a subject on which much has been written, but on which we cannot now enter. It is sufficient for our purpose to make this one point clear: that it was through James Mill, and, as shaped by James Mill, that it chiefly reached his son.
1 Autobiography, p. 101 (Pop. ed. p. 58).
2 Ibid. p. 242 (Pop. ed. p. 139).
3 Ibid. p. 247 (Pop. ed. p. 142).
Yet John Mill certainly thought, when he was writing his book in 1848, and still more evidently when he wrote his Autobiography in 1861, that there was a wide difference between himself and those whom he calls, in language curiously anticipating that of our own day, f'the political economists of the old school,"l or "the common run of political economists." 3 And accordingly it is essential to observe that this difference consisted, not in any abandonment of the "abstract science," but in the placing of it in a new setting. In substance he kept it intact; but he sought to surround it, so to speak, with a new environment.
To make this clear, we must return to Mill's mental history. Though eminently retentive of early impressions, he was also, in a very real sense, singularly open-minded; and the work of his life cannot be better described than in a happy phrase of his own coinage : it was a constant effort to " build the bridges and clear the paths " which should connect new truths with his "general system ot thought,"3 i.e. with his Benthamite and Ricardian starting point. Of the influences, later than that of his father, which coloured his thoughts, three must be singled out for notice. They may briefly
j: be summed up—though each name represents much besides—as
•jlijthose of Coleridge, of Comte, and of his wife.
In Coleridge and in the Coleridgians—such as Maurice and Sterling, whose acquaintance he made in 1828—he recognised the English exponents of "the European reaction against the philosophy of the eighteenth century,"4 and its Benthamite outcome. That reaction, he came to believe, was in large measure justifiable; and in two celebrated articles in the London and Westminster Review in 1838 and 18405 he sought to expound Benthamism and Coleridgism as complementary bodies of truth. He did not, indeed, extend this appreciation to Coleridge's economic utterances, and compounded for the respect he paid to his political philosophy by the vivacity with which he condemned his incursions into the more sacred field:
1 Political Economy. Book iv. chap. vi. § 2. - Autobiography, p. 246 (Pop. ed. p. 141). 3 Ibid. p. 243 (Pop. ed. p. 139).
4 Ibid. p. 128 (Pop. ed. p. 73).
5 Reprinted in Dissertations and Discussions. Series I.
"In political economy he writes like an arrant driveller, and it would have been well for his reputation had he never meddled with the subject. But this department of knowledge can now take care of itself." l
. What Coleridge helped him to realise was, firstly, the historical point of view in its relation to politics, and secondly, and as a corollary, the inadequacy of laissez faire.
"The Germano-Coleridgian school produced ... a philosophy of society in the only form in which it is yet possible, that of a philosophy of history." 2 And again:
"That series of great writers and thinkers, from Herder to Michelet, by whom history . . . has been made a science of causes and effects, ... by making the events of the past have a meaning and an intelligible place in the gradual evolution of humanity, have afforded the only means of predicting and guiding the future." 3 Similarly, after pointing out that Coleridge was
"at issue with the let alone doctrine, or the theory that governments can do no better than to do nothing," he remarks that it was
"a doctrine generated by the manifest selfishness and incompetence of modern European governments, but of which, as a general theory, we may now be permitted to say that one-half of it is true and the other half false." 4
It is not wonderful that the Bentham and Coleridge articles should "make a temporary alienation between Mill and his old associates and plant in their minds a painful misgiving as to his adhering to their principles," as we learn from Professor Bain, who became an intimate friend of Mill shortly afterwards.5 As early as 1837 Mrs. Grote had been "quite persuaded that the [London and Westminster] Review would cease to be an engine of propagating sound and sane doctrines on Ethics and Politics under J. M." 6 But it is a little surprising, perhaps, that by 1841 Mill was ready to describe himself in the privacy of correspondence as having definitely withdrawn from the Benthamite school "in which I was brought up and in which I might almost say I was born."i
1 Dissertations and Discussions, I. p. 452.
- Ibid. p. 425. * Ibid. p. 426. 4 Ibid. p. 453.
5 Alexander Bain, John Stuart Mill, A Criticism : with personal recollections, p. 56. fi Ibid. p. 57 n.
The letter was that in which Mill introduced himself to Comte, the first of a remarkable series which has only recently seen the light. By the time he wrote it, the influence of Coleridge had been powerfully supplemented by that of the French philosopher. Indeed, with that tendency to run into extremes which was seldom quite absent from him, Mill even declared, in addressing Comte, that it was the impression produced as far back as 1828 by the reading of a very early work by Comte which had " more than any other cause determined his definite withdrawal from the Benthamite school." In his eager enthusiasm, he probably ante-dated Comte's influence. It seems to have been the first two volumes of the Positive Philosophy (of which the second appeared in 1837) that first interested Mill at all deeply in Comte's views; though, as we shall notice later, he had long been familiar with ideas akin to them in the writings of the St. Simonians.
However this may have been, it is abundantly clear that during the years 1841-3, when he was engaged in completing his great treatise on Logic, Mill was fascinated by Comte's general system, as set forth in the Positive Philosophy. In October, 1841, he wrote to Bain that he thought Comte's book, in spite of "some mistakes," was "very near the grandest work of this age." 2 In November, in the letter to Comte already quoted, he took the initiative and wrote to the French philosopher to express his "sympathy and adhesion." "I have read and re-read your Cours with a veritable intellectual passion," he told him.
"I had indeed already entered into a line of thought somewhat similar to your own; but there were many things of the first importance which I had still to learn from you and I hope to show you, by and by, that I have really learnt them. There are some questions of a secondary order on which my opinions are not in accord with yours; some day perhaps this difference will disappear; I am not flattering myself when I believe that I have no ill-founded opinion so deeply rooted as to resist a thorough discussion," such as he hoped to engage Comte in. It was for this reason
1 L. Levy-Bruhl, Lettres Inedites de John Stuart Mitt a Auyuste Comte (Paris, 1899), p. 2. Writing to Comte, Mill naturally employs Comtean phraseology, and speaks of "ma sortie definitive de la section benthamiste de 1'ecole revolutionnaire." - Bain, ,/. 8. Mill* p. f>3.
that he ventured to put himself into communication with "that one of the great minds of our time which I regard with most esteem and admiration," and believed that their correspondence might be "of immense value" for him. And in the first edition of his Logic, which appeared in 1843, he did not scruple to speak of Comte as "the greatest living authority on scientific methods in general." l Into the causes of this enthusiasm it is unnecessary to enter. Mill was tired of Benthamism: a masterly attempt to construct a philosophy of Science and of Humanity, which paid attention at the same time to historical evolution and to the achievements of modern physical and biological science (a side on which the Benthamite school had always been weak), and yet professed to be "positive," i.e. neither theological nor metaphysical—such an attempt had, for the time, an overmastering charm for him. The effect of his reading of Comte on his conception of the logic of the physical and biological sciences falls outside our present range. What we have now to notice are Comte's views with regard to political economy. They cannot but have shaken, at any rate for a time, Mill's confidence that what he had learnt from his father could "take care of itself."
Comte's ultimate object was, of course, the creation of "the Social Science " or " Sociology." To-day there are almost as many different conceptions of the scope of "sociology" as there are eminent sociologists; so that it is perhaps worth while to add that Comte's ideal was a body of doctrine which should cover the life of human society in all its aspects. This science could be created, he held, only by the "positive " method—by the employment of the Art of Observation, in its three modes, Direct Observation or Observation proper, Experiment, and Comparison.2 Each of these modes of Observation would necessarily assume a character appropriate to the field of enquiry. As to Observation proper: while the metaphysical school of the eighteenth century had grossly exaggerated its difficulties, on the other hand there was no utility in mere collections of disconnected facts. Some sort of provisional hypothesis or theory or anticipation was necessary, if only to give direction to our enquiries. As to Experiment: direct Experiment, as in the physical sciences, was evidently impracticable, but its place could be taken by a consideration of "pathological" states of society such as might fairly be called "indirect" Experiment.
1 Cf. Bain, p. 72.
3 Cours de Philosophie Positive, vol. iv. (1839), pp. 412 seq.