John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 87 pages of information about John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works.

In the above remarks, I have attempted to indicate briefly some few of the salient features in Mill’s contributions to the science of political economy.  There is still one more which ought not to be omitted from even the most meagre summary.  Mill was not the first to treat political economy as a science; but he was the first, if not to perceive, at least to enforce the lesson, that, just because it is a science, its conclusions carried with them no obligatory force with reference to human conduct.  As a science, it tells us that certain modes of action lead to certain results; but it remains for each man to judge of the value of the results thus brought about, and to decide whether or not it is worth while to adopt the means necessary for their attainment.  In the writings of the economists who preceded Mill, it is very generally assumed, that to prove that a certain course of conduct tends to the most rapid increase of wealth suffices to entail upon all who accept the argument the obligation of adopting the course which leads to this result.  Mill absolutely repudiated this inference, and, while accepting the theoretic conclusion, held himself perfectly free to adopt in practice whatever course he preferred.  It was not for political economy or for any science to say what are the ends most worthy of being pursued by human beings; the task of science is complete when it shows us the means by which the ends may be attained; but it is for each individual man to decide how far the end is desirable at the cost which its attainment involves.  In a word, the sciences should be our servants, and not our masters.  This was a lesson which Mill was the first to enforce, and by enforcing which he may be said to have emancipated economists from the thraldom of their own teaching.  It is in no slight degree through the constant recognition of its truth, that he has been enabled to divest of repulsiveness even the most abstract speculations, and to impart a glow of human interest to all that he has touched.




Some time ago, when there was no reason to suppose that we should so soon have to mourn the loss of the great thinker and of the kind friend who has just passed away, I had occasion to remark upon the influence which Mr. Mill had exercised at the universities.  I will quote my words as they stand, because it is difficult to write with impartiality about one whose recent death we are deploring; and Mr. Mill would, I am sure, have been the first to say, that it is certainly not honoring the memory of one who is dead to lavish upon him praise which would not be bestowed upon him if he were living.  I will therefore repeat my words exactly as they were written two years since:  ’Any one who has resided during the last twenty years at either of our universities must have noticed that Mr. Mill is the author who has most

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John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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