Curiosity Over Pride
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Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Why JS Mill Matters
Thanks to Dink for inspiring me to post on my hero John Stewart Mill. I will not attempt a Wiki redux for this great man but simply make a few comments about why his writing matters so much to me and has to many at least in theory. I actually came across "On Liberty" for the first time when my work as a psychiatrist compelled me to involuntarily detain pts created what we in this business call "cognitive dissonance". (I hated my work) One argument that Mill develops further than any previous philosopher is the harm principle. The harm principle holds that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions do not harm others. If the action is self-regarding, that is, if it only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene, even if it feels the actor is harming himself. This is an extremely complex idea and I cannot do it justice in this post but after 20 years of watching Govt. make attempts at trying to coerce people into certain behaviors and spending huge sums of money in the attempt, I have come to the conclusion it is a massive failure on almost every conceivable level. i.e. "The Drug War"
As seminal a work and as influential in political philosophy as "On Liberty" has been, Mill's work "A System of Logic" is perhaps equally as impressive. In it he formulated highly influential principles of inductive reasoning which outlined the basic tenant of science: To unify disparate theories to explain the widest possible range of observations with the simplest of explanatory models. The more I study the history of physics the more I find how influential Mills work was to 19th and 20th century scientific philosophy.
"On Liberty" is on my shelf with a few other treasures I consider to be the most critical works I have ever come across. Sadly, I think it's concepts are as alien to most now as the day it was written.