Wednesday, June 11, 2008

J.S. Mill

John Stuart Mill 1806-1873


By Richard E. Noble

John Stuart Mill was raised by his father James to be a genius. James believed that Genius was the product of learning and training. James' theory seems to have done well with John, but I have never heard or read of much with regards to the rest of the family.
James had a good job working for the British East India Tea company. John followed in his Dad footsteps and worked for the same Monopoly for thirty-five years or so.
John had two problems it seems and one may have been the cause of the other. Tuberculosis was one. His father, Grandfather, Grandmother, Brother Henry, and life time companion Harriet Taylor all succumbed to tuberculosis. His brother George committed suicide rather than wait for the ravages of T.B. to kick in.
John's other problem was depression.
John Stuart met the love of his life when he was about twenty-four years old, unfortunately she was already married. But regardless they became lifelong companions, friends, and intellectual collaborators from that time forward. Their relationship became the talk of the town, and most people were very skeptical of the couple’s claims that their attraction was purely platonic. But most biographers seem to agree that even though John and Harriet lived together even during her husband's lifetime, and then married after his death, Johnny was probably not getting much if anything. After their marriage she was sick and bedridden most of the time, and, of course, while the old buck was alive, John and Harriet had too much class to be so mundane. Well ...Okay.
After Harriet died John was, of course heartbroken. He actually turned her grave into a shrine and moved to where it was pretty much a part of his back yard. There is absolutely no doubt that John loved Harriet.
John wrote a bunch, and sold a bunch. He was a famous and wealthy philosophical and political writer of his day. He was a champion of many unconventional things; the equal rights and equal status of women, the protection of the rights of the minority, the value of individualism, even to the point of eccentricity; and the notion that though the laws of supply and demand may control and dominate in the world of production, distribution was another matter entirely. I guess this means that in earning money it may be true that one is subject to hard and fast rules, but when it comes to spending it, you can do what ever you darn well please. This may not seem to be a very big idea but it threw the economic world for a loop. Men like Malthus, Ricardo, Adam Smith and Karl Marx were making a lot of predictions or prophesies based on the inevitability of economic laws. Mill's little notion put the world of economics back into the hands of people and not solely subject of some rule of Economic Gravity as proffered by the laws of Mother Economics. If only the world was optimistic and independent enough to listen to John Stuart rather than the pessimistic inevitability of John's contemporaries, especially Karl Marx, we all may have avoided a lot of trouble.