James Mill - Research Paper Example

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James Mill

Understanding Mill's advocacy of commerce as a response to the specific conditions of nineteenth-century Britain underscores important aspects of his work that are often overlooked. Mill's assessment of the social benefits of the market is considerably more cautious and skeptical than is often understood in "economic" interpretations of his utilitarianism. He is often mistaken for a theorist who thought that social sentiments were irrelevant to human happiness. Mill negatively assessed social sentiments because in this context the predominant social sentiments were aimed at maintaining deference to ascribed social status. He also believed that if social sentiments were egalitarian, they contributed positively to human happiness. Indeed, what is most often overlooked is that Mill was critical of an excessive preoccupation with interests. He believed that the esteem of others was a critical part of human happiness and that it was undesirable to pursue interests to the exception of cultivating affective ties. From a contemporary perspective, it is important to understand that Mill's theory in favor of the market had a specific historical reference to the conditions of nineteenth-century Europe. For that reason, his theory does not provide a normative basis for economic liberalization today in any straightforward way. We ought to understand the early history of capitalism as a specific ideological response to the shortcomings of traditional societies-not just in economics but in basic social and political values. ...Show more


The paper "James Mill" argues that Mill viewed the commercialization of society as a means of politically and socially liberalizing the remnants of feudal society. Though he believed that individual happiness was tied to material comfort to some extent…
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