Quick Quote: James Mill on Different Views of Happiness

James Mill, father of the famous John Stuart Mill, wrote a little tract on education which I have been reading in between school work, blogging, and reading my blog roll. In this section, he summed up the views of happiness very nicely:

The speculations on this subject, too, may be divided into two great classes; that of those who trace up all the elements of happiness, as they do all those of intellect, to the simple sensations which, by their transformation into ideas, and afterwards into various combinations, compose, they think, all the intellectual and moral phenomena of our nature; another, that of those who are not satisfied with this humble origin, who affirm that there is something in human happiness, and in the human intellect, which soars high above this corporeal level; that there are intellectual as well as moral forms, the resplendent objects of human desire, which can by no means be resolved into the grosser elements of sense. These philosophers speak of eternal and immutable truths; truths which are altogether independent of our limited experience; which are truly universal; which the mind recognizes without the aid of the senses; and which are the objects of pure intellect. They affirm, also, that there is a notion of right and of wrong wholly underived from human experience, and independent of the laws which regulate, in this world, the happiness and misery of human life; a right and wrong, the distinction between which is perceived, according to some, by a peculiar sense; according to others, by the faculty which discerns pure truth; according to others, by common sense; it is the same, according to some, with the notion of the fitness and unfitness of things; according to others, with the law of nature; according to others, with truth; and there is one eminent philosopher who makes it depend upon sympathy, without determining very clearly whether sympathy depends upon the senses or not.

Let’s see . . . The Cambridge Platonists would be those who believe it to be “eternal and immutable”. The “peculiar sense” is Hutcheson’s moral sense theory of morality, which is that God gave each of us the ability to differentiate between right and wrong. The “eminent philosopher” went to write one of the most influential books of 1776 – An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. Anybody care to guess who he is?

 

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