Saturday, May 10, 2008

Anyone heard of this John Stuart Mill fellow?

You would think if there was one publication in the world where the writers should be expected to have an inkling of what goes on in Academic life it would be in the Chronicle of Higher Education. Yet a political scientist there, a director of some center of research at Boston College displays the most complete ignorance of the point of his piece. His article laments the lack of attention that J. S. Mill gets among philosophers.

It is excusable to believe that no one reads Mill anymore. Perhaps he never took a philosophy class, or read a philosophy book. But had he done so, he would realize what a fool he is, as I would venture to say that the overwhelming number of ethics texts published struggle with Mill's ideas about utilitarianism and freedom. The overwhelming number of ethics courses and introductory philosophy courses devote some time to Mill's ideas on liberty, free speech, and utility. The majority of advanced texts and courses on Ethics devote time and space to Mill's ideas as well.

Of course the fact that ignorance is completely excusable does not justify his decision to write about it, or the Chronicle's decision to publish it. Did Alan Wolfe just not bother to ask a philosopher at Boston College if people still read Mill? There are plenty of people there who know Mill's work well.

I certainly hope that he does political science better than he does his public laments. I hear his next piece will talk about how classics don't read Homer, or perhaps how mathematicians no longer know geometry, or Protestants no longer pay attention to biblical texts. No wonder people think academics are out of touch.

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