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The Cambridge Companion to Mill.

SKORUPSKI, John, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Mill. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. viii + 591 pp. Cloth, $59.95; paper, $18.95--Skorupski's collection of essays on Mill's philosophical thought is a valuable addition to Cambridge University Press's fine series of companions to major figures in the history of philosophy. Volumes within the series contain specially commissioned essays by leading interpreters of figures within the history of philosophy that aim to provide a systematic account of that philosopher's commitments that (1) is accessible to undergraduates and nonspecialists, (2) serves as a useful interpretive guide to more advanced students and specialists, and (3) explains the ongoing relevance of a figure's commitments to contemporary philosophical debates. It is not easy to achieve all three simultaneously. Skorupski's companion to Mill, however, does an admirable job of balancing the level of sophistication needed to satisfy specialists with the accessibility required by nonspecialists; nonspecialists will find the essays intellectually demanding, but not inaccessible, and specialists will usually find familiar issues put in new perspective. Whereas only a few of the essays explicitly forge connections between Mill's views and contemporary debates, all of them demonstrate an interpretive sensibility that is well informed by contemporary philosophical issues and positions.

Skorupski's introductory essay usefully places Mill's contributions in intellectual and historical context by focusing on his two guiding commitments-his naturalism and his liberalism. Following Skornpski's introductory essay are fourteen essays on virtually all aspects of Mill's thought. In "Mill on Language and Logic" Skornpski traces the effect of Mill's empiricism on his understanding of deductive and inductive reasoning and addresses the worry that Mill's account of logic is psychologistic. In "Mathematics and the Naturalist Tradition" Philip Kitcher explains and defends the way Mill extends his naturalistic commitments to mathematics and mathematical knowledge. Mathematical objects are permanent possibilities of arrangement and are known a posteriori. Kitcher defends these claims against Kantian and conventionalist rivals. In "Mill on Induction and Scientific Method" Geoffrey Scarre traces the dependence of Mill's account of scientific method on his account of inductive logic, explains Mill's principles of induction, and contrasts Mill's inductive conception of scientific method with William Whewell's neo-Kantian conception. Mill's empiricism led him to identify material objects with "permanent possibilities of sensation." In "Mill, Phenomenalism, and the Self" Andy Hamilton compares Mill's phenomenalism with other forms of phenomenalism and idealism in the history of philosophy, explores whether Mill's phenomenalism implies reductionism, skepticism, or an error theory, and examines Mill's ambivalence about how to apply his phenomenalism to the self that is the locus of these sensations. Alan Millar examines the main themes of Mill's posthumously published Three Essays on Religion in his article "Mill on Religion." Millar explains Mill's criticism of natural theology, in particular his criticism of the argument for design and his concerns with the problem of evil. Millar's essay contains a good account of Mill's concern that theistic belief might be "morally useful without being intellectually sustainable" and his response that the culture of a secular morality--a Religion of Humanity--can play much the same moral role in counteracting limited sympathy and altruism, which traditional religions play, without their incredibility. In "Mill on Psychology and the Moral Sciences" Fred Wilson looks at how Mill's criticisms of his father's use of the "geometric" method to deduce theorems of social reform from axioms of psychological egoism relied on Coleridge's and Macaulay's claims about the reality of the moral sentiments. The novelty of Mill's approach to the social sciences, according to Wilson, was to eschew the intuitionist account of such sentiments and to account for this richer set of motivations in consistently associative terms. Wilson thoughtfully explores how Mill's own ambivalence about the prospects for methodological individualism results from his failure to take his own criticisms of the geometric method consistently to heart. In "Mill's Utilitarianism" Wendy Donner offers a survey of Mill's moral theory, concentrating on his conception of the good, his account of moral development, and the relation among justice, rights, and utility. Though her survey is generally reliable, as far as it goes, I found her attempts to engage the secondary literature within her text both unnecessary and unsatisfying. Jonathan Riley usefully reconstructs Mill's views on political economy and their relation to his utilitarianism in "Mill's Political Economy: Ricardian Science and Liberal Utilitarian Art." In "Civilization and Culture as Moral Concepts" John Robson addresses concepts whose importance for Mill's thought explains many of his differences with his utilitarian forbears. Robson usefully traces the origins of Mill's conceptions of civilization and culture in the work of Coleridge, Carlyle, and Arnold and explores how Mill's conceptions shaped his attitude toward legitimate strategies for reform in India. It might, however, have been helpful to see the role these conceptions play in Mill's moral theory (for example his doctrine of higher pleasures) or his political theory (for example how a genuinely liberal culture differs from other civilized cultures). Though Mill saw himself, with good reason, as a friend of the working classes, this friendship was mixed with doubts about their present intellectual and moral abilities. Their inferiority was not a natural condition, and Mill hoped to improve their condition by better education and greater scope for civic participation. This commitment to improving the lot of the working classes was tempered, however, by concerns about letting them dominate civic matters in their current backward state. In an excellent essay, "Democracy, Socialism, and the Working Classes," C. L. Ten explores Mill's ambivalent attitude toward the working classes and its effect on his conceptions of democracy (especially the scope of the franchise) and political economy (especially his attitude toward socialism). In "The Subjection of Women" Mary Lyndon Shanley provides a sympathetic, yet not uncritical, reconstruction of Mill's conception of sexual equality in The Subjection of Women and his work in Parliament sponsoring women's suffrage and the reform of marriage laws. While there may have been ways in which Mill's conception of sexual equality did not challenge questionable assumptions about the normal division of labor between the sexes, Shanley makes a strong case for thinking that Mill's primary commitment to equality as precondition of true marital friendship provides the basis within Mill's conception of sexual equality for criticizing these assumptions. Though Mill is not widely recognized as a scholar of ancient Greek philosophy, Terence Irwin's essay, "Mill and the Classical World," contains an interesting analysis of Mill's understanding of classical thought and his relationship to the Victorian classicist George Grote. Whereas Grote's sympathy with the utilitarian orthodoxy of Bentham and James Mill helps explain many of his considerable virtues as a classical scholar, it is precisely the younger Mill's heterodoxy, Irwin argues, that allows him to form a more just assessment (than Grote) of Plato's views about virtue and happiness. As Irwin argues, a clearer recognition of the connections between his own views about virtue and happiness and those of Plato might have forced Mill to be clearer about the perfectionist aspects of his own conception of happiness. In "The Reception and Early Reputation of Mill's Political Thought" Peter Nicholson provides valuable analysis of the initial reception of Mill's political writings, especially On Liberty and The Subjection of Women. Nicholson notes that, amid various (now familiar) concerns about the philosophical principles at work in On Liberty, a common reaction was to think that Mill was pushing on an open door--that English social and political life had already incorporated principles of individuality. It was only with the publication of The Subjection of Women, Nicholson argues, that the full implication of Mill's liberal principles became apparent. Nicholson also provides nice discussion and assessment of Leslie Stephen's utilitarian criticism of Mill's liberal principles in Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity and of the exaggerated differences that the British idealists alleged between their own views and those of Mill. The volume concludes with an insightful essay by Alan Ryan, "Mill in a Liberal Landscape," that locates the impetus for Mill's perfectionist form of liberalism in a concern with democratic threats to individuality and contrasts Mill's brand of liberalism favorably with contemporary brands of liberalism, especially those associated with John Rawls and Isaiah Berlin.

As a professional philosopher with some familiarity with Mill's texts in moral and political philosophy (and associated secondary literature) but a very limited understanding of his views on mathematics, logic, semantics, and scientific method, I found Skorupski's collection extremely interesting and useful. I got a sophisticated but comprehensible introduction to parts of Mill's philosophy with which I was less familiar, and I was typically exposed to new details about and perspectives on those aspects of Mill's thought with which I was more familiar. Skorupski's companion to Mill is a welcome addition to Mill studies.--David Brink, University of California at San Diego.
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Title Annotation:Review
Author:Brink, David
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Jun 1, 2000
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