09 May 2014

Review: Public Moralists by Stefan Collini

Hardcover, 383 pages
Published 1991

Borrowed from the library
Read November 2012
Public Moralists: Political Thought and Intellectual Life in Britain, 1850-1930
by Stefan Collini

I'm sure I picked this book up because something lead me to think it would deal with scientists as moralists, but that didn't really turn out to be true. It did, however, provide some insight into the political thought and actions of John Stuart Mill. Collini does discuss the way science was used by Mill: Alexander Bain called Mill's commitment to equality his greatest error as a scientific thinker, but Mill turned his opponents' belief in inequality into a symptom of bad science. Collini suggests that though we now remember Mill for his Utilitarian justifications, it was his actual, unequivocal morality that made him who he is: Mill's tone suggests dispassionate social fact, but he was actually tendentious and disputable. The insight that I particularly liked (and wished more politicians seemingly followed) was that Mill might compromise his measures, but never his opinions.

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