MILL ON SCOPE AND METHOD
All of Mill's writings as a political scientist, educationist, historian and an economist were based on deeply-held convictions concerning the importance of ‘theory’ or abstract principles; and there is good reason to believe that he had considerable influence on the methodological thinking of two of the major contributors to the classical tradition, namely Ricardo and John Stuart Mill. Since there has been so much criticism of the classical writers for their adherence to a priori methods, and of Ricardo's ‘vice’ in this respect in particular, it may be of interest to consider James Mill's views on methodological questions here.
Mill's reviews of the works of others are replete with criticisms of those whom he regarded as having been insufficiently ‘philosophical’ or ‘speculative’. He regarded the inability to generalise or to move beyond immediate experience as an ‘infirmity of the mind’; and it was for his own highly-developed powers of ‘ratiocination’ that his works were praised by admirers and denounced by opponents. These powers are obvious in all his writings, not least in his History of British India where he agreed with Gibbon in regarding mere facts as the least interesting part of the historian's material. The ‘abstract’ quality of the Elements of Political Economy has already been noted. Indeed it is evident in the earliest of Mill's economic writings, his essay on the corn bounty, which was basically an attack on those who, like James Anderson, rely solely on arguments based on undigested ‘experience’. Mill saw no conflict between ‘theory’ or ‘abstract speculation’ and ‘practice’ or ‘experience’. As far as he was concerned, ‘good abstract principles are neither more nor less than the accumulated results of experience, presented in an exceedingly condensed and concentrated state’. The only distinction worth making was between ‘comprehensive and profound’ principles and ‘narrow and empirical’ ones. His son was taught at an early stage the fallacy of the popular view of this question.
I recollect also his indignation at my using the common expression that something was true in theory but required correction in practice; and how, after making me vainly strive to define the word theory, he explained its meaning, and showed the fallacy of the vulgar form of speech which I had used: leaving me fully persuaded that in being unable to give a correct definition of Theory, and in speaking of it as something which might be at variance with practice, I had shown unparalleled ignorance.
Halévy has said that ‘Mill during the long walks which he loved to take with Ricardo was chiefly concerned to give him lessons in method’. This statement cannot be documented, but from the evidence of the Mill-Ricardo correspondence there is little doubt that Ricardo's eagerness to believe in the applicability of clear-cut principles made him the perfect subject for Mill's teachings. As Mill said proudly of his pupil: ‘as soon as your understanding is convinced, there is perfect certainty.’ Ricardo and Mill were completely at one on questions of method. Ricardo's Reply to Bosanquet is conducted as an attack on those who claim to be ‘all for fact and nothing for theory’. He recognised that one of the crucial points separating him from Malthus was the different emphasis which they placed on theory and practice. ‘If I am too theoretical which I really believe is the case,—you I think are too practical. There are so many combinations,—so many operating causes in Political Economy, that there is great danger in appealing to experience in favour of a particular doctrine, unless we are sure that all the causes of variation are seen and their effects duly estimated.’ He considered that one of Malthus's great mistakes lay in thinking that political economy was ‘not a strict science like mathematics’. Ricardo has been strongly criticised for the very qualities which Mill believed to be essential in a thinker, and which he did his best to encourage in Ricardo. Perhaps the first contemporary to make this criticism was J. L. Mallet, who distrusted Ricardo's ‘entire disregard of experience and practice’, and said of the Principles that it was ‘almost a sealed Book to all but men capable of pursuing abstract reasoning by a strict and mathematical analysis’. The only difference between Mill and Ricardo was that whereas Ricardo's confidence in ‘strong cases’ shows itself mainly on economic questions, Mill's confidence extended to every subject upon which he wrote. There seems little reason, therefore, to quarrel with Halévy's conclusion that Mill ‘did not so much give [Ricardo] a doctrine as develop in him the doctrinal leaning and make him a doctrinaire’.
The extent of the direct influence of Mill on Ricardo must remain a matter for conjecture, but there is little doubt as to his influence on his son John's thinking on methodological questions. The emphasis of John's education was on equipping him with the tools of intellectual analysis, and so successful was this that John considered himself, in the early stages of his life, to be little more than a ‘reasoning machine’. As he wrote to John Sterling in 1831: ‘the only thing I believe I am fit for is the investigation of abstract truth, and the more abstract the better. If there is any science which I am capable of promoting, I think it is the science of science itself, the science of investigation-of method.’
When John was going through his first ‘mental crisis’, with its accompanying estrangement from his father, Macaulay's famous attack on the Essay on Government appeared. Macaulay had set out ‘to expose the vices of a kind of reasoning utterly unfit for moral or political discussions’. It was an extremely effective critique of the a priori, deductive approach, which, as John admitted, gave him much to think about. He was not satisfied with his father's off hand response to Macaulay's strictures: he felt that it would have been better to admit that the Essay was a reform tract and not a ‘scientific treatise on government’. This line of argument would not have appealed to James Mill, for it opens up the gap between theory and practice; he would also have been the last to admit the truth of Macaulay's contention that ‘it is utterly impossible to deduce the science of government from the principles of human nature’. But John was more flexible, and did make efforts to come to terms with Macaulay's point of view in his essay ‘On the Definition and Method of Political Economy’, which later formed the basis for Book VI of his Logic. Perhaps the most interesting fact about these efforts is that John ended up far closer to his father's position than might have been expected. He admitted that his father's premises concerning the self-seeking propensity of men were too narrow, but held to the view ‘that politics must be a deductive science’; and in so doing rejected Macaulay's view that political science must be inductive or based on ‘experience’. He introduced the distinction between the ‘science’ of economics and the ‘art’ of legislation, and mentioned the possibility of using a posteriori methods in testing hypotheses; but he also upheld the a priori, abstract method as the only appropriate one for the moral sciences. As Professor Anschutz has indicated, John's refusal to give up his father's basic position, despite his sympathy for certain elements in the opposition's case, is due partly to his view that the deductive approach was sanctioned by the method of the natural sciences, and partly to his political assessment that such methods were more likely to serve the all-important cause of progress and reform.
James Mill's fondness for the abstract deductive approach is amply illustrated in the other works reprinted in this volume. The following extract from a dialogue written by Mill at the very end of his life helps to make explicit his views on the importance of political economy as a guide to action. It also provides a full statement of Mill's ideas on the rôle of ‘theory’ in economics; he uses the term to denote what would be called a ‘model’ in modern parlance. Several points of interest emerge from the extract. The most striking, perhaps, is Mill's view that the science of political economy was virtually complete, and his consequent impatience with further controversy; the implication being that those who oppose ‘true’ doctrines do so through ignorance or because the truth is incompatible with their selfish interests. He puts forward no ‘external’ criteria for the establishment of truth, in terms, say, of empirical evidence; the truth seems to be simply what right-minded, qualified economists believe it to be.
WHETHER POLITICAL ECONOMY IS USEFUL
London Review, Jan. 1836, vol. II, pp. 553–572.
[After a preliminary exchange of definitions, A and B agree to debate the proposition that political economy ‘has not yet been allowed the benefit of science; that the propositions hitherto framed about it, are either untrue, or insignificant’.]
B.—We need not, I imagine, go far into the question whether any of the propositions in political economy are true; because it is easy to form true propositions, if the value be neglected, on any subject. Thus we may say, that labour produces commodities; that labour is painful, and only exerted with a view to some reward-that a man will execute more work with tools than without them: so also, we can say it is warmer in summer than in winter; an ox is commonly heavier than a sheep, and so on. The question you really propose is, whether there be in political economy, any proposition of great utility… It appears to me, here again, to be necessary to inquire, whether, when you employ the word utility, and I employ the word utility, we are both of us thinking of the same thing; not thinking, the one of us of one thing, the other of another… We shall proceed with much more satisfaction in our inquiry, if we first ascertain that point. And a few questions, I think, with your answers, will afford us the requisite information… I can anticipate your answer to the first question I shall put—whether you think all utility to be that which is represented by pounds, shillings, and pence? You will say you do not… You are, then, of opinion that there are more species of utility than one?
B.—Shall we endeavour to ascertain its more general species—in this way, I mean; by asking ourselves if the nature of man does not consist of two parts, the body and the mind?
B.—May we not, corresponding with these parts, consider as one class of useful things, those which conduce to the welfare of the body; another, those which conduce to the welfare of the mind?
B.—By conducive to the welfare, I mean things serving to yield pleasure, or ward off pain, and that whether directly, or mediately, and indirectly… One class of useful things, therefore, are those which serve to produce bodily pleasure, or ward off bodily pain: another, those which produce mental pleasure, or ward off mental pain… The next step of our inquiry, is this:—As some things give pleasure to the body, without producing any other effect, and are useful on that account; are there not certain things which give pleasure to the mind, and are held useful, without regard to any ulterior effect? I may allude to astronomy as a sufficient illustration. That science, beyond some of its more familiar results, yields no guidance for the affairs of life. It is contemplative, and the pleasure which it yields is purely mental. But the pleasure which the mind receives, when it comprehends within its grasp a multitude of great objects, and traces distinctly their mutual operations and dependencies, is known to be very great. You do not hesitate, I suppose, to admit this?
B.—This pleasure, therefore, is a good; and that which procures it is useful… We need not inquire scrupulously into the comparative value of this pleasure. It is well-known how small is the value of all the merely corporeal pleasures, when taken nakedly by themselves, and without the addition of anything mental. The man who relishes most the pleasures of eating and drinking, flies from a solitary meal, and confesses that his enjoyment in it is reduced to little. Of the pleasures of love, we see that the bodily part is little valued when stripped of the mental, and that it is only the lowest of our species, who are found to be seriously under its influence.
A.—All that is true.
B.—You see to what this train of thought leads.
A.—You mean the conclusion, that the purely mental pleasures, those which begin and end in the existence of pleasurable thoughts, hold a high rank among the enjoyments of our nature, and the causes of them among the things which we denominate useful.
B.—You have traced the consequences clearly and well. We have now, therefore, agreed in certain points, which I think may be applied with advantage to the inquiry we are engaged in.
A.—I shall be happy to hear in what way.
B.—The matters which form the subject of political economy are matters in the highest degree interesting to mankind. They are, in fact, the multifarious operations concerned in producing, distributing, and exchanging; placing, in a word, in the hands of the consumers, all the things which constitute the wealth of individuals and of nations: the things for which, almost exclusively, the labour, the schemes, the cares, of human beings are expended. These operations are of many kinds, and are connected together in a system of great complexity,—following one another according to certain laws, checking one another according to certain laws,—aided by one set of arrangements, impeded by another. This complicated tissue of causes and effects, subordinate to ends the most interesting to human kind, it cannot but be an agreeable exercise to an ingenious mind to explore,—to trace the course of such things,—to mark their concatenations. And if it succeed, by its meditations on the order of events, in discovering how they follow one another in trains, so as to reduce them all to a moderate number of trains, by which they can, as a whole, be held all at once in the mind's eye, and the mode in which every thing comes out can be distinctly comprhended; as a man raising himself to an eminence, from which he can look down upon a scene of the highest possible interest, not only beholds the numerous objects of which it consists, and their visible motions, but the causes of them, and the ends to which they are directed, and thence derives the highest delight;—is it not certain, that a similar commanding view obtained by the mind over a most interesting and complicated mental scene, must yield it a gratification of the highest value, even if no further consequence were to be derived from it?
A.—Undoubtedly, such a commanding view of so great a part of the field of human action, in which operations so multifarious, and tending to such interesting results, are taking place, cannot but yield a high degree of pleasure: and he must be one of the lowest of his species, who will not acknowledge that such a gratification of the highest part of our nature-the intellectual part, must hold a foremost place among the pleasures we are capable of receiving.
B.—I applaud this liberal declaration, and expected it from you. And now we, perhaps, have light to show us something of a matter which you, I expect, will acknowledge to be of the highest importance, but which is not often well understood; and by people who do not understand, and nevertheless are precipitate enough to judge without understanding, treated as of no importance.
A.—What is that?
B.—The connexion between that commanding view which we have been considering, and the kind of utility which these men understand,—the things which they can taste, handle, smell, and see,—the things, in short, which they can sell and buy in a market, and to which the term practical utility is by them appropriated. If this intellectual operation should be found to have a commanding influence even on this same practical or market utility, may we not expect them to change their opinion with respect to the value even of the mental process?
A.—Certainly, that which increases the utility of other things, is itself useful.
[They proceed to discuss the value of taking a ‘comprehensive view’ in other fields.]
B.—But a commanding view of a whole subject, in all its parts, and the connexion of those parts, is it anything but another name for the theory, or science of the subject? Theory θεωρια is literally view and science is scientia,knowledge: meaning view, or knowledge, not solely of this and that part, but, like that of the general with his army, of the whole.
A.—I see the inference to which you are proceeding: you mean to say, that the theory or science of political economy is a commanding view of the vast combination of agents and operations engaged in producing for the use of man, the whole of the things which he enjoys and consumes: in other words, the things which he denominates the matter of wealth—the great object to which almost all the toils and cares of human beings are directed.
B.—You have anticipated me correctly.
A.—You would farther proceed to ask me, I have no doubt, whether the innumerable operations which take place in subservience to that end, may not take place in more ways than one; in short, in a worse way, or in a better way? Whether it is not of importance that they should take place in the best way? And whether the difference between the best way and the worst way, is not likely to be very great?—great, I mean, in respect to the particular end, the production of the matter of wealth. And to all these questions I should answer in the affirmative.
B.—I should become in love with controversy, if I always met with such controvertists as you… Admitting, as you have done, that on the proper ordering and conducting of the great and numerous trains of operations, subservient to the production and use of wealth, a great deal depends; that between good ordering, and bad ordering, the difference in respect to beneficial results is immense; you will, I doubt not, allow, as you have done in general, that in this particular case, every thing cannot be well arranged without taking account of every thing; that the man who sees all is he alone who can arrange all—he alone who can discover if all the parts are, or are not, in co-operation; and how any change can be made in one part without affecting injuriously some other; in short, that the general, commanding, and complete view of the subject, which is properly denominated the science, is that alone which can with reason be looked to for the greatest of all possible benefits in the great affair, making everything concerned in it contribute in the highest degree to the attainment of the end.
A.—The conclusion seems to me to be incontrovertibly made out.
B.—I may now, then, reckon you a convert to my opinion—that the science of political economy is an important science?
A.—If there be such a science, and if that which goes by the name, instead of being that all-comprehensive view which you have been speaking of, and the importance of which I fully admit, be not mere scraps of a view—mostly incorrect, and leading to no useful conclusion.
B.—I grant to you most readily that it is a fair inquiry, whether the doctrine taught under the title of political economy deserves the name of science or not. In order to determine the question, perhaps you will point out which you think the criteria, or tests of a science—the marks or characters by which any combination of doctrines may be known to be, or not to be science…
[Two distinctive marks of a science are then put forward by A: that ‘the propositions be not disputed’ and ‘that they explain the whole of the subject’.]
B.—Is it not possible for a proposition to be true and yet to be disputed?
A.—I cannot deny that; yet truth, it is said, prevails in the long run.
B.—You remember, I doubt not, the saying of Hobbes, so often quoted and approved, that if the truths of mathematics had been opposed to the interests of men having power, they would have been disputed against and denied; and the people persecuted who maintained them?
B.—When the men, whose power enables them to set the fashion in opinions, as in dress, deem a set of doctrines opposed to their interest, were it but the interest of their ease, calling upon them for a disagreeable exertion of thought to learn and understand them—do you not see the possibility of these propositions being disputed for a long time, however true they may be—of their being honestly rejected and deemed of no importance by the greater number of men?
A.—I see how often that occurs, and I cannot but admit that few men form their opinions upon the evidence of their truth; that the feeling of interest sways the minds of the greater number in what they believe or disbelieve, and to such a degree, that some men are under a sort of incapacity of thinking but as their interests direct; and I admit that the general supineness of men's minds makes them ready, even for the saving of trouble, and when the opinions do not concern any other interest, to take for granted the truth of those which are inculcated upon them, particularly by those who have an ascendancy, from their power, station, or reputation.
B.—I do not think, therefore, that you will insist upon it as a clear index against the scientific character of a set of opinions, that they are disputed, because we know that the Newtonian theory of astronomy was long disputed; that the utility of the Star Chamber was long maintained; that a government really representative of the people was long treated as a mischievous delusion.
A.—Let us change the term undisputed, to true; you will not object to truth as one of the tests?
B.—Certainly not, if I am enabled first of all to test the truth. Your two marks, according to the change you propose, will then be, 1st, That the propositions be truth; 2ndly, That they completely expound the subject. And nobody will deny that a set of true propositions, fully expounding a subject, are the science of that subject. But these marks avail us nothing till we have the means of determining what are true propositions, and whcther they do embrace the whole of the subject. Can you name any tests by which either of these points can be determined?
A.—I cannot; but are we then to rest in the opinion that it is impossible to determine whether there is any science or not?
B.—I should say not, if we can do anything better; and I think we should by all means inquire how far we can advance, in determining either that a proposition is true, or that a set of propositions contain the entire exposition of a subject. On the latter question it is easier to approach the point of assurance than on the former, which is a reason for considering that in the first place, if you see no objection… It appears to me, that a subject may be contained within a definition or description, in such a manner that it may appear little less than certain that no part of it is left out, though to attain that certainty the doubt may be incurred whether more is not included than enough… When the whole of a subject is thus before the inquirer, he may divide it into portions, and afterwards subdivide those portions into other portions, small enough and simple enough for easy and sure comprehension.… Propositions expounding those portions may therefore be made with tolerable ground of certainty; and when the propositions on all such portions are put together, they cannot but constitute a full exposition of the subject.… Let us apply to political economy the points we are thus agreed upon. Is it possible to make a defition or description of the subject of political economy, of which we may be sure, though it may include something which belongs not to the subject, that it leaves nothing out? As for example, if we say the subject of political economy is the system of operations concerned in the producing and using of the matter of wealth, may we not conclude, with some assurance, that our definition includes the whole of the subject? Let us consider thus:—In regard to any object of human pursuit, do not the end and the means comprehend all that we are interested in knowing about it? Thus, in regard to medicine, the end is the removal of diseases, the means the whole resources of the medical art. Well, then, the science of medicine is the knowledge of diseases, and of the means of cure… In what regards wealth, for which men watch and toil, and on the plentiful or scanty supply of which the happiness or misery, the power or weakness of nations so greatly depends, the use is the end, the production the means. The question is, whether the doctrines of political economy entirely embrace these objects. Let us first examine if they do so in regard to production. The two great instruments are human labour, and that with which, and upon which, labour is employed—the two last included under the term capital. If political economy, therefore, expounds the natural laws, according to which labour and capital are employed in production, they fully comprehend this part of the subject. Without going into details, I suppose we may assume, as this is not a controverted part of political economy, that the doctrines do embrace, without any omission, this part of the subject?… The first act of using, subsequent to production, is possessing, that is, reception of shares. The next act of using is, when that which is thus possessed by any one is not the article he wants, but may be, and is, exchanged for it. The next, and last act of using is consumption. Appropriation, exchange, and consumption are, therefore, the three divisions of this last portion of the subject of political economy. Though, with respect to the truth of all the expositions of these subjects, there is not a perfect agreement among inquirers, I believe there is no dispute as to the completeness with which they embrace them. There is no dispute, for example, that the whole of the annual produce falls into three shares—one to the labourers, one to the capitalists, and one to the owners of land. The great question is, what regulates these shares, and determines so much to one and so much to another. It is well known, that the attempts of philosophers to ascertain the principle of wages, the principle of profits of stock, and the principle of rent, are attempts towards the solution of that question, and that whether their conclusions are true or false, they embrace all the parts of it. Next, with regard to exchange—its two great divisions are, exchange of home commodities for one another, exchange of home for foreign commodities. And the questions are, what are the purposes to which these exchanges are respectively subservient; what are the laws which regulate them,—in other words, which determine the quantity of one commodity which shall be given in exchange for another, in the several cases of home and of foreign exchange; and what is the nature and principles of money, the great instrument of facilitating exchanges? Whatever difference of opinion there may be as to the conclusions which inquirers have come to upon these subjects, it is not doubted, I believe, that they comprehend the whole of what it is useful to know in regard to them. We come now to the last part of using, which is consumption. That is divided into two kinds. There is no doubt, that whatever part of the annual produce falls to the share of any man, he uses it in one or other two ways; either in the way of production, for the sake of what it may again yield, or for some purpose of necessity or pleasure to which it is sacrificed. And these two kinds of consumption, the productive, and the nonproductive, include everything; the wealth of every member of the state and by aggregation, of the state itself. The nature and consequences of these modes of consumption are embraced by the doctrines of political economy. And from this deduction it appears, that the science of the wealth of nations is entirely embraced by political economy… Political economy, therefore, possesses one of the qualities which you represented as essential to a science, that it should explain the whole of the subject to which it relates.
A.—It is so.
B.—The next of your essentials was, that the doctrines should be true. What, then, is the test to which we shall apply the doctrines of political economy, in order to know whether they are true?
A.—The disagreement about them, of political economists themselves, is a sufficient proof of the uncertainty, at least, of all their conclusions.
B.—Is it your opinion, that all doctrines which are disputed are untrue, or at least unproved?
A.—Not always, perhaps, but generally.
B.—Then, I claim the benefit of the exception for political economy; its doctrines are true, but not undisputed.
A.—How do you prove that it is an exception?
B.—How do you prove that it is not?
A.—I do not undertake to prove it; but I esteem disagreement a reason for disbelief.
B.—This, as a rule of conduct, would carry you far. There is disagreement on a question of right, in every case of litigated property. Do you conclude, in all such cases, that there is no right on either side? There was a time, when all the men and women in Europe believed the Pope to be infallible: was that proposition, then, true? A time came, when it was disputed: did it then cease to be true? When Galileo affirmed that the earth travelled round the sun, not the sun round the earth, his proposition was universally disputed: was it, then, untrue? It is now, in civilized countries, at least, universally believed: is it now, therefore, true?
A.—I do not say that, being disputed, makes a proposition false; it only shows that it is not proved to be true.
B.—Is it, then, your opinion, that truth is never disputed; never after it is proved? You would, in that case, reduce the number of established truths to a short catalogue. It is even denied that the establishment of property is useful, or the institution of government.
A.—I do not consider it a presumption against an opinion, that it is disputed by a few wrong-headed people.
B.—I will not suppose, also, that you hold it a presumption against an opinion, that it is opposed by a multitude of people, however great, if the subject be one which they cannot understand.
A.—No; the opinion of people who are capable of understanding the subject, and who have used the due means of understanding it, are the only people whose opinions afford a presumption either for or against any proposition or propositions regarding it.
B.—Then you think that the opinions of those who, with a due degree of intellect, have used the due means of understanding the doctrines of political economy, that is, of the political economists themselves, are the only opinions which afford any presumption either for or against the doctrines whicn go under that name?
A.—I think so.
B.—And, thinking so, I have no fear that you will run from the consequences… One is, that the doctrines of political economy are of great importance… You have said that the opinions, of sensible men, who have studied a subject, are the only opinions which form a presumption in favour of any proposition relating to it. Now all political economists, in whatever else they disagree, are all united in this opinion, that the science is one of great importance. There is, therefore, according to you, the strongest presumption of its importance.
A.—I do not dispute the importance it might be of, were a set of propositions embracing the whole subject actually established. But I am justified in holding it of no importance, so long as nothing important is established.
B.—Will you allow me to observe, that you have as yet offered no test of defective establishment, but a want of general concurrence. Do you not allow that a proposition is established, when it is proved?
A.—I allow that. But the proof may be supposed to be defective, when it is not generally admitted.
B.—You do not mean, when it is not admitted by the generality of those who know nothing about it?
A.—No; I mean of those who study it.
B.—But what proof have you that the generality of those who study and know political economy, are not agreed about its doctrines?
A.—See what contradiction there is, on almost all the leading points, among the writers on the subject.
B.—I believe you are here led into an error, by a superficial appearance.
A.—How do you mean?
B.—You take the proportion of the writers who oppose the standard doctrines, for the proportion of the well-instructed people who oppose them; but the fact is very different. The writers are some half-dozen individuals, or less. And who are the people who write in such a case? Why, any creature who takes it into his head that he sees something in a subject which nobody else has seen. On the other hand, they who, after studying the subject, see the truth of the doctrines generally taught, acquiesce in them, hold to them, act upon them, and do not write. Every creature who objects, writes: they who believe, do not write. You thus know all the objectors, you have the knowledge of them forced upon you; you are ignorant of the thousands who do not object. And what can be gathered unfavourable to any doctrine, from the circumstance that some half-dozen individuals are found, with vanity enough, to think that they are wiser on the subject than the sum of all the other men who have studied it? Are persons ever wanting of that description, to oppose any system of propositions, however well established?
A.—I acknowledge the weight of the observation thus far; that those who desire to make objections commonly print, those who receive the doctrines do not print; and that the believers, therefore, may be a much greater number than they appear. But we have very strong evidence, that the number of those who admit the objections is also great. Do not the members of the legislature, the greater part of them, not only disclaim all confidence in the doctrines of political economy, but treat its pretensions to science as imposture?
B.—Of those members who disclaim all confidence in political economy, how many do you suppose speak with knowledge. how many without it?
A.—If I am to speak my opinion honestly, I doubt whether any. The greater part of them disclaim the knowledge, as well as the confidence; and those who do not so, leave nobody in doubt of the fact.
B.—But of those who know, and those who do not know a subject, of which are the opinions of any value? Were a blind man to give you his opinion upon the colours of any assortment of things placed before him, would you not treat the man as foolish, and his opinion good for nothing?
A.—The opinion of a man without knowledge must be allowed to be worth nothing at all. I think it ought not to be called an opinion: it is only so much unmeaning sound. He who utters the propositions, neither puts together nor separates ideas: he only puts together positive or negative terms.
B.—If ever so many people were to utter these unmeaning sounds—some on one, some on the other side of any question—they could not be considered as adding anything whatsoever to the presumptions on either. The people, therefore, in the legislature, void of knowledge, who say they distrust and despise political economy, make no presumption against the doctrines against which they vent only a senseless noise.
A.—I cannot but agree with you.
B.—Even with regard to the supposition on which they mainly build, that there is such a diversity of opinion among political economists as raises a presumption against their doctrines, the fact is the reverse. Among those who have so much knowledge on the subject as to entitle their opinions to any weight, there is a wonderful agreement, greater than on almost any other moral or political subject. On the great points, with hardly any exception, there is general concord; and even on those points on which controversy is maintained, the dispute is about words, the ideas being in almost all cases the same. Take a summary view of the subject. In the great doctrines concerning production, distribution, exchange, and consumption, you find perfect concurrence; it is only as to some of the minor questions involved in these great doctrines that there is any dispute; and I might undertake to show that in few instances is even that dispute other than verbal… There is no branch of human knowledge more entitled to respect; and the men who affect to hold it in contempt afford indication only against themselves.