Front Page Titles (by Subject) I.: THE APPROACH - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II)
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I.: THE APPROACH - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II) 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume II - The Principles of Political Economy with Some of Their Applications to Social Philosophy (Books I-II), ed. John M. Robson, introduction by V.W. Bladen (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965).
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the textual precision and inclusiveness of this edition of the Principles of Political Economy are due entirely to the intelligence and industry of the textual editor, Professor Robson, and it is only proper that he has written the second introduction, which is concerned with the successive changes in thought and exposition recorded in this edition, and which lays down the principles of textual criticism and procedure followed in preparing the text. It is my privilege to contribute an economist’s introduction to the Principles as a single complete work, rather than to deal with variations of text. I fully recognize the importance of the work of the textual editor and the value of this edition, but I must explain how different is my own approach. I welcomed an edition which would make the Principles in its final form readily available and easy to read because I believe that it is a living book which has present value and significance. The members of the editorial committee have emphasized always the importance of providing easy reading of the main text of the Works for those who want to ignore changes over successive editions, and I was glad to have this 7th edition of the Principles in such a form. I have always set a high value on the Ashley edition, and was anxious that its virtues should be retained in this edition. Ashley’s was not a fully collated edition: it did not meet the needs of the scholar trying to reconstruct the successive editions after 1848; but as a working edition for the modern economist it was superb. It indicated nearly all the textual changes of importance to the modern economist. I am proud that it was the work of the first professor of economics in this University and it is with some sentiment of filial piety that I, one of his successors in the Department of Political Economy, write this introduction.
I have said that this book has present value and significance, and this I must defend. I know that in many universities economists are trained without reading any economics written before World War I. I know that in most universities the history of economic thought, if included in the curriculum, is, nevertheless, considered of no real importance, though possibly of some antiquarian interest. Even where the classical literature is seriously studied the attitude is often that stated by Professor Frank Knight in his brilliant article on the “Ricardian Theory of Production and Distribution”:1 he there said that our “primary interest in the ‘ancients’ in such a field as economics is to learn from their mistakes,” and the primary theme of his article was “the contrast between the ‘classical’ system and ‘correct’ views.” By contrast, I am not interested in examining the inadequacies of the “founders” but rather in discovering what we can still learn from them. From my own experience, and from observation of the development of my students, I would argue that the study of the classical economists, and in particular of Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill, is important in the development of the modern economist, in the development of insight if not in the development of analytical skill.
The advance of our science has not been even on all fronts: while we now answer with greater precision and certainty some of the questions the classical economists asked, there are many other questions that we have ceased to ask because we have seen no better way of answering and have been dissatisfied with the apparent lack of a sound basis for the answers given. Some of these questions are, I suggest, as important as, or more important than, the ones we now answer. One of the values of the classical literature is to remind us to ask these questions and to seek anew ways of answering them. The student of this book will not improve his technical analytical skill, but he may come to recognize more fully how much more he needs than technical equipment. There is, as Professor Redfield reminded us, an element of art in science.2 Alfred Marshall had this in mind when he said: “The economist needs the three great intellectual faculties, perception, imagination and reason: and most of all he needs imagination.”3 More recently, Professor Boulding has said: “Insight (judgment) and logic (mathematics) are strictly complementary goods.”4 We know a good deal about training in the techniques of science, we know incredibly little about the development of imagination or judgment. Indeed I am sometimes worried lest we kill off imagination in the process of such training. I cannot prove that a study of the great classics will develop those scarce qualities of imagination and judgment; but I assert that it will develop those qualities in some of us.
This is a lonely position, and I therefore take great comfort in the support of the late Professor Schumpeter and of Lord Robbins. Said Schumpeter in his History of Economic Analysis:5
Teachers or students who attempt to act upon the theory that the most recent treatise is all they need will soon discover that they are making things unnecessarily difficult for themselves. . . . Any treatise that attempts to render “the present state of science” really renders methods, problems, and results that are historically conditioned and are meaningful only with reference to the historical background from which they spring. . . . The state of any science at any given time implies its past history and cannot be satisfactorily conveyed without making this implicit history explicit.
And Schumpeter went on to a further justification of the study of the classical literature with which I am particularly sympathetic. “Our minds,” he said, “are apt to derive new inspiration from the study of the history of science. Some do so more than others, but there are probably few that do not derive from it any benefit at all. A man’s mind must be indeed sluggish if, standing back from the work of his time and beholding the wide mountain ranges of past thought, he does not experience a widening of his own horizon.” Lord Robbins, in his Theory of Economic Policy,6 gives similar support: “I suspect,” he there said, “that damage has been done, not merely to historical and speculative culture, but also to our practical insight, by this indifference to our intellectual past—this provincialism in time—which has been so characteristic of our particular branch of social studies.” Lord Robbins went on to a further comment of great importance: “It is no exaggeration to say that it is impossible to understand the evolution and meaning of Western liberal civilization without some understanding of Classical Political Economy.” The contribution of the classical political economists to this cultural heritage may well have been as important as their contribution to the development of the science of economics. Modern economists have some responsibility for conserving and interpreting this part of our cultural and intellectual heritage.
I have said that there is an element of “art” in the science of economics; I need hardly add that economic policy making is an “art”. It involves much more than prescribing on the basis of scientific analysis a particular action with a view to achieving a stated end. In this it is like medicine: in both political economy and medicine when practitioners diagnose and prescribe, judgment is involved. There must be a readiness to act in spite of incomplete knowledge which makes the result of the action uncertain. For economists the problem is frequently complicated by the desire of the public to promote two, or more, ends without recognition of their conflict; to make such conflict clear so that the public may be faced with the necessity of choice is an important function of the economist. But perhaps a more important function of the political economist is to make explicit the implicit but unrecognized values of the community of which he is a member, values which he is likely to share. This function John Stuart Mill performed more fully than most: study of his work may lead more of us to recognize the values implicit in our policy statements, and to attempt to develop similar recognition on the part of the public. Political Economy in the classical tradition comprehended more than economic analysis; some of its inadequacies in analysis may be forgiven when we consider the total contribution it made.
Some of its supposed inadequacies I shall later argue are the product of misinterpretation of the literature, the inadequacy being in the modern reader rather than in the classical writer. Most frequently the source of misinterpretation lies in the failure to identify the question which the writer was trying to answer. Too often we assume that the ancients asked the same questions that we ask; their answers seem stupid in relation to our questions, but may be very intelligent in relation to those they asked. This habit of ours is sometimes a barrier to understanding in current discussion between modern economists; it is a formidable one in understanding the classics. The habit of mind developed in the sympathetic study of the classics may well contribute to more effective communication between modern economists.
It is over fifty years since W. J. Ashley wrote his introduction to his edition of the Principles,7 but what he said of it then is not inappropriate at this later date:
. . . Mill’s Principles will long continue to be read and will deserve to be read. It represents an interesting phase in the intellectual history of the nineteenth century. But its merit is more than historical. It is still one of the most stimulating books that can be put into the hands of students, if they are cautioned at the outset against regarding it as necessarily final in all its parts. On some topics there is still, in my opinion, nothing better in the English language; on others Mill’s treatment is still the best point of departure for further enquiry. Whatever its faults, few or many, it is a great treatise, conceived and executed on a lofty plane, and breathing a noble spirit. Mill—especially when we penetrate beneath the magisterial flow of his final text, as we are now enabled to do by the record in this edition of his varying moods—is a very human personality. The reader of to-day is not likely to come to him in too receptive a spirit; and for a long time there will be much that even those who most differ from him will still be able to learn from his pages.
[1 ]Frank Knight, “The Ricardian Theory of Production and Distribution,” Canadian Journal of Economics and Political Science, I (1935), 3.
[2 ]R. Redfield, “The Art of Social Science,” American Journal of Sociology, LIV (1948), 181-90.
[3 ]Alfred Marshall, Principles of Economics, Variorum Edition, ed. C. W. Guillebaud (London, 1961), 43.
[4 ]K. E. Boulding, “Samuelson’s Foundations of Economic Analysis: The Role of Mathematics in Economics,” Journal of Political Economy, LVI (1948), 190.
[5 ]J. A. Schumpeter, History of Economic Analysis (New York, 1954), 4-5.
[6 ]Lord Robbins, Theory of Economic Policy (London, 1952), 1 and 4.
[7 ]John Stuart Mill, Principles of Political Economy, ed. W. J. Ashley (London, 1909), xxiv.