Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 16.djvu/336

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
316
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

lead, to a resuscitation of its spirit in the minds of Christians: the opposite would be nearer the truth.

The last branch of the argument for free thought is constituted by Mill's favorite doctrine that conflicting doctrines usually share the truth between them. This view is, I think, both precarious in itself, and of very doubtful relevance to the author's main thesis. The example from the two state parties—the party of order and the party of progress—will not stand a severe scrutiny. Not to mention, what he admits, that there is perfect freedom of discussion on the matter, the war of parties is, in point of fact, scarcely conducted according to his ideal. More to the point is the well-known passage on Christian morality, which he regards as a series of half-truths, needing to be made up by truths derived from other sources. As far as his main purpose is concerned, I think all this belongs to the first branch of the argument, and might have been included there: that first branch containing, to my mind, the real strength of the contention for freedom of thought.

The second half of the book is on liberty of conduct, as against the restraints of our social customs. This is introduced by a chapter on individuality, considered as one of the elements of well-being. Excellent as are many of the author's remarks, there are various openings for criticism. The chief thing that strikes me is the want of a steady view of the essentials of human happiness. I shall have to notice again the defects of Mill's Hedonic philosophy. I think that he greatly exaggerates the differences between human beings as regards the conditions of happiness. The community of structure in our corporeal and mental framework far exceeds the disparities: there are certain easily stated requisites, in the possession of which no one could be very unhappy; while the specialties needed to impart to a given individual the highest degree of felicity are seldomer withheld by the tyranny of custom than by causes that society can not control. 31111 pleads strongly for the energetic natures, for the exuberance of spontaneity and strong impulses. But energy as such is not thwarted; and the difficulty will always remain, that superabundant energy is exceedingly apt to trench upon other people's rights. Mill too closely identifies energy with originality or genius, and genius with eccentricity. In regard to all these characteristics, many fine distinctions need to be drawn, over and above what Mill gives us. When he talks of the present state of Englishmen as a state of collective greatness and diminishing individuality, it takes a little reflection to see what he is driving at. Nor is his reference of the unprogressiveness of the East to the despotism of custom a wholly satisfactory explanation; the problem of stationary societies is still undecided.

The chapter following, entitled "The Limits to the Authority of Society over the Individual," helps us better to his real meaning. He lays it down as an axiom that society should interfere only in what