"On Liberty" and biology

While I sat on the front stoop of the cracked and empty Presbyterian church at the Mays Lick Asparagus Festival last Saturday reading the Wall Street Journal, Roger Scruton surprised me with a piercing thought on thinking.

In his opinion piece he is critical of John Stuart Mill, the author of On Liberty, for draining his logic of emotional depth:

Mill suffered from the same defect as his father. He never understood that wisdom is deeper and rarer than rational thought. He never understood that the intellect, which flies so easily to its conclusion, relies on something else for its premises....

"Thoroughly Modern Mill" reminded me that thinking depends so much on emotion, and the best thinking, perhaps, on a depth of feeling - not the manic variety, mind you, but of red blood cells and heart valves, of the kind that proclaims its freedom, not with fences, but with a kind word or two. In Scruton's view, Mill's reaction against the prevailing and bloodless utilitarianism of the day simply replaced majoritarianism with minoritarianism. 

Whether one buys that conclusion or not, Scruton knows something. He knows that we are binary beings, in possession of logic and biology, and that privileging one method over the other eventually goes nowhere - or anywhere. Great art, useful insight, delightful discovery depends to a surprising degree upon our capacity to feel - whether revulsion or warmth - something toward the object of our thinking. 


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