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James Mill as an Economist: Theory Dominated by Deductive Method

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  • Thomas Torrance
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    Our conclusion about James Mill is that his Achilles heel as an economic thinker, as evidenced by the content of his Elements, is that his theoretical analysis isn’t truly appropriate given the subject matter he is attempting to understand, namely real-world social phenomena and their underlying generative processes. As an economic analyst, Mill is deeply in thrall to a geometric-type deductive method that destructively inhibits his theories from posing the appropriate questions of the empirical phenomena and events he seeks to explain. Especially in regard to his unappreciative critiques of Hume’s monetary theory and of Malthus’s theory of gluts, Mill’s strict deductive method prevents his theory from accepting temporal sequencing as a key theoretical category in his explanatory analysis. With an impoverished usage of the concept of time, Mill’s economic explanations, though succinctly constructed in elegant logical form, fall far short of the best examples of economic analysis found in the previous century. In science generally, explanatory theories that are dominated by inadequate methodological presuppositions are invariably inadequate themselves. Mill’s economic theory is no exception to this general rule. Mill was a man who was well known and regarded in his lifetime, and for a period afterwards, as a leading intellectual political and social reformer. Long-term historical memory, however, views James Mill as perhaps being best known as the father of John Stuart Mill.

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    Paper provided by Department of Economics, School of Management and Languages, Heriot Watt University in its series Working Papers with number E02.

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    Date of creation: 2005
    Handle: RePEc:hwe:hwecwp:2005-e02
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