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The House of Mill: All Mirrors, No Windows

This is from my blog, Board Housewife & The Cat

I am still reading Dabney to the Cat. He takes it in through his senses. James and son John Stuart Mill would posit that I, if I formulate any ideas about their work, am experiencing “copies of single sensations.”

The Cat, whose ideation begins and ends with his own sensory learning, disbelieves Mill. The Cat learns everything in one take and finds insulting the idea of copies of his own uniquely perfect sensations.

The Cat does not think that I am as capable a learner as he. According to Mill, the Cat would be right. But the Cat would still be a lower animal in Mill’s scheme, because he cannot name his sensations, and I can. I will not read that part to the Cat.

According to Mill, my cumulative learning and experience, from hot stovetops to jurisprudence, is a bundle of habits. (But how would he account for my bad habits of not learning from experience? I have burned myself more than once.) I have received no a priori input, not even language. I have learned nothing but that to which my senses have had the happy or unhappy occasion to be exposed. I am a perfectly revelation-proof being.

So that is how Mill proposes to escape God! God will never make it past those nerve bundles. Mill has devised a scheme to enable man to make himself inaccessible to revelation.

Once man acquires an idea through his senses, he will “mark,” or “name” it, so that he can remember it, so that he may repeat it or not, depending on whether it was enjoyable or not. So man can define reality by naming what he likes. The logical corollary is, he may elect not to name anything he doesn’t like. Poof. All gone. No more unhappy thing.

I have encountered children who were unable to extrapolate because of brain damage. You could set up a simple arithmetic problem: put five oranges on a table, remove three, and show them that two were left. Then, if you put five apples on the table, you would have to start all over again. They had no idea what would happen if you removed three apples. Mill’s reasoning, notwithstanding his creditable intelligence, is similar. His scheme simply does not permit extrapolation. Each idea must be built on an identical chain of experiences. Since apprehension of God’s revelation of himself requires abstract thought, Mill’s refusal to abstract is another God-proofing mechanism.

Objective reality is necessarily elusive in Mill’s scheme. A rock, for instance, is a “permanent possibility of sensations.” We might as well vote on the meaning of that one.

Educators study John Stuart Mill today. (His work, according to Dabney, differed from his father’s by accentuating it at its most torqued.) They learn that the end of education is the individual’s happiness. Dabney notes this in his chapter on Mill: “Hence, it follows that moral education consists simply in establishing desirable associations between acts and consequences, by the frequent repetition of the right acts” (Robert L. Dabney, The Sensualistic Philosophy, Naphtali Press, 2003, p. 58.) But with no a priori information as to what “right” is, who can know what should be repeated? The senses, of course. Happy sensations are worth repeating.

Mill should not be accused of saying that men disregard the welfare of fellow men in favor of their own happiness. The bludgeoner does not have the right to bludgeon repeatedly because it makes him happy. Mill provides for moral categories of prudence and fortitude (duties to ourselves), and justice and benevolence (duties to our neighbors). However, some sort of unrevealed natural desire comes into play–there is, once again, no a priori revelation of what constitutes prudence or justice or benevolence. Men simply learn from experience what is pleasurable and what is painful. In a world without sin and sociopathy, this might even be thinkable. But we do not live in a world without sin and sociopathy. Nor, contrary to Mill’s premise, do we live in a world without revealed law.

Once again, the sensualist is lost in his own quagmire, attempting to God-proof himself. He has built a house of mirrors–surrounding himself with his own perceptions of the consequences of his own experiences–with no windows admitting the light of revelation.

…every man did that which was right in his own eyes. Ju 17:6; 21:25

For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. Ro 10:3

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