Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Timothy Larsen's "John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life"

Timothy Larsen is McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, Wheaton, Illinois, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the University of Wales Trinity Saint David.

He applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life, and reported the following:
I must admit I had never heard before of Ford Madox Ford’s page ninety-nine test, but I think my John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life passes it reasonably well. The book is actually in Oxford University Press’s Spiritual Lives series and thus it is really about the collision in Mill’s own life between the series title (spiritual) and the book’s subtitle (secular). In other words, the book is about the extraordinary amount of religion in Mill’s thought despite his being a famous rationalist.

Page 99 is in a section analyzing Mill’s classic work, A System of Logic (1843). This book is surprisingly filled with religious examples, discussion, and language. Mill actually refers to God directly over eighty times in it. This seems rather gratuitous given that there are even entire books of the Bible that never mention God. Page 99 offers as evidence some of the syllogisms that Mill uses to teach the principles of logic. I show how in just one, short chapter, “On Propositions”, he repeatedly uses startlingly religious examples such as “Peter and James preached at Jerusalem and Galilee” (the point being to discern that it contains four, separate propositions) and “The Founder of Christianity was crucified.” There is even a discussion of the filioque clause in the western version of the Nicene Creed. As I write on page 99, “I defy anyone to find a modern work on logic being used as a textbook in national universities today that includes a reference to the question of the double or single procession of the Holy Spirit in the Triune Godhead!”

In fact, throughout the mature decades of his life, Mill believed that it was perfectly rational on the grounds of strict logic alone to hope in God and in Jesus Christ. He repeatedly confessed his reverence for Jesus and his teachings. This book is about the Mill that you never knew; the Mill that even some of his closest disciples never knew. This is John Stuart Mill the Saint of Rationalism—a secular life and a spiritual life.
Learn more about John Stuart Mill: A Secular Life at the Oxford University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue