The materialist interpretation of John Millar's philosophical history: towards a critical appraisal

Smith, Paul B. (1998) The materialist interpretation of John Millar's philosophical history: towards a critical appraisal. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This dissertation examines aspects of John Millar's philosophical history in order to provide grounds for a critical appraisal of the content of his contribution to social and historical science. Using Millar's published books and lectures in civil law as primary sources, it is suggested that Millar applied an empiricist method to the principles of jurisprudence. Millar shared this method with Hume and Smith. Implicit within the method was the abstraction of an ideal observer or spectator. This abstraction was derived from the use of an empiricist method to understand the operations of the minds of particular individual subjects on the pre-determined experience of immediate circumstances. The method assumed that the operations of subjects' minds on the objects of their experience included classification, comparison, generalisation, conjecture, inference, imaginative identification and experiment. Millar's method is therefore characterised as both conjectural and individualistic.

Through a critique of Ronald Meek's seminal statements on Millar's materialism, certain issues are investigated for further critical appraisal. These include Millar's political economy, his conception of civil society, and his political theory. It is argued that Millar had a conception of generalised commodity production and exchange; that this conception was derived from the assumption that subjects are self-interest; and that the latter assumption was necessary to explain the origins, emergence and development of civil and political society. Millar assumed that individuals' pursuit of self-interested goals gave rise to ideas of positive law, freely alienable property, different distributions of property, and feelings of liberty. It is suggested that Millar's theorisation of the effect of the latter on forms of government is derived from a combined use of Smith's principles of authority and utility with Hume's commercialised Harringtonianism.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
J Political Science > JA Political science (General)
K Law > K Law (General)
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Social and Political Sciences > Politics
Supervisor's Name: Berry, Dr. Christopher J.
Date of Award: 1998
Depositing User: Elaine Ballantyne
Unique ID: glathesis:1998-1740
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 19 Apr 2010
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:46

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