Did Mill Have a Theory of Argumentation?
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- Arts and Humanities; Philosophy
I begin by looking at passages in Mill's System of Logic that circumscribe the range of logic as he understood the subject. His logic is clearly too narrow to be the arbiter of the extended arguments presented in his Utilitarianism, On Liberty, and The Subjection of Women. Looking at Mill's argumentative practice in those works we see that he is noticeably concerned to deal with objections, more so even than in giving arguments for his position. His practice is shown to be consistent with his professed views about how opinions outside science and mathematics are to be justified. These views are stated primarily in On Liberty where Mill gives a standard of justification and proclaims the importance of dealing with objections as part of that standard. Given Mill's characterization of an art, or practice - also found in the Logic - it turns out that a case can be made that Mill's views on argumentation fit the criteria for an art, pretty much on a par with ethics as an art. In the sense that I give to 'argumentation theory' it seems entirely appropriate to say that implicitly Mill held a theory of argumentation, a theory distinct from other proposed theories of argumentation, and a theory worth further study and development.