Mill, Free Speech, And The Discovery Process

Lynne Kiesling

More IHS seminar blogging: Steve Horwitz on James Taylor’s discussion of Mill’s stand on free speech as a discovery process. Free speech is essential to liberty and to the good life because no one has a monopoly on the truth. Nor, would I add, can anyone claim to know the truth in a proven, non-falsifiable way (yes, I’m an old Popperian).

I also like the twist that Steve added on Darwin and evolution:

I think this same argument can be extended to Darwinian evolution as well. Evolution via natural selection is a very similar sort of discovery process as markets and free speech. The implied vision of human natural and social life as being an interconnected set of evolutionary discovery processes is, for me, quite inspiring. We are all connected in our biological, social, economic, and intellectual evolution by similar sorts of discovery processes.

This idea goes back at least as far as Adam Smith, with whose work Darwin was quite familiar. I actually spent some time a couple of weeks ago looking for explicit proof in Darwin’s journals that the folk legend is true, that he formulated the idea of natural selection on the Beagle while reading Smith. If anyone has a reference for me on that point, I’d appreciate it.

3 thoughts on “Mill, Free Speech, And The Discovery Process

  1. Don Boudreaux, referring to a post of yours, cites Stephen Jay Gould’s assertion from The Panda’s Thumb that Darwin’s major influences included Dugald Stewart’s On the Life and Writing of Adam Smith.

    In Law, Legislation and Liberty Hayek reportedly asserts:

    Hayek (a Nobel Prize winner) cites, in a footnote, work done by H. von Foerster & Zopf and more particularly, in regards to the anticipation of the main conceptions of cybernetics by Adam Smith.]

    Cybernetics, in this usage, deals with early ideas about self-organizing or self-generating systems.

    It is widely reported, and seemingly credible, that Darwin could not have evaded Smith’s writings. Still, I find it more convincing that the mood of the times and the writings of many influenced the Scottish enlightenment and those who in turn studied it. Perhaps they recognized one another as fellow travelers finding various applications for the insights that animated that whole period, and continue to do so today.

  2. Lynne – the citation that Gould points to is this:

    Schweber, Silvan. 1977. “The Origin of the Origin Revisited,” Journal of the History of Biology, 10 (2), Fall.

    I made precisely the point you are making in my dissertation/first book. I had to go dig up the reference list to find this citation!

  3. Thanks! Even though we moved into our new/old house a year ago (51 weeks ago, to be exact), I still haven’t unpacked all of the books, and my Panda’s Thumb is in one of the boxes.

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