Knut Wicksell: Selected Essays in Economics - Vol. 2

By Knut Wicksell; Bo Sandelin | Go to book overview

36

JOHN STUART MILL, OM FRIHETEN {ON LIBERTY}

Translated by H.Öhrvall, second, revised edition, Stockholm, Bonnier, 1917

A few decades ago, the writings of British philosophers were virtually unknown in our country—and perhaps this is still the case (of course, this ignorance was partly due to the fact that until very recently almost no instruction in English was given in our grammar schools). In general, no more was known of Locke and Hume than that they were both empiricists or materialists and had been ‘refuted by Kant’—by his famous demonstration, unhappily since found to be erroneous, that ‘synthetic judgements’ such as mathematical propositions were also possible a priori, without the aid of experience. Bentham, James Mill and Bain were scarcely even known by name, John Stuart Mill was known as an economist, of course, but almost completely unknown as a philosopher; some forty years after publication, his Logic had still not made its way to Uppsala University Library. To be sure, On Liberty was translated into Swedish as early as the 1860s—in Finland (by F. Berndtson)—but I doubt if this rendering found many readers in Sweden, it being rather too unwieldy to appeal to public taste in this country, at least.

H.Öhrvall’s new translation, published in 1881, was therefore a real event; it can safely be asserted that within the circle of more or less adult young people (incidentally, a rather limited circle) conventionally known as ‘the Eighties’, 1 Mill’s Liberty became the original text and code in which notions we had previously but dimly sensed received clear illumination and binding logical coherence. That the suppression of views and opinions is an evil under all circumstances, even and not least if the suppressed view is false; indeed, what is more, that experiments with ‘new ways of living’ are to be regarded as a gain for the human race and ought to be encouraged instead of mocked or persecuted, provided they are not directly harmful to any other person—all this was rather novel at that time, not merely to the common way of thinking,

Originally published in Forum, 1917.

-236-

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