John Stuart Mill wrote: “Of all vulgar modes of escaping from the consideration of the effect of social and moral influences on the human mind, the most vulgar is that of attributing the diversities of conduct and character to inherent natural differences.”
Adam Smith said: “The difference of natural talents in different men is, in reality, much less than we are aware of; and the very different genius which appears to distinguish men of different professions, when grown up to maturity, is not upon many occasions so much the cause, as the effect of the division of labour. The difference between the most dissimilar characters, between a philosopher and a common street porter, for example, seems to arise not so much from nature, as from habit, custom, and education.
When they came into the world, and for the first six or eight years of their existence, they were a, perhaps, a very much alike, and neither their parents nor play-fellows could perceive any remarkable difference. About that age, or soon after, they come to be employed in very different occupations. The difference of talents comes then to be taken notice of, and widens by degrees, till at last the vanity of the philosopher is willing to acknowledge scarce any resemblance. But without the disposition to truck, barter, and exchange, every man must have procured to himself every necessary and conveniency of life which he wanted. All must have had the same duties to perform, and the same work to do, and there could have been no such difference of employment as could alone give occasion to any great difference of talents. ” –Adam Smith Wealth of Nations, 1.2.4-5.
Fairly often I end up asking myself what the word ‘obvious’ even means. It seems to me that nothing could be more obvious than the existence of very substantial inborn, heritable differences in cognition and personality. Growing up, I knew a couple pairs of identical twins: you could hardly tell them apart. That’s not just something that happened to me – twins aren’t a new thing. How was it possible to not notice family resemblance and clustering of traits in siblings? My geometry teacher expected me to do well because he’d taught my mother. Which wasn’t crazy, but why could he see what Mill and Smith couldn’t?
If people didn’t have roughly correct ideas about this, how did they ever breed different kinds of dogs, cows, and horses? I’m guessing that both Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill had at least heard of Thoroughbreds.
Every stock-breeder knew this, going back thousands of years. Every mother-of-several children knew it.
Both Adam Smith and John Stuart Mill were childless: likely this had something to do with their illusions on this issue. But is living a truth the only way to understand it? Don’t we have books?
Plenty of people today would support what Mill and Smith said: they’re wrong, and probably crazy. You have to wonder what’s going on in their pointy heads: what kind of fools are they?
Darwin had it right: “The ignoring of all transmitted mental qualities will, as it seems to me, be hereafter judged as a most serious blemish in the works of Mr. Mill.” – C. Darwin.
Blemish? More like a zit the size of the Ritz.