Stephen Davies's Intellectual Development
Dr. Stephen Davies discusses his intellectual development, which really began with John Stuart Mill’s essay On Liberty. Mill’s essay encouraged Dr. Stephen Davies to think in ways he had never thought before. After reading this essay, he began reading the works of Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and many others. Through these readings, as well as his interactions with other people, his ideas evolved and continue to evolve today.
Stephen Davies’ Intellectual Development
My intellectual development, in terms of my general philosophical beliefs and my becoming a libertarian, began really when I was 15 or 16. The critical event was that when I was in high school, I was assigned to read John Stuart Mill’s essay, On Liberty. And this had a tremendous effect upon me. It made me think in a way that I don’t think anything I’d read up to that point had done. And it also had an effect of articulating instincts, if you will, that I had had before but never actually worked out or articulated clearly or in any kind of complex way. And so my intellectual development continued during that time. And that was when I first became aware of and was introduced to the works of people like Milton Friedman, Friedrich Hayek, and a range of other people.
Since then, I’ve been involved in libertarian activism and libertarian intellectual life for more years than I care to remember right now. And throughout this period, I’ve interacted with many, many people and learned a great deal from them so that my own ideas did not remain static but have developed and changed over time. So a lot of my ideas about history, for example, have undergone considerable evolution in the last 20 years or so. But, at the same time, I think it’s fair to say that my basic, kind of, presumptions, my basic instincts remain what they were when I first read that little short pamphlet by Mill all those years ago.
On a day to day basis I’m driven by interest in the ideas and by the belief that I want to make the world a better place, to do what little I can do to promote ideas that I believe, if adopted, or widely adhered to would improve the prospects for all people everywhere. So I see myself as motivated by a public spirit as well as a personal interest. What do I find most rewarding? I think, essentially working with young people, teaching and introducing young people to the ideas, and helping them to explore them has always been by far the most rewarding activity that I’m engaged in.