John Millar

John Millar was born in 1735 and his father was a minister but John rejected a career in the church. Instead he studied under Adam Smith at Glasgow University. He was also a friend of James Watt and David Hume and had a keen interest in philosophy.

In 1761 he became the professor of civil law at Glasgow University and his lectures became famous. He was also an accomplished historian and one of the earliest supporters of economic determinism. He published a number of works including Origin of the Distinction of Ranks in 1778, a book which suggested all social relations were determined by the economic organisation of society and spoke about the division of labour. He later published his Historical View of the English Government in 1787 which provided a history of England which was more detailed and factual than history writing up to that point had traditionally been.

Millar was a firm believer in reform and a supporter of both the French and American revolutions. This made him a controversial figure with the government although he managed to avoid persecution perhaps in part because he was by all accounts an extremely likeable and principled person.

He could be regarded as one of the founders of sociology and his work certainly influenced early sociologists like Marx. He died in 1801.