John Stuart Mill, an English philosopher and political economist,
was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. He was an
advocate of utilitarianism, the ethical theory first proposed by
his godfather Jeremy Bentham.
John Stuart Mill was born in Pentonville, London, the oldest son
of the Scottish philosopher and historian James Mill. John Stuart
was educated by his father, with the advice and assistance of
Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. He was given an extremely rigorous
upbringing, and was deliberately shielded from association with
children his own age other than his siblings. His father, a follower
of Bentham and an adherent of associationism, had as his explicit
aim to create a genius intellect that would carry on the cause
of utilitarianism and its implementation after he and Bentham
feats as a child were exceptional; at the age of three he was
taught the Greek alphabet and long lists of Greek words with their
English equivalents. By the age of eight he had read Aesop's Fables,
Xenophon's Anabasis, and the whole of Herodotus, and was acquainted
with Lucian, Diogenes Laërtius, Isocrates and six dialogues
of Plato (see his Autobiography). He had also read a great deal
of history in English and had been taught arithmetic.
contemporary record of Mill's studies from eight to thirteen is
published in Bain's sketch of his life. It suggests that his autobiography
rather understates the amount of work done. At the age of eight
he began learning Latin, Euclid, and algebra, and was appointed
schoolmaster to the younger children of the family. His main reading
was still history, but he went through all the Latin and Greek
authors commonly read in the schools and universities at the time.
was not taught to compose either in Latin or in Greek, and he
was never an exact scholar; it was for the subject matter that
he was required to read, and by the age of ten he could read Plato
and Demosthenes with ease. His father's History of India was published
in 1818; immediately thereafter, about the age of twelve, John
began a thorough study of the scholastic logic, at the same time
reading Aristotle's logical treatises in the original language.
In the following year he was introduced to political economy and
studied Adam Smith and David Ricardo with his father--ultimately
completing their classical economic view of factors of production.
1823 he co-founded the Westminster Review with Jeremy Bentham
as a journal for philosophical radicals.
intensive study however had injurious effects on Mill's mental
health, and state of mind. At the age of 21 he suffered a nervous
breakdown; as explained in chapter V of his Autobiography, this
was caused by the great physical and mental arduousness of his
studies which had suppressed any feelings or spirituality he might
have developed normally in childhood. Nevertheless, this depression
eventually began to dissipate, as he began to find solace in the
poetry of William Wordsworth. His capacity for emotion resurfaced,
Mill remarking that the "cloud gradually drew off".
was offered a place to study at Cambridge University, but instead
followed his father to work for the British East India Company,
and after the company was dissolved he was elected for a brief
period as an independent member of Parliament, representing the
City and Westminster constituency from 1865 to 1868. During his
time as an MP Mill advocated easing the burdens on Ireland, and
became the first person in parliament to call for women to be
given the right to vote. In Considerations on Representative Government
Mill called for various reforms of Parliament and voting, especially
proportional representation, the Single Transferable Vote, and
the extension of suffrage. He was godfather to Bertrand Russell.
In 1851 Mill married Harriet Taylor after 21 years of an at times
intense friendship and love affair. Taylor was a significant influence
on Mill's work and ideas during both friendship and marriage.
His relationship with Harriet Taylor reinforced Mill's advocacy
of women's rights. He cites her influence in his final revision
of On Liberty, which she died before being able to edit to completion,
and appears to be obliquely cited in the text of The Subjection
died in Avignon, France in 1873, and is buried alongside his wife.
One foundational book on the concept of liberty was On Liberty,
about the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately
exercised by society over the individual. One argument that Mill
developed further than any previous philosopher was the harm principle,
that is, people should be free to engage in whatever behavior
they wish as long as it does not harm others.
Stuart Mill only speaks of negative liberty in On Liberty, a concept
formed and named by Isaiah Berlin (1909-1997). Isaiah Berlin suggests
that negative liberty is an absence or lack of impediments, obstacles
or coercion. This is in contrast with his other idea of positive
liberty, a capacity for behavior, and the presence of conditions
for freedom, be they material resources, a level of enlightenment,
or the opportunity for political participation.
Mill argued that it is Government's role only to remove the barriers,
such as laws, to behaviors that do not harm others. Crucially,
he felt that offense did not constitute harm, and therefore supported
almost total freedom of speech; only in cases where free speech
would lead to direct harm did Mill wish to limit it. For example,
whipping up an angry mob to go and attack people would not be
defended in Mill's system.
argued that free discourse was vital to ensure progress. He argued
that we could never be sure if a silenced opinion did not hold
some portion of the truth. Ingeniously he also argued that even
false opinions have worth, in that in refuting false opinions
the holders of true opinions have their beliefs reaffirmed. Without
having to defend one's beliefs, Mill argued, the beliefs would
become dead and we would forget why we held them at all. He claimed
this had happened to Christianity.
important work of Mill's was Utilitarianism, which argues for
the philosophy of Utilitarianism. This philosophy was primarily
formed by Jeremy Bentham, but Mill's father James Mill was also
a proponent. Utilitarianism holds that actions are good in proportion
to the amount of happiness produced and number of people happiness
is produced in. Mill's main contribution to utilitarianism is
the idea of a hierarchy of pleasures. Bentham had treated all
forms of happiness as equal, whereas Mill argued that intellectual
and moral pleasures and developments were superior to more physical
forms of pleasure.
have pointed out that the doctrine of the absolute right to liberty
outlined in On Liberty and the absolute pragmatism of Utilitarianism
are difficult to reconcile. Under strict Utilitarianism for example,
freedom of speech ought to be violated if more happiness can be
generated that way. Most attempts to unify these two aspects of
Mill's thought have relied on Rule Utilitarianism, as that seems
to be what Mill had in mind when writing On Liberty.
main economic philosophy was one of laissez faire, but he accepted
interventions in the economy, such as a tax on alcohol, if there
were sufficient utilitarian grounds. He also accepted the principle
of legislative intervention for the purpose of animal welfare.
magnum opus was his A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive,
which went through several revisions and editions. William Whewell's
History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) was a chief influence.
The reputation of this work is largely due to his analysis of
inductive proof, in contrast to Aristotle's syllogisms, which
describes the five basic principles of induction which have come
to be known as Mill's Methods - the method of agreement, the method
of difference, the joint or double method of agreement and difference,
the method of residues, and that of concomitant variations. The
common feature of these methods, the one real method of scientific
inquiry, is that of elimination. All the other methods are thus
subordinate to the method of difference. It was also Mill's attempt
to postulate a theory of knowledge, in the same vein as John Locke.
is also famous for being one of the earliest and strongest male
supporters of women's liberation. His book The Subjection of Women
is one of the earliest written on this subject by a male author.
He felt that the oppression of women was one of the few remaining
relics from ancient times, one which impeded the progress of humanity.
This was an issue he actively supported throughout his life, writing
many newspaper articles and delivering many speeches on it.
cadets at the U.S Air Force Academy best remember him for the
following quotation, which is required memorization for all fourthclassmen.
"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The
decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which
thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who
has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is
more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature
and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the
exertions of better men than himself."
was also the first to use the term dystopia.
A System of Logic
(1844) Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy
(1848) Principles of Political Economy
(1859) On Liberty
(1861) Considerations on Representative Government
(1865) Examinations of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy
(1865) Auguste Compte and Positivism
(1869) The Subjection of Women
(1874) Three Essays on Religion