John Stuart Mill

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Jump to: navigation, search
Western Philosophers
19th-century philosophy
(Modern Philosophy)
John Stuart Mill
John Stuart Mill
Basic Information
Name John Stuart Mill
Dates May 20, 1806May 8, 1873
Place of Birth Pentonville, London, England
Place of Death Avignon, France
School/Tradition Utilitarianism
Major Works On Liberty, Principles of Political Economy, Utilitarianism
Main Interests Metaphysics, Epistemology, Political philosophy, ethics, economics
Influences Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, Smith, Ricardo
Influenced Many political philosophers after him, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Karl Popper, Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart, Peter Singer
Famous Ideas public/private sphere, degrees of Utiltarianism, liberalism
Quote That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.
-On Liberty
Philosophers By Era
Pre-Socratic, Ancient, Medieval, Renaissance
1600s, 1700s, 1800s, 1900s

Postmodern, Contemporary

John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806May 8, 1873), an English philosopher and political economist, was an influential classical 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 eldest son of the Scottish philosopher, economist and historian James Mill. Mill 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 boys his own age. 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 were dead.

His 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.

A 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. He 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.

In 1823 he co-founded the Westminster Review with Jeremy Bentham as a journal for philosophical radicals.

This 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".

Mill worked 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 and the extension of suffrage. He was godfather to Bertrand Russell.

Harriet Taylor
Harriet Taylor

In 1851 Mill married Harriet Taylor after 21 years of an at times intense friendship. 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 died in Avignon, France in 1873.


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 formed 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.

John 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.

Thus Mill argued that it is Government's role only to remove the barriers, such as laws, to behaviors that do not harm others.

Mill's magnum opus was his A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, which went through several revisions and editions. In particular, the eighth edition, in 1872, had several new and controversial information and supplements added. There he evaluates Aristotle's categories and gives his own system. He gives his theory of terms and propositions and focuses on the inductive process. 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 are deductive. Mill formulates five methods of induction -- 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.


External links

Wikisource has original works written by or about:
Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to:

See also

The Liberalism Series
Part of the Politics series
Classical liberalism
American liberalism
Liberalism in Europe
Economic liberalism
Social liberalism
Contributions to liberal theory
Free market & Mixed economy
Individual rights & Civil rights
Negative liberty & Positive liberty
Liberal democracy
Open society
Liberalism worldwide
Liberal International
ELDR - ALDE / CALD / ALN / Relial
Politics Portal - Edit this box

Personal tools