John Stuart Mill

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Western Philosophy
19th-century philosophy <tr><td colspan="2" style="text-align: center;">
John Stuart Mill
Name: John Stuart Mill
Birth: May 20, 1806 (Pentonville, London, England)

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Death:</th> <td>May 8, 1873 (Avignon, France)</td></tr>

School/tradition: Empiricism, Utilitarianism

<tr><th style="text-align: right;">Main interests:</th> <td>Political philosophy, Ethics, Economics, Inductive Logic</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Notable ideas:</th> <td>public/private sphere, hierarchy of pleasures in Utilitarianism, liberalism, early liberal feminism, first system of inductive logic</td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influences:</th> <td>Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Hobbes, Locke, Bentham, Smith, Ricardo, Tocqueville, James Mill, Saint-Simon (Utopian Socialists)<ref>Template:Cite journal</ref></td></tr><tr><th style="text-align: right;">Influenced:</th> <td>Many philosophers after him, including John Rawls, Robert Nozick, Bertrand Russell, Karl Popper, Ronald Dworkin, H.L.A. Hart, Peter Singer</td></tr>

John Stuart Mill (May 20, 1806May 8, 1873), an English philosopher and political economist, was an influential liberal thinker of the 19th century. He was an advocate of utilitarianism, the ethical theory that was systemised by his godfather, Jeremy Bentham, but adapted to German romanticism.


[edit] Biography

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, some would say harsh, 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 were dead.

John Stuart's 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.

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 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 refused to study at Oxford University or Cambridge University, because he refused to take Anglican orders.<ref name="bio">Capaldi, Nicholas. John Stuart Mill: A Biography. p.33, Cambridge, 2004, ISBN 0-521-62024-4.</ref> Instead he followed his father to work for the British East India Company until 1858. Between the years 1865-1868 he served as Lord Rector of the University of St. Andrews, where he gave an inaugural speech on the value of Culture.

During the same period, 1865-8, he was an independent Member of Parliament, representing the City and Westminster constituency from 1865 to 1868. <ref name="bi2o">Ibid. p.321-322</ref> 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 intimate friendship. Taylor was married when they met, and their relationship was close but chaste during the years before her first husband died. Brilliant in her own right, 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 was published shortly after her death, and she appears to be obliquely referenced in The Subjection of Women. Taylor died in 1858 after developing severe lung congestion, only seven years into her marriage to Mill.

He died in Avignon, France in 1873, and is buried alongside his wife.

[edit] Works

[edit] Theory of liberty

Mill's On Liberty is one of the founding texts of liberalism and one of the most important treatises ever written on the concept of liberty. The book explores the nature and limits of the power that can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual. One argument that Mill develops further than any previous philosopher is the harm principle. The harm principle holds that each individual has the right to act as he wants, so long as these actions do not harm others. If the action is self-regarding, that is, if it only directly affects the person undertaking the action, then society has no right to intervene, even if it feels the actor is harming himself. Mill excepts those who are "incapable of self-government" from this principle, such as young children or those living in “backward states of society". It is important to emphasise that Mill did not consider giving offence to constitute “harm”; an action could not be restricted because it violated the conventions or morals of a given society.

On Liberty involves an impassioned defence of free speech. Mill argues that free discourse is a necessary condition for intellectual and social progress. We can never be sure, he contends, if a silenced opinion does not contain some element of the truth. He also argues that allowing people to air false opinions is productive for two reasons. First, individuals are more likely to abandon erroneous beliefs if they are engaged in an open exchange of ideas. Second, by forcing other individuals to re-examine and re-affirm their beliefs in the process of debate, these beliefs are kept from declining into mere dogma. It is not enough for Mill that one simply has an unexamined belief that happens to be true; one must understand why the belief in question is the true one.

Mill's statement of the harm principle in Chapter 1 of On Liberty -- "The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not sufficient warrant" -- seems clear, but in fact entails a number of complications. For example, Mill explicitly states that “harms” may include acts of omission as well as acts of commission. Thus, failing to rescue a drowning child counts as a harmful act, as does failing to pay taxes, or failing to appear as a witness in court. All such harmful omissions may be regulated, according to Mill. By contrast, it does not count as harming someone if (without force or fraud) the affected individual consents to assume the risk: thus one may permissibly offer unsafe employment to others, provided there is no deception involved. (Mill does, however, recognise one limit to consent: society should not permit people to sell themselves into slavery). In these and other cases, it is important to keep in mind that the arguments in On Liberty are grounded on the principle of Utility, and not on appeals to natural rights. The question of what counts as a self-regarding action and what actions, whether of omission or commission, constitute harmful actions subject to regulation, continues to exercise interpreters of Mill.

Mill is also famous for being one of the earliest and strongest 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, a set of prejudices that severely impeded the progress of humanity.

[edit] Utilitarianism

The canonical statement of Mill's Utilitarianism can be found in Utilitarianism. This philosophy has a long tradition, arguably beginning, albeit in different forms, with Aristotle, although Mill's account is primarily influenced by Jeremy Bentham, and Mill's father James Mill. Mill’s famous formulation of Utilitarianism is known as the “greatest happiness principle.” It holds that one must always act so as to produce the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. One of Mill's major contributions to Utilitarianism is his argument for the qualitative separation of pleasures. Bentham treats all forms of happiness as equal, whereas Mill argues that intellectual and moral pleasures are superior to more physical forms of pleasure. Mill distinguishes between "happiness" and "contentment," claiming that the former is of higher value than the latter, a belief wittily encapsulated in his statement that it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied.

The qualitative account of happiness Mill advocates thus sheds light on his account presented in On Liberty. As Mill suggests in that text, utility is to be conceived in relation to mankind "as a progressive being," which includes the development and exercise of our rational capacities as we strive to achieve a “higher mode of existence". Thus the rejection of censorship and paternalism is intended to provide the necessary social conditions for the achievement of knowledge and the greatest ability for the greatest number to develop and exercise their deliberative and rational capacities.

[edit] Economic philosophy

Mill's early economic philosophy was one of free markets. However, 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. [1] Mill believed that "equality of taxation" meant "equality of sacrifice" and that progressive taxation penalised those who worked harder and saved more and was therefore "a mild form of robbery".[2]

Mill's Principles of Political Economy, first published in 1848, was one of the most widely read of all books on economics in the period.<ref>Ekelund, Robert B., Jr. and Hébert, Robert F. (1997). A history of economic theory and method, 4th. ISBN 1-57766-381-0.</ref> As Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations had during an earlier period, Mill's Principles dominated economics teaching. (In the case of Oxford University it was the standard text until 1919, probably because the text that replaced it was written by Cambridge's Alfred Marshall). Mill was the last great political economist who championed the market system.[citation needed] After him the great economic thinkers eshewed value judgements and stuck to developing theory while allowing others to decide on policy choices.[citation needed]

Later in life, Mill moved to favor more socialist-oriented politics.[3]

[edit] Logic

Mill's 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 are deductive. Mill 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.

He was also the first to use the term dystopia.<ref name="Mill">John Stuart Mill uses the term dystopia in a parliamentary speech, possibly the first recorded use of the term. Exploring Dystopia, last accessed on 19th March 2006, see also [4]</ref>

[edit] Writings

Major works are in bold type.

[edit] See also

[edit] References



  • David O. Brink, "Mill's Deliberative Utilitarianism," in Philosophy and Public Affairs 21 (1992), 67-103.
  • Sterling Harwood, "Eleven Objections to Utilitarianism," in Louis P. Pojman, ed., Moral Philosophy: A Reader (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1998), and in Sterling Harwood, ed., Business as Ethical and Business as Usual (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1996), Chapter 7, and in [5]
  • Robinson, Dave & Groves, Judy (2003). Introducing Political Philosophy. Icon Books. ISBN 1-84046-450-X.
  • Samuel Hollander - The Economics of John Stuart Mill (University of Toronto Press, 1985)
  • Mill, John Stuart, A System of Logic, University Press of the Pacific, Honolulu, 2002, ISBN 1-4102-0252-6

[edit] External links

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John Stuart Mill

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