1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Mill, John Stuart
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Mill, John Stuart
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MILL, JOHN STUART (1806-1873), English philosopher and economist, son of James Mill, was born on the 20th of May 1806 in his father's house in Pentonville, London. He was educated exclusively by his father, who was a strict disciplinarian, and at the age of three was taught the Greek alphabet and long lists of Greek words with their English equivalents. By his eighth year 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 — Robertson's histories, Hume, Gibbon, Robert Watson's Philip II. and Philip III., Hooke's Roman History, part of a translation of Rollin's Ancient History, Langhorne's Plutarch, Burnet's History of My Own Times, thirty volumes of the Annual Register, Millar's Historical View of the English Government, Mosheim's Ecclesiastical History, M‘Crie's Knox, and two histories of the Quakers. A contemporary record of Mill's studies from eight to thirteen is published in Bain's sketch of his life. It shows that the Autobiography rather understates the amount of work done. At the age of eight he began 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, besides several that are not commonly read by undergraduates. 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. In the following year he was introduced to political economy and studied Adam Smith and Ricardo with his father.
Not unnaturally the training which the younger Mill received has aroused amazement and criticism; and it is reasonable to doubt whether the material knowledge which he retained in the result was as valuable to him as his father imagined. It is important, however, to note that the really important part of the training was the close association which it involved with the strenuous character and vigorous intellect of his father. From his earliest days he spent much time in his father's study and habitually accompanied him on his walks in North London. Much therefore of what he acquired was assimilated without difficulty, and the accuracy of his impressions was tested by his subsequently drafting a résumé of their conversations. He thus learned early to grapple with difficulties and to accustom himself to the necessity of precision in argument and expression. It was an inevitable result of such an education that Mill acquired many of his father's speculative opinions, and his father's way of defending them. But he did not receive the impress passively and mechanically. “One of the grand objects of education,” according to the elder Mill, “should be to generate a constant and anxious concern about evidence.” The duty of collecting and weighing evidence for himself was at every turn impressed upon the boy; he was taught to accept no opinion on authority. He was deliberately educated as an apostle, but it was as an apostle of reasoned truth in human affairs, not as an apostle of any system of dogmatic tenets. It was to prevent any falling off from this high moral standard till it should become part of his being that his father kept the boy so closely with himself. Mill expressly says that his childhood was not unhappy. It seems unhappy only when we compare it with the normal life of a boy and decline to imagine its peculiar enjoyments and aspirations. Mill complains that his father often required more than could be expected of him, but his tasks were not so severe as to prevent him from growing up a healthy and high-spirited boy, though he was not constitutionally robust, and his pursuits were so different from those of other boys of the same age.
From May 1820 till July 1821 Mill was in France in the family of Sir Samuel Bentham, brother of Jeremy Bentham. Away from his father he maintained his laborious habits. Copious extracts from a diary kept by him at this time are given by Bain; they show how methodically he read and wrote, studied chemistry and botany, tackled advanced mathematical problems, made notes on the scenery and the people and customs of the country. He also gained a thorough acquaintance with the French language. On his return in 1821 he added to his work the study of psychology, and that of Roman law, which he read with John Austin, his father having half decided on the bar as the best profession open to him. In 1822, however, when he had just completed his seventeenth year, this intention was abandoned, and he entered as a clerk in the examiner's office of the India House, “with the understanding that he should be employed from the beginning in preparing drafts of despatches, and be thus trained up as a successor to those who then filled the highest departments of the office.”
Mill's work at the India House, which was henceforth his livelihood, did not come before the public; hence some have scouted his political writings as the work of an abstract philosopher, entirely unacquainted with affairs. From the first he was more than a clerk, and after a short apprenticeship he was promoted, in 1828, to the responsible position of assistant-examiner with a salary of £600 a year. The duty of the so-called examiners was to examine the letters of the agents of the Company in India, and to draft instructions in reply. The character of the Company's government was almost entirely dependent upon their abilities as statesmen. For twenty years, from 1836 (when his father died) to 1856, Mill had charge of the Company's relations with the native states, and in 1856 he became chief of the office with a salary of £2000. In the hundreds of despatches that he wrote in this capacity, much, no doubt, was done in accordance with established routine, but few statesmen of his generation had a wider experience of the responsible application of the principles of government. About this work he said little in the Autobiography, probably because his main concern there was to expound the influences that effected his moral and mental development.
About the time of his entering the India House Mill read Dumont's exposition of Bentham's doctrines in the Traité de Législation, which made a lasting impression upon him. When he laid down the last volume, he says, he had become a different being. It gave unity to the detached and fragmentary parts of his knowledge and beliefs. The impression was confirmed by the study of the English psychologists, as well as Condillac and Helvetius, and in 1822-1823 he established among a few friends the “Utilitarian” Society, taking the word, as he tells us, from Galt's Annals of the Parish. Two newspapers were open to him — the Traveller, edited by a friend of Bentham's, and the Morning Chronicle, edited by his father's friend Black. One of his first efforts was a solid argument for freedom of discussion, in a series of letters to the Chronicle apropos of the prosecution of Richard Carlile. But he watched all public incidents with a vigilant eye, and seized every passing opportunity of exposing departures from sound principle in parliament and courts of justice. Another outlet was opened up for him (April 1824) by the starting of the Westminster Review, and still another in the following year in the Parliamentary History and Review. This year also he found a congenial occupation in editing Bentham's Rationale of Judicial Evidence. All the time, his mind full of public questions, he discussed eagerly with the many men of distinction who came to his father's house. He engaged in set discussions at a reading society formed at Grote's house in 1825, and in set debates at a Speculative Society formed in the same year.
From the Autobiography we learn that in 1826 Mill's enthusiasm was checked by a misgiving as to the value of the ends which he had set before him. This expression was the result, no doubt, of his strenuous training and the comparative lack of congenial friendships. His father was reserved, undemonstrative even to the pitch of chilling sternness, and among young Mill's comrades contempt of feeling was almost a watchword. Himself absorbed in abstract questions and projects of general philanthropy, he had been careless of personal attachment. On the other hand without experience he could not have been prepared for the actual slowness of the reformer's work. In 1826 he looked back to four years of eager toil. What were the results? He had become convinced that his comrades in the Utilitarian Society, never more than ten, had not the stuff in them for a world-shaking propaganda; the society itself was dissolved; the Parliamentary Review was a failure; the Westminster did not pay its expenses; Bentham's Judicial Evidence produced little effect on the reviewers. His own reception at the Speculative Debating Society, where he first measured his strength in public conflict, was calculated to produce self-distrust. He found himself looked upon with curiosity as a precocious phenomenon, a “made man,” an intellectual machine set to grind certain tunes. The outcome of this period of depression was a broadening of his outlook on the problems which he had set himself to solve. He now saw that regard for the public good was too vague an object for the satisfaction of a man's affections. It is a proof of the dominating force of his father's character that it cost the younger Mill such an effort to shake off his stern creed about poetry and personal emotion. Like Plato, the elder Mill would have put poets under ban as enemies of truth, and he subordinated private to public affections. Landor's maxims of “few acquaintances, fewer friends, no familiarities” had his cordial approval. These doctrines the younger Mill now felt himself forced in reason to abandon. Too much in awe of his father to make him a confidant, he wrestled in the gloomy solitude of his own mind. He gained from the struggle a more catholic view of human happiness, at delight in the poetry of nature and the affections as well as the poetry of heroic unselfishness, a disposition to study more sympathetically the point of view of opponents, a more courteous style of polemic, a hatred of sectarianism, an ambition, no less noble and disinterested, but moderated to practical possibilities.
In the course of the next few years he wrote comparatively little, but he continued his reading, and also derived much benefit from discussions held twice a week at Grote's house in Threadneedle Street. Gradually also he had the satisfaction of seeing the debates in the Speculative Society becoming famous enough to attract men with whom it was profitable for him to interchange opinions, among others Maurice and John Sterling. He ceased to attend the society in 1829, but he carried away from it the strengthening memory of failure overcome by persevering effort, and the important doctrinal conviction that a true system of political philosophy was “something much more complex and many-sided than he had previously had any idea of, and that its office was to supply, not a set of model institutions but principles from which the institutions suitable to any given circumstances might be deduced.”
The first sketch of Mill's political philosophy appeared in a series of contributions to the Examiner in the autumn of 1830 entitled “Prospects in France.” He was in Paris soon after the July Revolution, and made the acquaintance of the leading spirits among the younger men; in his discussion of their proposals we find the germs of many thoughts afterwards more fully developed in his Representative Government. It is from this time that Mill's letters supply a connected account of his life (see Hugh Elliott, Letters of John Stuart Mill, 1910).
The letters in the Examiner may be taken as marking the close of his period of meditative search, and his return to hopeful aspiring activity. It was characteristic of his nature that he should be stirred to such delight by the Revolution in France, and should labour so earnestly to make his countrymen understand with what gravity and sobriety it had been effected. Their own Reform Bill came soon after and it is again characteristic of Mill — at once of his enthusiasm and of his steady determination to do work that nobody else seemed able or willing to do — that we find him in the heat of the struggle in 1831 writing to the Examiner a series of letters on “The Spirit of the Age” which drew from Carlyle the singular exclamation “Here is a new mystic!” How little this criticism was justified may be seen from the fact that Mill's inductive logic was the direct result of his aspirations after political stability as determined by the dominion of the wisest (Examiner letters). “Why is it,” he asked, “that the multitude accept implicitly the decisions of the wisest, of the specially skilled, in physical science?” Because in physical science there is all but complete agreement in opinion. “And why this agreement?” Because all accept the same methods of investigation, the same tests of truth. Is it possible then to obtain unanimity as to the methods of arriving at conclusions in social and political matters, so as to secure similar agreement of opinion among the specially skilled, and similar general respect for their authority? The same thought appears in a review of Herschel's Natural Philosophy, written about the same time. Mill remarks that the uncertainty hanging over the very elements of moral and social philosophy proves that the means of arriving at the truth in those sciences are not yet properly understood. “And whither,” he adds, “can mankind so advantageously turn, in order to learn the proper means, and to form their minds to the proper habits, as to that branch of knowledge in which by universal acknowledgment the greatest number of truths have been ascertained, and the greatest possible degree of certainty arrived at?”
By 1831 the period of depression had passed; Mill's enthusiasm for humanity had been thoroughly reawakened, and had taken the definite shape of an aspiration to supply an unimpeachable method of search for conclusions in moral and social science. No mystic ever worked with warmer zeal than Mill. But his zeal encountered a check which baffled him for several years, and which left its mark in various inconsistencies and incoherences in his completed system. He had been bred by his father in a great veneration for the syllogistic logic as an antidote against confused thinking. He attributed to his early discipline in this logic an impatience of vague language which in all likelihood was really fostered in him by his study of the Platonic dialogues and of Bentham, for he always had in himself more of Plato's fertile ingenuity in canvassing the meaning of vague terms than the schoolman's rigid consistency in the use of them. Be this as it may, enthusiastic as he was for a new logic that might give certainty to moral and social conclusions, Mill was no less resolute that the new logic should stand in no antagonism to the old. In his Westminster review of Whately's Logic in 1828 (invaluable to all students of the genesis of Mill's logic) he appears, curiously enough, as an ardent and brilliant champion of the syllogistic logic against highfliers such as the Scottish philosophers who talk of “superseding” it by “a supposed system of inductive logic.” His inductive logic must “supplement and not supersede.” But for several years he searched in vain for the means of concatenation.
Meantime, while recurring again and again, as was his custom, to this cardinal difficulty, Mill worked indefatigably in other directions where he saw his way clear. The working of the new order in France, and the personalities of the leading men, had a profound interest for him; he wrote on the subject in the Examiner. He had ceased to write for the Westminster in 1828; but during the years 1832 and 1833 he contributed many essays to Tait's Magazine, the Jurist, and the Monthly Repository. In 1835 Sir William Molesworth founded the London Review with Mill as editor; it was amalgamated with the Wesminster (as the London and Westminster Review) in 1836, and Mill continued editor (latterly proprietor also) till 1840. Much of what he wrote then was subsequently incorporated in his systematic works: some of his essays were reprinted in his first two volumes of Dissertations and Discussions (1859). The essays on Bentham and Coleridge constituted the first manifesto of the new spirit which Mill sought to breathe into English Radicalism. But the reprinted papers give no just idea of the immense range of Mill's energy at this time. His position in the India Office, where alone he did work enough for most men, cut him off from entering parliament; but he laboured hard though ineffectually to influence the legislature from without by combating the disposition to rest and be thankful. In his Autobiography he admits that the attempt to form a Radical party in parliament at that time was chimerical.
It was in 1837, on reading Whewell's Inductive Sciences and re-reading Herschel, that Mill at last saw his way clear both to formulating the methods of scientific investigation and joining on the new logic as a supplement to the old. The Logic was published in 1843. In 1844 appeared his Essays on Some Unsettled Questions in Political Economy. These essays were worked out and written many years before, and show Mill in his first stage as a political economist. Four out of the five essays are elaborate and powerful solutions of perplexing technical problems — the distribution of the gains of international commerce, the influence of consumption on production, the definition of productive and unproductive labour, the precise relations between profits and wages. Though Mill appears here purely as the disciple of Ricardo, striving after more precise statement, and reaching forward to further consequences, we can well understand in reading these essays how about the time when he first sketched them he began to be conscious of power as an original and independent thinker.
That originality and independence became more conspicuous when he reached his second stage as a political economist, struggling forward towards the standpoint from which his systematic work was written. It would seem that in his fits of despondency one of the thoughts that marred his dreams of human improvement was the apparently inexorable character of economic laws, condemning thousands of labourers to a cramped and miserable existence, and thousands more to semi-starvation. From this oppressive feeling he found relief in the thought set forth in the opening of the second book of his Political Economy — that, while the conditions of production have the necessity of physical laws, the distribution of what is produced among the various classes of producers is a matter of human arrangement, dependent upon alterable customs and institutions. There can be little doubt that this thought, whether or not in the clear shape that it afterwards assumed, was the germ of all that is most distinctive in his system of political economy. This system, which for many years subsequently was regarded as authoritative, has been subjected to vigorous criticism by later economists, and it is perhaps not too much to say that it now possesses mainly an historical interest. Its chief importance is perhaps the stress which it laid on the vital connexion which must subsist between true economic theory and the wider facts of social and national development.
While his great systematic works were in progress, Mill wrote very little on events or books of the day. He turned aside for a few months from his Political Economy during the winter of the Irish famine (1846-1847) to advocate the creation of peasant-proprietorships as a remedy for distress and disorder in Ireland. He found time also to write elaborate articles on French history and Greek history in the Edinburgh Review apropos of Michelet, Guizot and Grote, besides some less elaborate essays.
The Political Economy was published in 1848. Mill could now feel that his main work was accomplished; he remained, however, on the alert for opportunities of useful influence, and pressed on with hardly diminished enthusiasm in his search for useful truth. Among other things, he made a more thorough study of socialist writers, with the result that, though he was not converted to any of their schemes as being immediately practicable, he began to look upon some more equal distribution of the produce of labour as a practicability of the remote future, and to dwell upon the prospect of such changes in human character as might render a stable society possible without the institution of private property. This he has called his third stage as a political economist, and he says that he was helped towards it by the lady, Mrs Taylor, who became his wife in 1851. It is generally supposed that he writes with a lover's extravagance about this lady's powers when he compares her with Shelley and Carlyle. But a little reflection will show that he wrote with his usual accuracy and sobriety when he described her influence on him. He expressly says that he owed none of his technical doctrine to her, that she influenced only his ideals of life for the individual and for society; the only work perhaps which was directly inspired by her is the essay on the enfranchisement of women (Dissertations, vol. ii.). It is obvious from what he says that his inner life became very different after he threw off his father's authority. This new inner life was strengthened and enlarged by Mrs Taylor.
During the seven years of his married life Mill published less than in any other period of his career, but four of his most closely reasoned and characteristic works, the Liberty, the Utilitarianism, the Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, and the Subjection of Women, besides his posthumously published essays on Nature and on the Utility of Religion, were thought out and partly written in collaboration with his wife. In 1856 he became head of the examiner's office in the India House, and for two years, till the dissolution of the Company in 1858, his official work, never a light task, kept him fully occupied. It fell to him as head of the office to write the defence of the Company's government of India when the transfer of its powers was proposed. Mill was earnestly opposed to the transfer, and the documents in which he substantiated the proud boast for the Company that “few governments, even under far more favourable circumstances, have attempted so much for the good of their subjects or carried so many of their attempts to a beneficial issue,” and exposed the defects of the proposed new government, are models of trenchant and dignified pleading.
On the dissolution of the Company Mill was offered a seat in the new council, but declined, and retired with a pension of £1500. His retirement from official work was followed almost immediately by his wife's death at Avignon, whither they had come in the course of a tour. So great was the shock that for the rest of his life he spent most of his time at a villa at St Véran, near Avignon, returning to his Blackheath residence only for a short period in each year. He sought relief in active literary occupation, in politics, sociology and psychology. He published, with a touching dedication to his wife, the treatise on Liberty, which they had wrought out together. He then turned to politics, and published, in view of the impending Reform Bill, a pamphlet on parliamentary reform. The chief feature in this was an idea concerning which he and Mrs Mill often deliberated — the necessity of providing checks against uneducated democracy. His suggestion of a plurality of votes, proportioned to the elector's degree of education, was avowedly put forward only as an ideal; he admitted that no authentic test of education could for the present be found. An anonymous Conservative caught at the scheme in another pamphlet, proposing income as a test. Soon after Mill supported in Fraser's, still with the same object, Hare's scheme for the representation of minorities. In the autumn of the same year he turned to psychology, reviewing Bain's works in the Edinburgh Review. In his Representative Government (1860) he systematized opinions already put forward in many casual articles and essays. His Utilitarianism (published in Fraser's in 1861) was a closely-reasoned systematic attempt to answer objections to his ethical theory and remove misconceptions of it. He was especially anxious to make it clear that he included in “utility” the pleasures of the imagination and the gratification of the higher emotions, and to show how powerfully the good of mankind as a motive appealed to the imagination. His next treatise, The Subjection of Women, was not published till 1869. His Examination of Hamilton's Philosophy, published in 1865, had engaged a large share of his time for three years before.
While mainly occupied in those years with philosophical studies, Mill did not remit his interest in current politics. He supported the North in the American crisis of 1862, using all his strength to explain what has since been universally recognized as the issue really at stake in the struggle, the abolition of slavery. It was characteristic of the closeness with which he watched current events, and of his zeal in the cause of “lucidity,” that when the Reader, an organ of science and unpartisan opinion, fell into difficulties in 1865 Mill joined with some distinguished men of science and letters in an effort to keep it afloat. He supplied part of the money for carrying it on, contributed several articles, and assisted the editor, Fraser Rae, with his advice. The effort was vain, though such men as Herbert Spencer, Huxley, Tyndall, Cairnes, Mark Pattison, F. Harrison, Sir Frederick Pollock and Lockyer were among the contributors.
In 1865 he agreed to stand as parliamentary candidate for Westminster, on conditions strictly in accordance with his principles. He would not canvass, nor pay agents to canvass for him, nor would he engage to attend to the local business of the constituency. He was with difficulty persuaded even to address a meeting of the electors. The story of this remarkable election has been told by James Beal, one of the most active supporters of Mill's candidature. In parliament he adhered to his life-long principle of doing only work that needed to be done, and that nobody else seemed equally able or willing to do. It may have been a consciousness of this fact which prompted a remark, made by the Speaker, that Mill's presence in parliament elevated the tone of debate. The impression made by him in parliament is in some danger of being forgotten, because he was not instrumental in carrying any great measure that might serve as an abiding memorial. But, although his first speech on the bill for the prevention of cattle diseases excited the opposition of country members, and a subsequent speech against the suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act in Ireland was very unfavourably received, Mill thoroughly succeeded in gaining the ear of the House. The only speech made by him during his three years in parliament that was listened to with impatience was, curiously enough, his speech in favour of counteracting democracy by providing for the representation of minorities. His attack on the conduct of Governor Eyre in Jamaica (q.v.) was listened to, but with repugnance by the majority, although his action in this matter in and out of parliament was far from being ineffectual. He took an active part in the debates on Disraeli's Reform Bill (moving an amendment to omit the word “man” and insert “person”), and helped to extort from the government several useful modifications of the Bill for the Prevention of Corrupt Practices. The reform of land tenure in Ireland, the representation of women, the reduction of the national debt, the reform of London government, the abrogation of the Declaration of Paris, were among the topics on which he spoke with marked effect. He took occasion more than once to enforce what he had often advocated in writing, England's duty to intervene in foreign politics in support of the cause of freedom. As a speaker Mill was somewhat hesitating, pausing occasionally as if to recover the thread of his argument, but he showed great readiness in extemporaneous debate. Viewed as a candidate for ministerial office, he might be regarded as a failure in parliament, but there can be no doubt that his career there greatly extended his influence.
Mill's subscription to the election expenses of Bradlaugh, and his attitude towards Governor Eyre, are generally regarded as the main causes of his defeat in the general election of 1868. But, as he suggests himself, his studied advocacy of unfamiliar projects of reform had made him unpopular with “moderate Liberals.” He retired with a sense of relief to his cottage and his literary life at Avignon. His parliamentary duties and the quantity of correspondence brought upon him by increased publicity had absorbed nearly the whole of his time. The scanty leisure of his first recess had been devoted to writing his St Andrews rectorial address on higher education and to answering attacks on his criticism of Hamilton; of the second, to annotating in conjunction with Bain and Findlater, his father's Analysis of the Mind. Now he looked forward to a literary life, and his letters show how much he enjoyed the change. His little cottage was filled with books and newspapers; the beautiful country round it furnished him with a variety of walks; he read, wrote, discussed, walked, botanized. He was extremely fond of music, and was himself a fair pianist. His step-daughter, Miss Taylor (d. January 1907), was his constant companion after his wife's death. “Helen,” he wrote to W. T. Thornton, an old colleague in the India House, “has carried out her long-cherished scheme (about which she tells me she consulted you) of a ‘vibratory’ for me, and has made a pleasant covered walk, some 30 ft. long, where I can vibrate in cold or rainy weather. The terrace, you must know, as it goes round two sides of the house, has got itself dubbed the ‘semi-circumgyratory.’ In addition to this, Helen has built me a herbarium, a little room fitted up with closets for my plants, shelves for my botanical books, and a great table whereon to manipulate them all. Thus, you see, with my herbarium, my vibratory, and my semi-circumgyratory, I am in clover; and you may imagine with what scorn I think of the House of Commons, which, comfortable club as it is said to be, could offer me none of these comforts, or, more perfectly speaking, these necessaries of life.” Mill was an enthusiastic botanist all his life long, and a frequent contributor of notes and short papers to the Phytologist. One of the things that he looked forward to during his last journey to Avignon was seeing the spring flowers and completing a flora of the locality. His delight in scenery frequently appears in letters written to his friends during his summer and autumn tours.
Yet he did not relax his laborious habits nor his ardent outlook on human affairs. The essays in the fourth volume of his Dissertations — on endowments, on land, on labour, on metaphysical and psychological questions — were written for the Fortnightly Review at intervals after his short parliamentary career. One of his first tasks was to send his treatise on the Subjection of Women (written 1861, published 1869, many editions) through the press. The essay on Theism was written soon after. The last public work in which he engaged was the starting of the Land Tenure Reform Association. The interception by the state of the unearned increment, and the promotion of co-operative agriculture, were the most striking features in his programme. He wrote in the Examiner and made a public speech in favour of the association a few months before his death. The secret of the ardour with which he took up this question probably was his conviction that a great struggle was impending in Europe between labour and capital. He regarded his project as a timely compromise.
Mill died at Avignon on the 8th of May 1873. He was a man of extreme simplicity in his method of life. Though occasionally irritable in speech, in his written polemics he was remarkable for courtesy to opponents and a capacity to understand their point of view. His references to his friends were always generous, and he was always ready to assist those whose work needed help. For example, he desired to guarantee the cost of the first books of Bain and Herbert Spencer. A statue in bronze was placed on the Thames Embankment, and there is a good portrait by Watts (a copy of which, by Watts himself, was hung in the National Gallery).
The influence which Mill's works exercised upon contemporary English thought can scarcely be overestimated. His own writings and those of his successors (e.g. J. E. Cairnes and Alexander Bain) practically held the field during the third quarter of the 19th century and even later. In philosophy his chief work was to systematize and expound the utilitarianism of his father and Bentham (see Utilitarianism). He may, in fact, be regarded as the final exponent of that empirical school of philosophy which owed its impulse to John Locke, and is generally spoken of as being typically English. Its fundamental characteristic is the emphasis laid upon human reason, i.e. upon the duty incumbent upon all thinkers to investigate for themselves rather than to accept the authority of others. Knowledge must be based upon experience. In reasserting and amplifying the empirical conclusions of his predecessors, especially in the sphere of ethics, Mill's chief function was the introduction of the humanist element. This was due, no doubt, to his revulsion from the sternness of his upbringing and the period of stress through which he passed in early manhood, but also to the sympathetic and emotional qualities which manifested themselves in his early manhood. We have seen, for example, that he was led to investigate the subject of logic because he found in attempting to advance his humanitarian schemes in politics an absence of that fundamental agreement which he recognized as the basis of scientific advance. Both his logical and his metaphysical studies were thus undertaken as the pre-requisites of a practical theory of human development. Though he believed that the lower classes were not yet ripe for socialism, with the principles of which he (unlike James Mill and Bentham) was in general agreement, his whole life was devoted to the amelioration of the conditions of the working classes. This fact, no doubt, should be taken into account in any detailed criticism of the philosophic work; it was taken up not as an end but as ancillary to a social and ethical system. Reference to the articles on Logic, Metaphysics, &c., will show that subsequent criticism, however much it has owed by way of stimulus to Mill's strenuous rationalism, has been able to point to much that is inconsistent, inadequate and even superficial in his writings. Two main intellectual movements from widely different standpoints have combined to diminish his influence. On the one hand there has arisen a school of thinkers of the type of Thomas Hill Green, who have brought to bear on his metaphysical views the idealism of modern German thinkers. On the other hand are the evolutionists, who have substituted for the utilitarian ideal of the “greatest happiness” those of “race-preservation” and the “survival of the fittest” (see Ethics, ad. fin.; Spencer). In the sphere of psychology, likewise — e.g. in connexion with Mill's doctrine of Association of Ideas (q.v.) and the phrase “Mental Chemistry,” by which he sought to meet the problems which Associationism left unsolved — modern criticism and the experimental methods of the psycho-physiological school have set up wholly new criteria, with a new terminology and different fields of investigation (see Psychology).
A similar fate has befallen Mill's economic theories. The title of his work, Principles of Political Economy, with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, though open to criticism, indicated a less narrow and formal conception of the field of the science than had been common amongst his predecessors. He aimed in fact at producing a work which might replace in ordinary use the Wealth of Nations, which in his opinion was “in many parts obsolete and in all imperfect.” Adam Smith had invariably associated the general principles of the subject with their applications, and in treating those applications had perpetually appealed to other and often far larger considerations than pure political economy affords. And in the same spirit Mill desired, whilst incorporating all the results arrived at in the special science by Smith's successors, to exhibit purely economic phenomena in relation to the most advanced conceptions of his own time in the general philosophy of society, as Smith had done in reference to the philosophy of his century. This design he certainly failed to realize. His book is very far indeed from being a “modern Adam Smith.” It is an admirably lucid, and even elegant, exposition of the Ricardian economics, the Malthusian theory being of course incorporated with these; but, notwithstanding the introduction of many minor novelties, it is in its scientific substance little or nothing more.
With respect to economic method he shifted his position, yet to the end occupied uncertain ground. In the fifth of his early essays he asserted that the method a priori is the only mode of investigation in the social sciences, and that the method a posteriori “is altogether inefficacious in those sciences as a means of arriving at any considerable body of valuable truth.” When he wrote his Logic he had learned from Comte that the a posteriori method — in the form which he chose to call “inverse deduction” — was the only mode of arriving at truth in general sociology; and his admission of this at once renders the essay obsolete. But, unwilling to relinquish the a priori method of his youth, he tries to establish a distinction of two sorts of economic inquiry, one of which, though not the other, can be handled by that method. Sometimes he speaks of political economy as a department “carved out of the general body of the science of society;” whilst on the other hand the title of his systematic work implies a doubt whether political economy is a part of “social philosophy” at all, and not rather a study preparatory and auxiliary to it. Thus, on the logical as well as the dogmatic side, he halts between two opinions. Notwithstanding his misgivings and even disclaimers, he yet remained as to method a member of the old school, and never passed into the new “historical” school.
Bibliography. — Works: System of Logic (2 vols., 1843; 9th ed., 1875; “People's” ed., 1884); Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844, ed. 1874); Principles of Political Economy (2 vols., 1848; many ed., especially ed. by W. J. Ashley, 1909); On Liberty (1859; ed. Courtney, 1892; W. B. Columbine, 1903; with introd. Pringle-Pattison, 1910); Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform (1859); Dissertations and Discussions (i., ii., 1859; iii., 1867; iv., 1876); Considerations on Representative Government (1861; 3rd ed. 1865); Utilitarianism (1863); Examination of Sir W. Hamilton's Philosophy (1865); Aug. Comte and Positivism (1865, ed. 1908); Inaugural Address at the University of St Andrews (1867); England and Ireland (1868); Subjection of Women (1869; ed. with introd. by Stanton Coit, 1906); Chapters and Speeches on the Irish Land Question (1870). The Autobiography appeared in 1873 (ed. 1908), and Three Essays on Religion (1874). Many of these have been translated into German, and there is a German edition by Th. Gomperz (12 vols., 1873-1880). A convenient edition in the New Universal Library appeared between 1905 and 1910.
Biographical and Critical. — Many of Mill's letters are published in Mrs Grote's life of her husband, in Duncan's Life of Herbert Spencer, in the Memories of Caroline Fox, and in Kingsley's letters. There are also editions of the correspondence with Gustave d'Eichtal and Comte (specially that of Lévy-Bruhl, 1899). By far the most illuminating collection is that of Hugh Elliott, Letters of John Stuart Mill (2 vols., 1910), which contains letters to John Sterling, Carlyle, E. Lytton Bulwer (Lord Lytton), John Austin, Alex. Bain, and many leading French and German writers and politicians. These letters are essential to an understanding of Mill's life and thought. Besides the Autobiography and many references in the writings of Mill's friends (e.g. Alex. Bain's Autobiography, 1904), see further A. Bain, John Stuart Mill, a Personal Criticism (1882); Fox Bourne, Life of J. S. Mill (1873); John (Viscount) Morley, Miscellanies (1877), ii. 239-327; J. E. Cairnes, J. S. Mill (1873), on economic theories; W. L. Courtney, Mataphysics of J. S. Mill (1879) and Life (1889); Douglas, John Stuart Mill, a Study of his Philosophy (1895), and Ethics of J. S. Mill (1897); Albee, Hist. of Eng. Utilitarianism (1902); Sir Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians (1900); J. MacCunn, Six Radical Thinkers (1907); Fred. Harrison, Tennyson, Ruskin, Mill (1899); John Watson, Comte, Mill and Spencer (1895); T. Whittaker, Comte and Mill (1905); Charles Douglas, J. S. Mill, a Study of his Philosophy (1895); J. Rickaby, Free Will and Four English Philosophers (1906); J. M. Robertson, Modern Humanists (1891); D. G. Ritchie, Principles of State Interference (1891); W. Graham, English Political Philosophy from Hobbes to Maine (1899). There are also a number of valuable French and German criticisms, e.g. Taine, Positivisme anglais, étude sur Stuart Mill (Paris, 1864); F. A. Lange, Mills Ansichten über die soziale Frage (Duisburg, 1866); Littré, A. Comte et Stuart Mill (3rd ed., Paris, 1877); Cauret, Philosophie de Stuart Mill (Paris, 1885); Gomperz, John S. Mill, ein Nachruf (Vienna, 1889); S. Sanger, J. S. Mill, sein Leben und Lebenswerk (Stuttgart, 1901); S. Becher, Erkenntnistheoretische Untersuchungen zu Stuart Mills Theorie der Kausalität (1906); E. M. Kantzer, La Religion de J. S. Mill (1906). See also histories of modern philosophy.
- Mrs Taylor (Harriet Hardy) was the wife of John Taylor, a wholesale druggist in the city of London. She was a confirmed invalid, and lived in the country, where Mill visited her regularly for twenty years, with the full consent of her husband, a man of limited mental powers, but of high character and unselfishness. Mill's friendship with Mrs Taylor and their marriage in 1851 involved a break with his family (apparently due to his resentment at a fancied slight, not to any bitterness on their part), and his practical disappearance from society. (On these points see Mary Taylor, Mrs Mill's grand-daughter, in Elliott's edition of the Letters.)
- He was one of the founders, with Mrs P. A. Taylor, Miss Emily Davies and others, of the first women's suffrage society, which developed into the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies, and his writings are still the most important theoretical statement of the case for women's suffrage. He presented to Parliament the first petition on the subject (see further Blackburn, Women's Suffrage Record).