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John Stuart Mill

Mill, John Stuart, 1806–73, British philosopher and economist. A precocious child, he was educated privately by his father, James Mill. In 1823, abandoning the study of law, he became a clerk in the British East India Company, where he rose to become head of the examiner's office by the time of the company's dissolution (1858). During this period he contributed to various periodicals, becoming a popular journalist, and met with discussion groups, one of which included Thomas Macaulay, to explore the problems of political theory. His A System of Logic (1843) was followed in 1848 by the Principles of Political Economy, which influenced English radical thought. In 1851, two years after the death of her husband, he married Harriet Taylor, whom he had loved for 20 years. She died in 1858, and Mill, profoundly affected, dedicated to her the famous On Liberty (1859), on which they had worked together. His Utilitarianism was published in 1863, and Auguste Comte and Positivism appeared in 1865. From 1865 to 1868 Mill served as a member of Parliament, after which he retired, spending much of his time at Avignon, France, where his wife was buried and where he died. His celebrated Autobiography appeared during the year of his death.

John Stuart Mill's philosophy followed the doctrines of his father and his father's mentor, Jeremy Bentham, but he sought to temper them with humanitarianism. At times Mill came close to socialism, a theory repugnant to his predecessors. In logic, he formulated rules for the inductive process, and he stressed the method of empiricism as the source of all knowledge. In his ethics, he pointed out the possibility of a sentiment of unity and solidarity that may even develop a religious character, as in Comte's religion of humanity. In addition he introduced into the utilitarian calculus of pleasure a qualitative principle that goes far beyond the simpler conception of quantity (see utilitarianism). He constantly advocated political and social reforms, such as proportional representation, emancipation of women (he believed in total equality between the sexes), an end to slavery, and the development of labor organizations and farm cooperatives. He also strongly supported the Union cause in the American Civil War. Mill's influence has been strong in economics, politics, and philosophy.

See biography by R. Reeves (2008); B. Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill (1975, repr. 1988); M. Cowling, Mill and Liberalism (1963); J. M. Robson, The Improvement of Mankind: The Social and Political Thought of John Stuart Mill (1968); H. J. McCloskey, John Stuart Mill: A Critical Study (1971); F. H. von Hayek, John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: Their Correspondence and Subsequent Marriage (1951, repr. 1979); J. Riley, Liberal Utilitarianism: Social Choice Theory and J. S. Mill's Philosophy (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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