John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
by Gertrude Himmelfarb
Professor of History at the City University of New York (1985)

JOHN STUART MILL was born in London in 1806. A child of precocious intelligence, he was systematically educated by his father, James Mill, to follow in his footsteps as champion of the utilitarian philosophy. By the age of twenty he had achieved this aim: he was leader of the younger philosophical radicals, active as a propagandist in their intellectual and reforming pursuits. In 1826 however, he endured his first period of mental crisis and found he no longer believed in many aspects of the Benthamite creed. He then began a systematic examination of the alternative positions offered by Coleridge, Carlyle, the St Simonians, Comte and Tocqueville, while keeping his links with the utilitarian circle and contributing to their journal, London and Westminster Review.

By the 1840s Mill was able to put forward a mature reinterpretation of his philosophical position; his System of Logic (1843) and the Principles of Political Economy (1848) formed the basis for his dominant position in Victorian intellectual life. During the years 1859-65 he wrote the other works for which he is now famous: On Liberty, Representative Government, Utilitarianism, Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, and Auguste Comte and Positivism.

After working for thirty-five years in the East India Company, Mill was a Member of Parliament from 1865 to 1868, voting with the Radical party and strongly advocating women's suffrage. He was also concerned with such issues as the Irish land question, slavery and the American Civil War, income and property taxation, tenure reform, and trade unionism. He died at Avignon in 1873, having finished his Autobiography in the same year.