John Mill

John Mill

English philosopher, economist and public figure
Date of Birth: 20.05.1806
Country: Great Britain

Biography of John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) was an English philosopher, economist, and social reformer. He was born on May 20, 1806, in London, to James Mill, a Scottish economist and philosopher who held a high position in the East India Company. Influenced by his father's Calvinist views, Scottish education, and friendship with Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo, James Mill became a strict and dogmatic follower of utilitarianism. His philosophy was greatly influenced by John Locke's theory of consciousness, which posits that the mind is a blank slate at birth and is shaped by experience. Following this theory, James Mill provided his son with a rigorous and intensive home education. John Mill, being a naturally gifted child, excelled in his studies, reading Greek at a young age and even began writing a history of Rome. When he turned fourteen and completed his education, he had a head start of a quarter century over his peers. However, this came at a high cost - Mill had no friends his age, did not play games, and was physically weak and socially awkward. He was not allowed to have days off, engage in childish activities, or read for entertainment. Furthermore, he was tasked with passing on his knowledge to his younger siblings, as his father no longer had time for them. The only solace in his life was the company of Jeremy Bentham, a close friend of the family known for his cheerful demeanor and eccentric behavior. Mill also spent a year in the south of France with Bentham's brother, Samuel, and his family (1820-1821), where he was exposed to continental culture and developed a taste for all things French. Despite his significant intellectual abilities, Mill was stubborn, unsociable, and cold in his youth. In 1823, he began working for the East India Company and rose through the ranks, like his father, eventually becoming the company's chief examiner and achieving financial independence for the rest of his life. Around the same time, he was briefly imprisoned for distributing Francis Place's pamphlets on birth control among the workers, as Mill hoped to curb the wave of infanticide.
Education and Early Career

In the winter of 1826, at the age of twenty, Mill experienced a nervous breakdown, mainly due to overwork and his waning interest in endless discussions and various projects for the improvement of humanity. Six months after recovering, he was determined to revive his atrophied emotions at any cost. Mill avidly read Wordsworth's works and even had the opportunity to meet him in person. Inspired by the ideas of the Saint-Simonians, he traveled to Paris in the midst of the 1830 events. Mill became close friends with the poet and essayist J. Sterling and, following his advice, joined a circle of S.T. Coleridge's admirers, who were the high priests of conservatism at the time. Mill intentionally sought out meetings with people whose ideas were significantly different from his father's, as he felt a strong aversion to anything narrow-minded or sectarian. Sometimes his opinions about people changed sharply, as was the case with Thomas Carlyle, whose manuscript, "The French Revolution," Mill accidentally destroyed and whom he regarded with extreme negativity for his autocratic mysticism. Despite highly valuing Auguste Comte, in the end, according to Mill, he suffered from megalomania. His assessments were sometimes more fruitful, as in the case of Alexis de Tocqueville, whose work "Democracy in America" served as a foundation for Mill's own political theory: democracy itself is not a panacea for all evils and can even give rise to the tyranny of an ignorant mob if it is not accompanied by intellectual and moral education. However, all these issues soon faded for Mill in comparison to the "chief blessing of his existence" - Harriet Taylor. Harriet, a beautiful, intelligent, and naturally dominant woman, grew up in a narrow religious circle of Unitarians, who considered social improvement (not political) as a crucial goal. After marrying the entrepreneur John Taylor at a young age, she later realized that he could not provide her with what she needed. Harriet had the ability to intuitively and unprejudicedly grasp the essence of problems that seemed insoluble to the more cautious Mill. Mill fell hopelessly in love, and she found in him a grateful teacher and a guide for ideas that were difficult and even dangerous for a woman to express at the time. Partly due to their aversion to the oppressive position that sexual relationships put people in, and partly out of a sense of duty to Harriet's husband, their relationship remained innocent for almost twenty years. However, adhering to the marriage vow was hardly pleasing to John Taylor - the nature of their relationship left no doubts, and their dates and joint trips abroad inevitably caused scandals.
Political Activism and Later Life

Despite Mill's rejection of the code of conduct inherited from his father, both John Mill and James Mill took concerted action in support of the Reform Bill of 1832 and against the new Whig Parliament. With the help of William Molesworth, Charles Buller, George Grote, and others, John Mill sought to continue his father's work and founded the party of Philosophical Radicals, the organ of which was the quarterly periodical "The London and Westminster Review." They intended to appoint the radical Whig Lord Durham as the chief editor. However, internal disagreements within the party, lack of public support, financial difficulties, and the death of Durham in 1840 led to the end of this endeavor. Convinced that "the intellectual regeneration of Europe must precede its social regeneration," Mill now directed his efforts towards creating educational literature. In his "A System of Logic" (1843), he criticized philosophies that posited innate ideas and "moral intuition" as the source of knowledge and behavior. Instead, he argued that knowledge is derived from experience combined with the ability to associate ideas, and moral sciences, like physical sciences, are guided by the principle of causality. Mill continued this battle in eight editions of his "Logic," as well as works such as "Utilitarianism" (1863) and "An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy" (1865).
Mill's next work, "Principles of Political Economy" (1848; second edition with significant additions in 1849), was based on the ideas of Ricardo but had a more radical character. According to Mill, economic motives, in addition to self-interest, should also include habit and custom. He challenged the classical school's notion of the immutability of natural law, demonstrating that wages, rent, and profit can be altered by human will. Instead of a wage labor system, Mill proposed the introduction of cooperative communities in which workers jointly own capital and exercise control over management. While individuals would retain the means they earned through their own labor, Mill advocated for heavy taxes on non-labor-based incomes, including inheritance. He believed that this would put an end to the formation of new capital, halt industrial development, and control population growth. In such a "static" society, there would be more free time to spend on education and solving social problems. Mill summarized his views on social issues in his "Autobiography" (1873): "To unite the liberty of the individual with collective ownership of the earth's natural resources and ensure an equal share for all in the benefits resulting from joint labor." In 1849, Harriet's husband passed away, and in 1851, she and Mill got married. The coldness of Mill's relatives led to a rupture in their relationship. For the next seven years, John and Harriet lived peacefully in Blackheath, where they discussed all the works that would later be published and even made joint sketches for future writings. Mill only published his works when he felt the time was right. As for his "Autobiography" and "Three Essays on Religion" (1874), they were published posthumously.
In 1858, when control of the East India Company was transferred to the state, Mill retired and decided to take a vacation in the Mediterranean with Harriet. For several years, he suffered from tuberculosis, which apparently also affected Harriet. During their travels, she suddenly passed away in Avignon. Mill was deeply devastated by this loss. He bought a house near the cemetery in Saint-Véran and lived there for most of his remaining years. His adopted daughter, Helen Taylor, sacrificed her personal life to fill the void in Mill's life after Harriet's death. After recovering from the tragedy, Mill published his famous "Essay on Liberty" in 1859, dedicating it to his "friend, wife, inspirer, and partly the author of all that was best in my writings." In 1861, he wrote "The Subjection of Women," which was published in 1869. Both books advocated for the principle of equality, which Mill shared with Harriet from the early days of their acquaintance and could be called the guiding rule of their joint life.
Mill slowly returned to a normal life. In 1865, he was elected to Parliament as a representative for Westminster, the stronghold of the Liberals. He participated in several public protests when his sense of justice was provoked, particularly in cases involving the harsh repression by Governor Edward John Eyre in Jamaica. Mill also became the first person in modern legal history to raise the issue of women's suffrage. However, he lacked political confidence, and in 1868, he was not re-elected, mainly due to his support for the atheist candidate Charles Bradlaugh.
In 1867, Mill participated in the establishment of the Society for Women's Suffrage and tried to convince its members to be more persistent in advocating for their rights. He advocated for the introduction of state ownership of natural resources and concluded his autobiography. In Avignon, he spent his free time studying botany with the entomologist Jean-Henri Fabre. Mill passed away in Avignon on May 8, 1873.
Many of Mill's works on logic and economics are considered outdated, and his position on ethics remains unclear as he was unable to provide a convincing list of morally acceptable actions performed in self-interest. Mill, seemingly unwilling to delve into the significant events and trends of his time, underestimated the significance of his contemporaries - Charles Darwin and Karl Marx - as well as the prospects and dangers of the era of labor mechanization. Most of his recommendations on specific issues have been either resolved (women's equality, compulsory education, cooperatives, universal suffrage, self-governing dominions, birth control regulations, more reasonable divorce laws, national parks) or dismissed as impractical (proportional representation by Hare's scheme, nationalization of land, open voting). These recommendations were articulated in his works "Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform" (1859) and "Considerations on Representative Government" (1861). His judgments on current events were not always entirely sound. His hatred for Napoleon III prevented him from seeing the more serious threat from German militarism. Loyalty to his own company prevented him from supporting necessary changes to the governing system in India. At the same time, Mill's authority was extremely high, transcending various classes of society. He was known and respected in many countries throughout Europe.
"Those who knew Mill only through his works knew only half of this man, and it was not his best half," said Fitzjames Stephen, one of his most famous opponents. William Gladstone, the leader of the Liberal Party, called him the "saint of the rationalist church," and his godson, Bertrand Russell, believed that Mill's greatness was based on his exceptionally high moral authority. He was a completely integrated individual, scrupulously fair, and fearless in pursuing what he believed to be right. His exceptional mental discipline allowed him to achieve remarkable clarity and persuasiveness in presenting ideas. It endowed him with the ability to distinguish truth from prejudice, consider each issue from different perspectives without losing his own convictions in the swamp of necessary compromises. He believed that all knowledge is the result of synthesizing various ideas. He did not reject approaches that differed from his own; if he found something valuable in them, he sought to incorporate it into his own system of ideas. The worst thing for him would be what he called a "comfortable sleep of a question finally resolved."
Mill is primarily known for his "Essay on Liberty," which formulates the reasons why society, pursuing its own vital interests, should ensure maximum freedom from moral or physical pressure for individuals. "The value of a state ultimately depends on the value of the individuals who make it up; a state that... restricts people to make them obedient instruments in its hands, even when it proclaims good intentions... will soon find that it is impossible to achieve anything great with little people, and the improvement of the governing apparatus, for which everything has been sacrificed, ultimately achieves nothing..." These words of dedication to "a friend, wife, inspirer, and partly the author of all that was best in my writings" have lost none of their significance over the years.