John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

Born: 1806. Died: 1873.


- All knowledge is derived originally from sense perception.

- Matter, or the external world, can be defined as the permanent possibility of sensation.

- Mind is reducible to successive conscious states.

- True inference is always accomplished through induction rather than deduction.

- Pleasure alone is intrinsically good and pain alone is intrinsically good and pain alone is intrinsically bad.

- Pleasures differ from each other qualitatively as well as quantitatively, a 'higher' pleasure being intrinsically better than a 'lower' pleasure.

- The only justification society has in interfering with the liberty of action of any individual is self-protection.

- Given the existence of evil, God cannot be both omnipotent and morally good; if he exists, he must be limited in power.


The particulars of Mill's life are too well known.

He is the son of the Ricardian economist James Mill, trained from an early age to be a genius, 'lent' by his father to utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham, became a utilitarian himself.

He followed his father into the British East India Company. He broke with Bentham. Then he had an existentialist crisis, and turned to the doctrines of Saint-Simon and Comte.

He met Harriet Taylor and waited twenty years for her husband to die.

He became a Whig politician.

John Stuart Mill was an economist, a Classical economist whose magnificent 1848 restatement of Ricardo's theory was thought to be so conclusive that, in the beginning of a discussion on price theory, he confidently notes that:

"Happily, there is nothing in the laws of Value which remains for the present or any future writer to clear up; the theory of the subject is complete: the only difficulty to be overcome is that of so stating it as to solve by anticipation the chief perplexities which occur in applying it." (J.S. Mill, Principles, 1848: Book III, Ch. 1).

Major Books of John Stuart Mill

- A system of Logic, 1843
- An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, 1865
- Auguste Comte and Positivism, 1866 (Reprinted from the Westminster Review)
- Autobiography, 1873
- Considerations on Representative Government, 1869
- The Contest in America, 1862
- On Liberty, 1859
- Principles of Political Economy, 1848
- System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, 1859
- The Subjection of Women, 1869
- Three Essays on Religion, 1874
- Utilitarianism, 1864 (Reprint from the Fraser's Magazine)

Major Articles of John Stuart Mill

- 1859, Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, Earl Grey Pamphlets Collection
- 1867, On the Admission of Women to the Electoral Franchise: Spoken the House of Commons, LSE Selected Pamphlets
- 1873, The Right of Property in Land: a Tract Written for the Land Tenure Reform Association, LSE Selected Pamphlets

Quotes from John Stuart Mill

- "Judging by common sense is merely another phrase for judging by first appearances; and everyone who has mixed among mankind with any capacity for observing them, knows that the men who place implicit faith in their own comon sense, are, without any exception, the most wrong-headed and impracticable persons with whom he has ever had to deal." (from "The Spirit of Age", 1831)

- "All political revolutions, not affected by foreign conquest, originate in moral revolutions. The subversion of established institutions is merely one consequence of the previous subversion of established opinions." (from "A Few Observations on the French Revolution", 1833)

- "Cooperation, like other difficult things, can be learned only by practice: and to be capable of it in great things, a people must be gradually traned to it in small. Now, the whole course of advancing civilization is a series of such training." (from "Civilization: Signs of the Times", 1836)

- "One of the effects of civilization (not to say one of the ingredients in it) is, that the spectacle, and even the very idea, of pain, is kept more and more out of the sight of those classes who enjoy in their fullness the benefits of civilization." (from "Civilization: Signs of the Times", 1836)

- "At the head of the Privileged, or in other words, the Satisfied Classes, must be placed the landed interest. They have the strongest reason for being satisfied with the government; they are the government." (from "Reorganization of the Reform Party", in The London and Westminster Review, 1839)

- "The convictions of the mass of mankind run hand in hand with their interests or with their class feelings." (from "Reorganization of the Reform Party", in The London and Westminster Review, 1839)

- "To find the means of accomplishing what borne politicians pronounce impracticable is the test of statesmanship." (from "Reorganization of the Reform Party", in The London and Westminster Review, 1839)

- "An aristocracy, when put to the proof, has in general shown wonderful facility in enduring the loss of riches and of physical comforts. The very pride, nourished by the elevation which they owed to wealth, supports them under the privation of it. But to those who have chased riches laboriously for half their lives, to lose it is the loss of all; une vie manquee [an unsuccessful life]." (from "M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America", in The Edinburgh Review, 1840)

- "[Economic] and social changes, though among the greatest, are not the only forces which shape the course of our species. Ideas are not always the mere signs and effects of social circumstances: they are themselves a power in history." (from "M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America", in The Edinburgh Review, 1840)

- "Hardly anything now depends upon indivicuals, but all upon classes; and, among classes, mainly upon the middle class. That class is now the power in society, the arbiter of fortune and success." (from "M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America", in The Edinburgh Review, 1840)

- "In an aristocratic society, the elevated class, though small in number, sets the fashion in opinion and feeling." (from "M. de Tocqueville on Democracy in America", in The Edinburgh Review, 1840)

- "Human beings can control their own acts, but not the consequences of their acts neither to themselves or to others." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "If competition has its evils, it prevents greater evils. ... It is the common error of Socialists to overlook the natural indolence of mankind; their tendency to be passive, to be the slaves of habit, to persist indefinetely in a course once chosen. Let them once attain any state of existence which they consider tolerable, and the danger to be apprehended is that they will thenceforth stagnate. ... Competition may not be the best conceivable stimulus, but it is at present a necessary one, and no one can foresee the time when it will not be indispensable to progress." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "In all the more advanced communities the great majority of things are worse done by the intervention of government than the individuals most interested in the matter would do them, or cause them to be done, if left to themselves." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "It is questionable if all the mechanical inventions yet made have lightened the day's toil of any human being. They have enabled a greater population to live the same life of drudgery and imprisonment, and an increased number of manufacturers and others to make fortunes. They have increased the comforts of the middle classes. But they have not yet begun to affect those great changes in human destiny, which it is in their nature and in their futurity to accomplish." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "Private property, in every defense made of it, is supposed to mean, the guarantee to individuals of the fruits of their own labor and abstinence." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "The cause of profit is that labor produces more than is required for its support." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "The really exhausting and the really repulsive labors, instead of being better paid than others, are almost invariably paid the worst of all. ... The hardships and earnings, instead of beign directly proportional, as in any just arrangements of society they would be, are generally in an inverse ratio to one another." (from "Principles of Political Economy", 1848)

- "There is nothing laudable in work for work's sake." (from "The Negro Questions", 1850)

- "The rules of ordinary international morality imply reciprocity. But barbarians will not reciprocate. They cannot be depended on for observing any rules. Their minds are not capable of so great an effort, nor their will suffeciently under the influence of distant motives. In the next place, nations which are still barbarous have not got beyond the period during which it is likely to be for their benefit that they should be conquered and held in subjection by foreigners." (from "A Few words on Non-Intervention", 1859)

- "A party of order or stability and a party of progress or reform are both necessary elements of a healthy state of political life." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Customs are made for customary circumstances and customary characters." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Ecentricity has always abounded when and where strength of character has abounded; and the amount of eccentricity in a society has generally been proportional to the amount of genius, mentor vigor, and moral courage it contained. That so few dare to be eccentric marks the chief danger of the time." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Human nature is not a machine to be built after a model, and set to do exactly the work prescribed for it, but a tree, which requires to grow and develop itself on all sides, according to the tendency of the inward forces which make it a living thing." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "I regard utility as the ultimate appeal on all ethical questions; but it must be utility in the largest sense, grounded on the permanent interests of man as a progressive being. Those interests, I contend authorize the subjection of individual spontaneity to external control only in respect to those actions of each which concern the interest of other people." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "In politics it is almost a triviality to say that public opinion now rules the world." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "In proportion to the development of his individuality, each person becomes more valuable to himself, and is therefore capable of being more valuable to others." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "In this age, the mere example of nonconformity, the mere refusal to bend the knee to custom, is itself a service." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "It is known that the bad workmen who form the majority of the operatives in many branches of industry, are decidedly of opinion that bad workmen ought to receive the same wages as good, and that no one ought to be allowed, through piecework or otherwise, to earn by superior skill or industry more than others can without it." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "[M]en might as well be imprisoned, as excluded from the means of earning their bread." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "No one can be a great thinker who does not recognize, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Originality is the one thing which unoriginal minds cannot feed the use f. ... They are more in need of originality, the less they are conscious of the want." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "People feel sure not so much that their opinions are true as that they should not know what to do without them." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Persons of genius ... are, and are always likely to be, a small minority; but in order to have them, it is necessary to preserve the soil in which they grow. Genius can only breathe freely in an atmosphere of freedom. Persons of genius are, ex vi termini, more individual than any other people-less capable, consequently, of fitting themselves, without hurtful compression, into any of the small number of moulds which society provides in order to save its members the trouble of forming their own character. " (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "So natural to mankind is intolerance in whatever they really care about, that religious freedom has hardly anywhere been practically realized, except where religious indifference, which dislikes to have its peace disturbed by theological quarrels, has added its weight to the scale." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "[S]ociety has now fairly got the better of individuality; and the danger which threatens human nature is not the excess, but the deficiency, of personal impulses and preferences." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Society can and does execute its own mandates: and if it issues wrong mandates instead of right, or any mandates at all in things with which it ought not to meddle, it practises a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression, since, though not usually upheld by such extreme penalties, it leaves fewer means of escape, penetrating much more deeply into the details of life, and enslaving the soul itself. Protection, therefore, against the tyranny of the magistrate is not enough; there needs protection also against the tyranny of the prevailing opinion and feeling; against the tendency of society to impose, by other means than civil penalties, its own ideas and practices as rules of conduct on those who dissent from them." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The despotism of custom is everywhere the standing hindrance to human advancement." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The effect of custom, in preventing any misgiving respecting the rules of conduct which mankind impose on one another, is all the more complete because the subject is one on which it is not generally considered necessary that the reasons should be given, either by one person to others or by each to himself." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The [free] individual is not accountable to society for his actions in so far as these concern the interests of no person but himself. Advice, instruction, persuasion, and avoidance by other people, if thought necessary by them for their own good, are the only measures by which society can justifiably express its dislike or disapprobation of his conduct." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The initiation of all wise or noble things, comes and must come from individuals; generally at first from some one individual. The honor and glory of the average man is that he is capable of following that initiative; that he can respond internally to wise and noble things, and be led to them with his eyes open. I am not countenancing the sort of "hero-worship" which applauds the strong man of genius for forcibly seizing on the government of the world and making it do his bidding in spite of itself. All he can claim is, freedom to point out the way. The power of compelling others into it, is not only inconsistent with the freedom and development of all the rest, but corrupting to the strong man himself." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The real advantage which truth has, consists in this, that when an opinion is true, it may be extinguished once, twice, or many times, but in the course of ages there will generally be found persons to rediscover it, until some one of its reappearances falls on a time when from favourable circumstances it escapes persecution until it has made such head as to withstand all subsequent attempts to suppress it." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "[T]he sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection. That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Though the silenced opinion be an error, it may, and very commonly does, contain a portion of truth; and since the general or prevailing opinion on any subject is rarely or never the whole truth, it is only by the collision of adverse opinions that the remainder of the truth has any chance of being supplied." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "[T]o extend the bounds of what may be called moral police, until it encroaches on the most unquestionably legitimate liberty of the individual, is one of the most universal of all human propensities." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "To refuse a hearing to an opinion because they are sure that it is false, is to assume that their certainty is the same thing as absolute certainty. All silencing of discussion is an assumption of infallibility." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "Truth, in the great practical concerns of life, is so much a question of the reconciling and combining of opposites." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "[W]hatever crushes individuality is despotism, by whatever name it may be called, and whether it professes to be enforcing the will of God or the injunctions of men." (from "On Liberty", 1859)

- "The test of real and vigorous thinking, the thinking which ascertains truths instead of dreaming dreams, is successful application to practice." (from "Considerations on Representative Government", 1861)

- "[T]he rights and interests of every or any person are only secure from being disregarded when the person interested is himself able, and habitually disposed, to stand up for them." (from "Considerations on Representative Government", 1861)

- "In the long-run, the best proof of a good character is good actions." (from "Utilitarianism", 1864)

- "It is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied." (from "Utilitarianism", 1864)

- "The creed which accepts as the foundation of morals, Utility, or the Greatest Happiness Principle, holds that actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." (from "Utilitarianism", 1864)

- "Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men should look on and do nothing." (from "On Education", 1867)

- "It was not the object of Demosthenes to make the Athenians cry out "What a splendid speaker!" but to make them say "Let us march against Philip."" (from "On Education", 1867)

- "Logic ... lays down the general principles and laws of the search after truth." (from "On Education", 1867)

- "The human mind is sometimes impelled all the more violently in direction by an overzealous and demonstrative attempt to drag it in the opposite." (from "On Education", 1867)

- "The most incessant occupation of the human intellect throughout life is the ascertainment of truth." (from "On Education", 1867)

- "There is nothing which spreads more contagiously from teacher to pupil than elevation of sentiment: Often have students caught from the living influence of a professor a contempt for mean and selfish objects, and a noble ambition to leave the world better than they found it; which they have carried with them throughout life." (from "On Education", 1867)

- "Those who follow the wrong have generally first taken care to be voluntarily ignorant of the right" (from "On Education", 1867)

- "After the primary necessities of food and raiment, freedom is the first and strongest want of human nature." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "Few learn much from history who do not bring much with them to study." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "Men do not want solely the obedience of women, they want their sentiments. All men, except the most brutish, desire to have, in the woman most nearly connected with them, not a forced slave but a willing one, not a slave merely, but a favourite. They have therefore put everything in practice to enslave their minds. The masters of all other slaves rely, for maintaining obedience, on fear; either fear of themselves, or religious fears. The masters of women wanted more than simple obedience, and they turned the whole force of education to effect their purpose. All women are brought up from the very earliest years in the belief that their ideal of character is the very opposite to that of men; not self will, and government by self-control, but submission, and yielding to the control of other." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "In the struggles for political emancipation, everybody knows how often its champions are bought off by bribes or daunted by terrors." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "So long as an opinion is strongly rooted in the feelings, it gains rather than loses in stability by having a preponderating weight of arguments against it." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "The true virtue of human beings is fitness to live together as equals; claiming nothing for themselves but what they as freely concede to everyone else; regarding command of any kind as an exceptional necessity, and in all cases a temporary one; and preferring, whenever possible, the society of those with whom leading and following can be alternate and reciprocal. To these virtues, nothing in life as at present constituted gives cultivation by exercise." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "Was there ever any domination which did not appear natural to those who possessed it?" (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing—the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others." (from "The Subjection of Women", 1869)

- "[H]appiness is the test of all rules of conduct, and the end of life. But ... this end was only to be attained by not making it the direct end. Those only are happy (I thought) who have their minds fixed on some object other than their own happiness; on the happiness of others, on the improvement of mankind, even on some art or pursuit, followed not as a means, but as itself an ideal end. Aiming thus at something else, they find happiness by the way." (from "Autobiography", 1873)

- "I frequently asked myself, if I could, or if I was bound to go on living. ... I generally answered to myself, that I did not think I could possibly bear it beyond a year. When, however, not more than half that duration of time had elapsed, a small ray of light broke in upon my gloom. I was reading, accidentally, Marmontel's "Memoires," and came to the passage which relates his father's death, the distressed position of the family, and the sudden inspiration by which he, then a mere boy, felt and made them feel that he would be everything to them—would supply the place of all that they had lost. A vivid conception of the scene and its feelings came over me, and I was moved to tears. From this moment my burden grew lighter. The oppression of the thought that all feeling was dead within me, was gone. I was no longer hopeless: I was not a stock or a stone. I had still, it seemed, some of the material out of which all worth of character and all capacity for happiness are made." (from "Autobiography", 1873)

- "No great improvements in the lot of mankind are possible until a great change takes place in the fundamental constitution of their modes of thought." (from "Autobiography", 1873)

- "The deep-rooted selfishness which forms the general character of the existing state of society, is so deeply rooted, only because the whole course of existing institutions tends to foster it." (from "Autobiography", 1873)

- "Whatever may be said of evil turning into good, the general tencency of evil is further evil." (from "Three Essays on Religion", 1874)

- "When once the means of living have been obtained, the far greater part of the remaining labour and effort which takes place on the earth, has for its object to acquire the respect or the favourable regard of mankind; to be looked up to, or at all events, not to be looked down upon by them." (from "Three Essays on Religion", 1874)

- "[The colonies are] a vast system of outdoor relief for the upper classes." (from "The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of the Great Economic Thinkers", by Robert L. Heilbroner)

- "[The British government in India] was not only one of the purest in intention but one of the most beneficient in act ever known among mankind." (from "Moral Man and Immoral Soceity", by Reinhold Niebuhr)


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