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John Stuart Mill was a 19th-century English political philosopher and economist. He is known one of the most influential philosophers in history. He wrote many works on utilitarianism, religion, ethics, metaphysics, economics, epistemology, logic, and political and social philosophy. Some of Mill’s most famous works include: On Liberty, A System of Logic, Autobiography, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women, and Principles of Political Economy.

Early Life and Education

John Stuart Mill’s father rigorously educated him as soon as he could talk.

John Stuart Mill, not Stewart Mills, was born on Mary 20, 1806, in Pentonville, London, England to parents James Mill and Harriet Barrow. James Mill moved to London from Scotland in 1802 after studying at Edinburgh University. He befriended the Philosophical Radicals, including Jeremy Bentham, and intended his son, John, to follow in his radical footsteps.

John Stuart started learning Greek at three years old and Latin at eight years old under the direct supervision of his father. By age 12, his father had him read most of the classical cannon and covered the major English and Scottish historians, Euclid, and algebra. Between age 13 and 14, Mill learned calculus, political economics, experimental sciences, and logic. In 1920, he then spent a year in France and returned home to start working on major treatises of government, psychology, and philosophy.[1]

Depression and Recovery Through Philosophy

James Mill and Bentham employed John Stuart Mill as an editor and he started to write for different periodicals like the Westminster Review. He also founded several study groups and intellectual societies all before age 20. In 1826, Mill suffered a “mental crisis” under the pressure from his father. He also began to deviate from his father and Bentham’s ideas, which caused him to feel lost and depressed.[2]

Mill turned to the poetry of the Romantics to raise him out of the depression. He used the Romantics to acknowledge the necessity of culture as well as social reform. Mill read Wordsworth at first and moved on to Goethe, Carlyle, and Coleridge.[3] He explored the many movements outside the radical, rationalistic thought imposed on him by his father.

John Stuart Mill read Alexis de Tocqueville, Auguste Comte, Herbert Spencer, John Sterling, Frederick Maurice, John Ruskin, and M. Gustave d’Eichtal.[4] He found the cure to his depression while digesting all the different thinkers. He decided to try to reconcile and integrate the many opposing philosophical schools of thought.[5]


Harriet Taylor was the love of John Stuart Mill’s life and they collaborated on many of his famous, intellectual works.

In 1830, John Stuart Mill met Harriet Taylor at a dinner party. Harriet had married John Taylor, a kind, but simple pharmacist, four years prior, but she and Mill fell in love very quickly. The two visited one another alone supposedly as platonic friends until John Taylor’s death in 1849. Mill married Harriet in 1851 despite suffering a small, public scandal due to their questionable relationship prior to her husband’s death.

Mill greatly respected his wife’s intelligence and she coauthored many of his philosophical works. Historians and modern philosophers struggle to find the parts that are Mill and the parts that are Harriet. In 1858, Harriet died while the couple toured through France. Mill buried her in Avignon and purchased a house nearby. He lived there for the rest of his life.[6]

Professional and Political Careers

At age 17, James Mill got his son a job with the East India Company. John Stuart Mill began working under his father and eventually became the Chief Examiner of Correspondence, similar to the Undersecretary of State. The job allowed him to maintain a stable income and pursue his philosophical interests.[7] Mill worked at the East India Company from 1826 to 1857 as head of the company’s policies in India.[8]

The Liberal Party of England elected him as a Parliament member for Westminster in 1865. He refused to canvass for the seat and stayed in Avignon for most of the campaign and still won the seat. He focused on causes he felt unpopular, but vital, including Irish reform and extending the vote to women.[9]

John Stuart Mill’s attempt to legalize women’s suffrage involved amending the 1867 Reform Bill. He moved to change “man” to “person,” but failed to gain the needed support to make the correction. Mill also attempted to pursue a case against Governor Eyre of Jamaica while head of the Jamaica Committee. Governor Eyre responded to a black uprising with harsh marshal law, but Mill failed to successfully condemn him.

Mill managed to do some good during his short term after the 1866 Reform Bill was defeated. He used his good will to prevent a fatal clash between government leaders and the labor class.[10] Mill never served a second term, losing the seat in 1868.[11]

Later Life and Death

John Stuart Mill retired after his Parliament term ended. He returned to France and lived with Helen Taylor, his deceased wife’s daughter. He continued to read and write on political and social philosophy, ethics, and a variety of other subjects.[12]

Mill never worked in a university and never even attended university. He received an honorary position at the University of St. Andrews as a Rector and many thought of him as a religious skeptic. John Stuart Mill died on May 7, 1873, in Avignon, and was buried next to Harriet, his wife.[13]

On Liberty and Other Major Works

The philosophy of John Stuart Mill was rooted in naturalism or the belief that humans and their mind are totally a part of nature and subject to the same laws as the natural world. He believed that “What we are said to observe is usually a compound result, of which one-tenth may be observation, and the remaining nine-tenths inference.”[14] He used this to create a systematic science to investigate how environment and upbringing affect the formation of the human individual.

John Stuart Mill wrote On Liberty to address this idea of social conditions affecting the creation of character in the context of democratic societies. He applied this same idea to that of how women are formed in Subjection of Women, and himself in Autobiography.[15] Mill believed that “the legal subordination of one sex to the other - is wrong in itself, and now one of the chief hindrances to human improvement.” He blamed society for the subservient position of women and believed it could be changed through education.<ref>Heydt, 2017</>


In Utilitarianism, published as a book in 1863, he provides a secular, moral criterion to establish the difference between right and wrong. The principal of utility states that “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure.”<ref>Heydt, 2017</>

Mill received inspiration for his version of secular utilitarianism from William Godwin and Jeremy Bentham. The former wrote Political Justice in 1793 and introduced Mill to the idea of utility without religious obligation. Bentham focused more on legal and legislative reform while Stuart Mill employed it in ethical theories.<ref>Heydt, 2017</>



Heydt, C. (2017). John Stuart Mill (1806—1873). Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy[1]

Macleod, C. (2016, August 25). John Stuart Mill. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy[2]


  1. Macleod, 2016
  2. Heydt, 2017
  3. Macleod, 2016
  4. Heydt, 2017
  5. Macleod, 2016
  6. Macleod, 2016
  7. Macleod, 2016
  8. Heydt, 2017
  9. Macleod, 2016
  10. Heydt, 2017
  11. Macleod, 2016
  12. Heydt, 2017
  13. Macleod, 2016
  14. Macleod, 2016
  15. Macleod, 2016

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