Audio: Listen to this post | © ClassicBooks.com
John Stuart Mill, a British philosopher, civil servant, and political economist, gained the attention of many due to his insistence on the need to give women equal rights as men at a time when this was considered a taboo. He also proposed many other philosophical and radical social reforms. Mill was one of the greatest thinkers of all-time, contributing immensely to economic theory, political theory, and social economy. Many consider him the most influential English-speaking philosopher of the 19th century. As a proponent of the ethical theory of utilitarianism developed by Jeremy Bentham, Mill made significant contributions to scientific methodology. The utilitarian believed that actions are right in proportion if they promoted happiness.
Personal life and education
John Stuart Mill was born on May 20, 1806, to father James Mill, a historian, and economist, and mother Harriet Barrow. He was the eldest son. Much of Mill’s education was covered by his father with assistance from Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. His family was extremely rigorous on how they brought him up. Rarely was Mill allowed to interact with children of his age other than his siblings. By the time he was eight, he had already learned Greek and read Aesop’s Fables, Xenophon’s Anabasis. When he was old enough, he followed his father to work for the East India Company and attended University College, London.
Mill and Harriet Taylor had an intimate relationship for 21 years before getting married in 1851. Brilliant in her own ways, Taylor was of positive influence on Mill’s works. The friendship and marriage between the two are what drove Mill into advocating for women’s rights. He was never shy to cite his wife’s influence, making it more apparent in the final revision of On Life.
Mill had a wide range of works. He was involved in developing the Theory of Liberty, fighting for women’s rights, political life, economic philosophy, utilitarianism, and many notable publications. One of his many works, Harm Principle, held that the best way to exercise power in a civilized community is to prevent harm to others.
Having lived in an era of slavery, Mill was actively involved in its abolition. He wrote an anonymous letter to Thomas Carlyle in which he rebutted him for supporting the heinous acts. Even his 1869 essay, The Subjection of Women, demonstrated Mill’s opposition to the human-degrading act. He termed it an extreme case of the law of force, explaining that whereas some benefited from slavery, it was marred with customary abuses of force.
In the same essay, Mill expressed the need for individual liberty. This involved allowing women the right to participate in society’s activities like working and politics. Mill thought that the best way to enjoy marriage life was to respect each other as man and woman, rather than making one inferior to the other. In the article, Principles of Political Economy, Mill expressed his support for interventions in the economy. This marked a significant shift from an earlier belief in free markets.
Mill had a successful life as a politician, social reformist, and philosopher. Most of his works continue to impact our lives, explaining the extent to which he strived to remain relevant.