Mill, John Stuart
- Jose Harris
John Stuart Mill (1806–1873)
Mill, John Stuart (1806–1873), philosopher, economist, and advocate of women's rights, was born on 20 May 1806 at 13 Rodney Street, Pentonville, London. He was the eldest of the nine children of the Scottish-born utilitarian philosopher and Benthamite reformer James Mill (1773–1836), and his wife, Harriet, née Burrow (1782–1854). His paternal grandfather, a Calvinist village shoemaker in Forfarshire, had married the clever and socially ambitious daughter of a farmer who had once been a Jacobite. His grandparents on his mother's side managed a private lunatic asylum in Hoxton, then a rural suburb on the outer edge of north-east London. The child was named after his godfather, Sir John Stuart of Fettercairn, whose patronage had helped James Mill to study at Edinburgh University and later to seek his fortunes in England.
Despite what he called the 'uneventfulness' of his career, few lives have been more closely scrutinized than that of John Stuart Mill. This attention has stemmed partly from the unusual circumstances of his upbringing and marriage, partly from the detailed narrative of his own mental development that Mill left in his Autobiography, and partly from the continuing interest in his political, philosophical, and popular writings still widely felt by readers in many countries at the end of the twentieth century. Mill's Autobiography, composed mainly during the 1850s, but not published until after his death in 1873, was a pioneering essay in the literary genre of psychological self-analysis. But it was also a somewhat disingenuous work, in that it left out as much as it revealed, it was carefully revised at the time of writing by Mill's wife, Harriet Taylor, née Hardy [see Mill, Harriet (1807-1858)], and it recounted with great lucidity and certainty a series of multi-faceted events many of which had occurred years or even decades earlier. The Autobiography conveniently divided Mill's life into three developmental phases. The first phase, his childhood and early youth, had been dominated by the all-encompassing personality, philosophy, and educational theories of his father. The second phase was the mental crisis of his early manhood, as an outcome of which he had at least partly rejected utilitarianism, and sought new avenues of friendship and personal enlightenment in poetry, German Romanticism, and philosophical high toryism. During the third phase further horizons were opened by the influence of his soulmate and eventual wife, Mrs Taylor. To these three phases may be added the period, covered more briefly in the Autobiography, in which Mill after the death of his wife for a time played an active role in radical and parliamentary politics. In this latter phase he also published the series of popular writings on social and political theory for which he is best-known to posterity, most notably An Essay on Liberty and The Subjection of Women. At all stages the interpreter of Mill's life is faced with three underlying questions: namely, how accurate was the account in the Autobiography, how significant were the events and influences that it glossed over, and what was the relationship between Mill's personal history and the different phases in the evolution of his opinions and ideas?
Childhood and early youth
The earlier years of John Mill's life were spent in circumstances of 'rigid frugality', both economic and emotional. In the 1800s his father's ambitions for a public career were constantly thwarted by the unorthodoxy of his views on politics and religion, while the continual birth of children, combined with obligations to hard-up Scots relatives, meant that money in the Mill household was always in short supply. The family lived in cramped, cheaply rented accommodation owned by Mrs Mill's mother, first in Pentonville and then in Newington Green; then in 1814 they moved to a more spacious house in Queen Square subsidized by Jeremy Bentham. The Mill parents were an ill-matched pair: James Mill, dry, sardonic, and short-tempered, was immersed in abstract logic and political reform, while his wife, acknowledged in her youth as a woman of exceptional beauty and good nature, was gradually reduced to the role of housemaid and ‘squah’ and submerged in domesticity. John later recalled himself as growing up 'in the absence of love and the presence of fear'. His father was 'constitutionally irritable' and lacking in tenderness, while his mother, crushed under her husband's scarcely veiled contempt, was unable to meet the emotional, rather than merely practical, needs of her growing brood of children (Collected Works, 1.52–3). References to Mrs Mill in her son's draft autobiography, though expunged from the published version, bore witness to his lifelong grievance against her shallowness of feeling and lack of 'strong good sense' (ibid., 1.612).
Among the children themselves, John later implied, relations were less warm and intimate than might have been expected in such an extensive family; and he portrayed himself as having been on occasion actively disliked by his younger brothers and sisters. If this was so (and some contemporary accounts suggest a quite different view) it was almost certainly linked to the remorseless application of James Mill's educational theories. The elder Mill was a disciple not just of Bentham and utilitarianism, but of Hartley and Locke: he believed with Locke that the human mind came into the world as a tabula rasa on which knowledge and disposition were subsequently engraved by the experience of the senses; and he believed with Hartley that human behaviour could be indefinitely moulded and modified by the deliberate application of ‘associationist’ psychology. It may initially have been domestic economy that induced James to undertake the education of his own children; but, faced in his eldest son with a child of quite unusual mental ability, it soon became a matter of prolonged intellectual obsession for him. The young John was set to learn Greek at the age of three, and by the time he was eight had studied the Greek texts of Aesop's fables, Xenophon's Anabasis, Herodotus, parts of Lucian, Diogenes Laertius, and six of Plato's dialogues. Extensive reading among Scottish and English historians was also prescribed, and between the ages of four and nine the boy walked every day with his father in the lanes of Hornsey, recounting what he had learned from the works of Hume, Robertson, Millar, Gibbon, Burnet, Hooke, and Watson's Philip the Second. Arithmetic 'was the task of the evenings, and I well remember its disagreeableness' (Collected Works, 1.9). During his eighth year he progressed to Euclid, algebra, and Latin. By his twelfth birthday he had started on Aristotle, Sophocles, and Euripides, had finished the Greek texts of the Iliad and the Odyssey, and had read much of Virgil, Horace, Ovid, Terence, and Cicero, though 'Tacitus I do not think I meddled with till my thirteenth year' (ibid., 1.14). For his own pleasure, and 'in imitation of my father', the young Mill started work on his own histories of Holland, Rome, India, and even a 'universal' history. He also composed dramas on historical subjects, and devoured works on physics and chemistry. At twelve he moved on to logic, using as textbooks Aristotle's organon and Hobbes's Computatio, sive, Logica, and at thirteen to political economy. At his father's insistence he also undertook 'one of the most disagreeable of my tasks' (ibid., 1.17): the composition of verses in English, a skill valued by James Mill not for its own sake but as a useful exercise in rhetoric. In addition he was from the age of eight actively involved in assisting with James Mill's own writing—correcting proofs of articles and later of The History of British India. He enjoyed music, and became an excellent if unorthodox performer on the piano, which throughout life was to be his only manual skill (many years later his instinctive scorn for phrenology was confirmed when one of its exponents diagnosed his cranium as showing peculiar aptitude for manual dexterity). In all these matters his father:
demanded of me not only the utmost that I could do, but much that I could by no possibility have done … He was often, and much beyond reason, provoked by my failures in cases where success could not have been expected; but in the main his method was right.ibid., 1.8–33
From an early age Mill was required not merely to pursue his own self-education, but to help his father teach his eight siblings. On at least one occasion Mrs Mill refused John a holiday because he could not be spared from instructing the younger children. An account by Francis Place dating from 1814 (when John was eight) recorded that the boy worked alone with his father from 5 to 9 a.m., then assisted James until noon with the lessons of two younger sisters. 'There is not a moment's relaxation … no fault however trivial escapes [James's] notice; none goes without reprehension or punishment.' On one occasion all three children were kept at their books until 6 p.m. without a midday meal: 'the fault today is a mistake in one word' (Packe, 32–4). These duties increased after 1818, when James Mill obtained a full-time post with the East India Company, and John's letters show that even into his thirties he was still actively instructing two of the younger brothers, then studying at the recently founded University College.
Despite these unusual pressures, however, Mill's boyhood afforded some remarkable routes of entry into the outside world, and he certainly felt in later life that the mixture of rigorous tutelage and self-teaching had been an immense intellectual asset. Notwithstanding his financial difficulties James Mill was to become the close associate of the leading radical intellectuals of the age, many of whom were frequent visitors in the Mill domestic circle. These included not just Jeremy Bentham, who was James's mentor and patron from 1808, but the economist David Ricardo, the legal philosopher John Austin, the classical historian George Grote, the radical artisan Francis Place, and many others. From 1812 the summer months, albeit without remission of study, were passed at Bentham's country house at Ford Abbey (a setting that Mill later recalled as having awakened his fondness for picturesque surroundings); and in 1820, at the age of fourteen, he spent a year in the south of France in the much more relaxed household of Bentham's brother, the naval architectural engineer General Sir Samuel Bentham. There, to the amazement of Sir Samuel's family, he continued to study for nine hours a day. But the visit was to be of seminal importance in laying the foundations of his lifelong enthusiasm for French society and culture, and in extending his knowledge—through attending lectures at the University of Montpellier—of debates in the natural sciences. He also discovered the pleasures of mountain walking, and, through the influence of Sir Samuel's son George Bentham, of collecting botanical specimens—both to become the leisure pursuits of a lifetime.
On Mill's return to England it might have been expected that he would prepare for university, particularly since his godfather, Sir John Stuart, had left a legacy of £500 to pay for his education at Cambridge. James Mill obstinately refused to allow this, however, on the ground that his son 'already knew more than he could learn at Cambridge' (Packe, 49). A year later, through the invitation of Charles Austin (younger brother of the legal philosopher), John was to star as a visiting speaker at the Cambridge Union, where he 'left a great impression' by his 'massive power in disputation, uttered from a flimsy body in the creaking tones of sixteen' (ibid., 52). But James insisted that he remain at home, to continue the education of the younger children, to prepare for a career in the law, and to resume his work as James's own amanuensis. In winter 1821–2 he began to read for the bar, was privately tutored in Roman law and Blackstone's Commentaries by John Austin, and for the first time studied the legal and political theories of Jeremy Bentham, published in their French form by Dumont under the title La traité de législation. Despite his supposedly Benthamite upbringing this was the first time John Mill had directly encountered the works of the great man, and he later recalled it as 'an epoch in my life; one of the turning points in my mental history'. For the first time the ‘greatest happiness principle’, taught by his father as an abstract Platonic dogma, 'burst upon me with all the force of novelty' as a principle that laid the axe to all conventional maxims of public and private morality.
The feeling rushed upon me, that all previous moralists were superseded and here indeed was the commencement of a new era in thought … The ‘principle of utility’ … gave unity to my conception of things. I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy … a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principal outward purpose of a life.Collected Works, 1.57–9
Mill's personal conversion to Benthamism heralded a hyperactive period in his life in many spheres. Early in 1823 he gave up the bar, and was appointed to a full-time junior clerkship in his father's department at the India Office (where he was to remain, progressing upwards to the post of examiner, for the whole of his professional career). This, however, was to prove the least of his new activities, for throughout life he was to find official duties 'an actual rest from the other mental occupations which I have carried on simultaneously with them' (Collected Works, 1.85). Both during and outside office hours he continued to assist James Mill with his writings on political economy and on the analysis of mind. He began to associate much more closely with the major figures in his father's circle, and also acquired a younger circle of his own (Roebuck, Buller, Tooke, Romilly, Charles Austin, and others) who formed the nucleus of the group later known as the philosophical radicals. In 1823 he spent two nights in gaol, having been prosecuted by the Middlesex magistrates for distributing Malthusian birth-control literature in the servants' basements of large houses—the first public statement of what was to become his lifelong conviction that the best cure for lower-class poverty was family limitation. In winter 1822–3 he formed a Utilitarian Society, a small coterie of young men dedicated to 'Utility as their standard in ethics and politics', who for the next four years met fortnightly to discuss questions 'conformably to the premises thus agreed on' (ibid., 1.81). The membership of this society overlapped with that of another informal group, which met at Grote's house for early morning discussions of mental philosophy. From 1825 Mill also attended the London Debating Society, where utilitarians and political economists were locked in combat with whigs, tories, followers of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and disciples of Robert Owen. He began to publish reviews and essays in his own right, first in The Traveller and the Morning Chronicle, and then more substantially in the Westminster Review, founded in 1823 by Bentham and others as a radical alternative to the whig Edinburgh and the tory Quarterly. In 1824–6 he acted as Bentham's research assistant in preparing the eight-volume Rationale of Judicial Evidence, a work of massive erudition, logical power, and stylistic complexity, that was to become the locus classicus of Benthamite legal theory. Looking back in later years, Mill recalled the mid-1820s as the high tide of the utilitarian school: a period when the Benthamite critique of law and government came together with political economy, Hartleian metaphysics, and Malthus's population theory, to pose what seemed an irresistible challenge to established aristocratic interests in society, church, and state. Within government itself, a new generation of reformist ministers headed by Canning and Peel showed signs of being susceptible to new currents of thought, while outside government a highly articulate school of brilliant young men dedicated themselves to far-reaching strategies of moral, legal, and social reform. Of these young men Mill himself, his 'mind directly formed' by his father, his 'object in life' defined for him by Bentham, seemed predestined to be the natural leader and most powerful intellectual force.
The ‘mental crisis’, 1826–1827
The halting of Mill's career as a ‘mere reasoning machine’ of Benthamite utilitarianism was intimately linked with what he later termed his mental crisis of 1826–7. 'The time came', he recorded, 'when I awakened … as from a dream'. Normal pleasures became 'insipid or indifferent' to him, and he found himself in a 'dull state of nerves', which he compared to the feelings of a convert to Methodism smitten by conviction of sin. He asked himself whether the instant fulfilment of all his plans for human betterment would give him happiness, 'and an irrepressible self-consciousness distinctly answered, “No!”. At this my heart sank within me: the whole foundation on which my life was constructed fell down.' There followed 'the dry heavy dejection of the melancholy winter of 1826–7', in which he could find no comfort in books and dared not tell his father of his distress: the systematic pursuit of happiness in which he had been trained from infancy now seemed to 'fearfully undermine all desires', while the 'analytic habits' that were the corner-stone of his father's educational theory were 'a perpetual worm at the root both of the passions and of the virtues'. Desperately asking himself how he could go on living, he concluded that 'I did not think I could possibly bear it beyond a year'. From the depths of his depression, however, a 'small ray of light broke in upon my gloom'. He read the passage in Mémoires d'un père, by Jean-François Marmontel, describing how the boy Marmontel had resolved by a 'sudden inspiration' that he would take the place of his dead father and make up to his family for all that they had lost. Unexpectedly touched by this story, Mill found himself 'moved to tears'. He gradually recovered the capacity for feeling, and once again found enjoyment, 'not intense, but sufficient for cheerfulness, in sunshine and sky, in books, in conversation, in public affairs' (Collected Works, 1.137–49). Thereafter he pursued a much modified version of the philosophy of hedonism, resolving to find happiness 'by the way' rather than making it a 'principal object'—a principle re-affirmed thirty years later in his Utilitarianism, where he claimed that 'conscious ability to do without happiness gives the best prospect of realising such happiness as is attainable'.
The precipitants of Mill's mental crisis have been the subject of speculation for well over a century. Late-Victorian commentators suspected either fatigue from prolonged overwork, or a secularized variant of a religious loss of faith. Twentieth-century interpreters looked to more subliminal or sexual explanations—to a suppressed desire for the death of his father (mirrored in the Marmontel memoir), or to the plight of a young man emerging from adolescence into adulthood who had been totally sealed off from contact with the female sex. A more recent account emphasizes the shock to Mill's mental system dealt by the London Debating Society, where for the first time he met clever people with well-worked-out philosophies quite different from his own—to whom extreme utilitarianism appeared both morally repulsive and irresistibly comic. A well-publicized financial scandal of 1825–6, when certain prominent Benthamites were found to have lined their pockets from a Greek independence loan, tarnished the movement's reputation for incorruptible high-mindedness, and may well have contributed to the young Mill's disenchantment.
All these explanations have some plausibility, and are not inherently incompatible with each other. Certainly Mill had experienced his discovery of Benthamism in 1821 as akin to a spiritual revelation; and it seems not unlikely that his nausea with Benthamism in 1826 had something of the character of a religious de-conversion. On the other hand, later glimpses of his struggles with the 'awful shadow [of] Necessity' (Collected Works, 1.175, 12.476–7) suggest that it was not so much finding Benthamism false but fearing that parts of it might indeed be true that generated his deepest depression. Mill's relations with women will be discussed more fully below; but his long-drawn-out, guilt-ridden resentment against James Mill can clearly be seen in draft sections excised from the published Autobiography. The numerous re-draftings of passages relating to 1824, which refer to John's behind-the-scenes work in preparing James's assault on the Edinburgh Review, suggest that he had begun to find his father's meticulous control over everything he thought and wrote increasingly irksome and oppressive. Another relevant factor is that the aspect of Bentham's thought which Mill most admired was its power as a machine tool of practical reform, and his experience was by no means untypical of those who throw themselves into heroic programmes of social reformation. Edwin Chadwick, John Ruskin, C. S. Loch, Beatrice Webb, William Beveridge—to name but a few—all experienced rather similar episodes of psychic trauma when the goals that they were fighting for turned unexpectedly into sinks of desolation.
More prosaically, it was perhaps scarcely surprising that a young man of Mill's wide-ranging intelligence should gradually have become aware of alternatives to the doctrines cherished by his father. In later life Mill recalled a lurking discontent with James's views from the time of the Essay on Government, written in 1820, which had treated in dismissive terms the political claims of women. But it was not until 1829, when Macaulay published his famous critique of the Essay—dismissing as grotesquely unhistorical its deduction of 'the whole science of Politics' from axioms of unvarying human behaviour—that John Mill's dissent from his father's position began to take coherent shape. In the meantime, during recovery from his breakdown he found for the first time that he could read English poetry for pleasure, particularly Wordsworth, in whose Intimations of Immortality he found experiences and sensibilities that matched his own. He began to detach himself from the Westminster Review circle, finding the philosophical radicals increasingly sectarian and narrow. Instead he started to learn German, studied the writings of Coleridge and of the French Saint-Simonians, and began to associate with leading disciples of the ‘metaphysical’ school, notably F. D. Maurice, John Sterling, and Thomas Carlyle.
Mill's interest in the philosophy of Coleridge, regarded in the 1820s as the leading English exponent of the continental reaction against the philosophy of the Enlightenment, was recorded in his essay on Coleridge, published in 1840. Mill there rejected Coleridge's a priori theory of knowledge, but wrote warmly of many aspects of his social, political, and religious thought. Coleridge's ‘speculative’ toryism, with its stress on historical survival as evidence of the viability of beliefs and institutions, he portrayed as a healthy 'counterpole' to the 'shallow empiricism' of Enlightenment thought and the critical methodology of Bentham. He warmly praised Coleridge's emphasis on active government, on the pivotal role of a national 'clerisy', and on rationality and open-mindedness in theological doctrine. And he concurred in Coleridge's view that disciplined popular education, a supra-rational focus on national identity, and a 'strong and active principle of cohesion' were the three indispensable ingredients in holding the 'social union' together (Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, 120–24). In his Autobiography Mill implied that this essay had been unduly generous to Coleridge at the expense of Bentham; but, if anything, the essay of 1840 rather understated the degree of his adherence to Coleridgean principles over the previous decade. In letters to Sterling, written in the late 1820s and early 1830s, Mill placed Coleridge above all other contemporaries as a systematic and creative thinker. And while dissenting from Coleridge's religious beliefs, he strongly praised the Coleridgean doctrine 'that it is good for man to be ruled; to submit both his body & mind to the guidance of a higher intelligence & virtue'—very favourably contrasting it with the 'narrow views & mischievous heresies' of individualist liberalism (Collected Works, 12.84). After meeting Wordsworth he recorded that 'all my differences with him, or with any other philosophic Tory, would be differences of matter-of-fact or detail, while my differences with radicals & utilitarians are differences of principle' (ibid., 12.81). Benthamism he continued to respect as a guide to reformist legislation; but he dismissed it as wholly inadequate as an ethical and psychological theory or as a framework for 'consideration of the greater social questions—the theory of organic institutions and general forms of polity' (ibid., 10.9).
Mill's attraction to organic and idealist thought was fostered by his relationship with F. D. Maurice and John Sterling, whom he met at the London Debating Society in 1828. He admired and befriended both men, but with Maurice the Coleridgean doctrine took perhaps too ecclesiastical a turn for Mill's predominantly secular taste. With the captivating and unorthodox Sterling, however, he 'soon became very intimate, and was more attached to him than I have ever been to any other man'. Like Mill himself, Sterling was moved by 'an equal devotion to the two cardinal points of Liberty and Duty', and although 'he and I started from intellectual points almost as wide apart as the poles … the distance between us was always growing less' (Collected Works, 1.161–2). Sterling had some acquaintance with German thought, and was probably the main channel through which Mill absorbed aspects of Kant and Hegel: when, some years later, he tried to read these theorists in German he found that 'je possédais déjà tout ce qu'ils avaient d'utile pour moi' ('I already possessed everything they might have had that was of use to me'; ibid., 13.576). Another influential friend was Thomas Carlyle, the great scourge and satirist of Benthamism, who was helped by Mill in promoting his literary career and jumped to the conclusion that he had found a new 'mystic' disciple. Carlyle was deluding himself, however, for the main group of thinkers apart from the Coleridgeans who attracted Mill in this period were followers of the French philosopher Saint-Simon. In 1828 he met at the London Debating Society a young Saint-Simonian, Gustave D'Eichthal, who subsequently corresponded with him about Saint-Simon's ideas and introduced him to Saint-Simonian activists in Paris, among them the reformist society known as Aide-toi et le Ciel t'aidera (‘Heaven helps those who help themselves’). Like the Coleridgeans, the Saint-Simonians taught that history was not static but dynamic, and that institutions which appeared to be corrupt and decadent were not intrinsically so, but had in the past served a progressive social purpose. They believed that civilization moved in cycles of 'organic' and 'critical' epochs—the former being periods of intellectual unity and coherence, the latter periods in which old-established creeds broke down and new creeds had to be formulated to take account of new empirical knowledge. The most ambitious Saint-Simonian was the young Auguste Comte, who had already sketched out his 'law of the three stages', whereby both human knowledge and social organization were portrayed as evolving historically from the 'theological' stage, via the 'metaphysical' stage, through to the 'positive' phase of the future. In this latter epoch all supernatural speculation would become redundant, as all branches of humane knowledge—moral, psychological, social, and historical—acquired the precision and mutual coherence of the most advanced areas of physical science.
Mill was deeply impressed, both by the interpretation the Saint-Simonians seemed to offer of the fast-changing society that he saw around him, and by the very utopianism with which they proclaimed the attainability of a new moral world. Their belief in a pouvoir spirituel seemed to fit closely with Coleridge's intellectual ‘clerisy’, while their emphasis on the evolutionary role of history seemed a necessary counterweight to utilitarian abstraction. Though he refused formally to join the Saint-Simonians (rejection of dogmatic sects being part of his reaction against Benthamism) Mill's new beliefs were nurtured by his visit to Paris during the revolution of 1830, and further developed in the articles that he wrote in support of the rising reform agitation in Britain. He was intrigued also by the intellectual possibilities afforded by a positivist social science. Dimly he began to imagine a way out of the impasse created by his own reaction against Benthamism, and by Macaulay's discrediting of James Mill's deductive and ahistorical method. Before these ideas could be fully developed, however, his life took a new and unexpected turn in the form of his budding relationship with Mrs Harriet Taylor.
Mill and Mrs Taylor
Opinions differ about whether Mill had shown any romantic interest in women before he met Harriet Taylor. There is some slight evidence to suggest that he had felt an adolescent tendresse for the dashing Sarah Austin, wife of the legal philosopher; and a rumour emanating from Greville claimed that he had fallen briefly in love with Lady Harriet Baring. In the late 1820s he became closely acquainted with William Johnson Fox, editor of the Unitarian Monthly Repository and minister of the South Place Chapel; and again there were rumours that Mill had been in love with Fox's ward, the musician and composer Eliza Flower. But others thought differently: his friend Roebuck observed that Mill was 'utterly ignorant of what is called society' and that 'of woman he was a child' (Kamm, 32). Certainly Mill himself, nurtured alongside the rather bleak relationship of his parents, had no anticipation of finding happiness in marriage. In April 1829 he had commented to Sterling on his expectation of 'the comparative loneliness of my probable future lot', linking it to the limpness of feeling from which he had suffered since his crisis three years before. He linked it also to the loss of a sense of comradeship and close intimacy that he felt had been present throughout the earlier part of his life: a comment that can only refer to the termination of such a relationship with his own father (Collected Works, 12.30).
Harriet Taylor in 1830 was twenty-two years old, the mother of two children, and wife to a liberally minded Unitarian businessman, John Taylor, who was a member of William Fox's congregation at South Place. Harriet, who was renowned within her circle for her cleverness and beauty, confided to Fox that she was troubled by intellectual problems that she could not discuss with her amiable but uncerebral husband. Fox is said to have replied that 'John Mill was the man among the human race to relieve in a competent manner her dubieties and difficulties'. Some time in the early autumn of 1830 a dinner was therefore arranged at the Taylors' house to which Mill was invited, along with Fox, Harriet Martineau, Roebuck, and George Graham. According to Carlyle (who was not invited, but later gossiped relentlessly with those who were) Mill,
who up to that time, had never so much as looked at a female creature, not even a cow, in the face, found himself opposite those great dark eyes, that were flashing unutterable things while he was discoursin' the utterable concernin' all sorts o' high topics.Kamm, 32
Mill by the end of the evening was passionately in love, and was to remain so until Harriet's death twenty-eight years later.
Mill's relationship with Harriet Taylor, both before and after their eventual marriage in 1851, was the subject of endless speculation among their contemporaries, and has been no less so among historians. In the Autobiography Mill made three major assertions about Mrs Taylor and her role in his life. He implied that prior to the death of her first husband, his own association with her had been one of the utmost delicacy and propriety, designed in no way to infringe on the honour of Mr Taylor: it had been simply a marriage of true minds, proving that intellectual, spiritual, and moral union could far transcend the banal intimacy of mere sex. He maintained secondly that Harriet herself was a creature of quite outstanding mental and creative power, whose talents far exceeded his own as a thinker, Carlyle's as a poet, and Shelley's as a transcendent genius; in an era more hospitable to the claims of women she would have been a towering figure in public and intellectual life. And thirdly, he claimed that, with the sole exception of A System of Logic (where her role was confined to 'minor matters of composition'), she had contributed substantially to all his mature writings and had personally inspired or redrafted large parts of them (Collected Works, 1.191–9, 255–9).
Each of these claims is of some importance in unravelling the course of Mill's own life history. The first claim, that their relationship during John Taylor's lifetime was wholly asexual, seems to have been universally accepted by contemporaries, even by those most prone to prurience and gossip. No one ever suggested that Harriet's youngest child, Helen, born in 1831, was the daughter of anyone other than John Taylor. Nevertheless, the Autobiography greatly simplified and smoothed over much of the trauma and uncertainty of the strange triangular relationship that was to be sustained for nineteen years. Three years after their first meeting Harriet Taylor left her husband and travelled to Paris, where she was joined by Mill for a period of six weeks; and there was clearly some prospect at this time, and for several years thereafter, that the separation from John Taylor might become permanent. Mill himself absolutely refused to contemplate the possibility that he should remove himself forever from Harriet's life, but at the same time he was not wholly free from periodic pangs of anxiety about possible adverse consequences for his own public position. 'Good heaven', she wrote to him on one such occasion, 'have you at last arrived at fearing to be “obscure and insignificant”! What can I say to that but “by all means pursue your brilliant and important career”' (Hayek, 99). Harriet herself was immensely moved by John Taylor's generous conduct; and she was stricken also by the contemplation that, if she abandoned him permanently for Mill, 'I should spoil four lives and injure others' (Kamm, 42). The upshot was that she returned to her husband, not to their former intimacy but with a 'real intention' of his 'being with her as a friend and companion'.
Over the next few years an accommodation was reached whereby Harriet spent much of her time at a house in the country provided by her husband, where Mill could visit her unobtrusively. On occasions when he visited the Taylor household in Regent's Park, John Taylor contrived always to be absent at his club. Mill himself continued to reside quietly with his family, who since James's appointment to the India Office had lived in a large house in Vicarage Square, Kensington. After James's death in 1836 he moved with his mother and unmarried brothers and sisters to a smaller establishment in Kensington Square (portrayed by visitors at the time as a very harmonious and close-knit family circle). From 1837 to 1840 Mill was the proprietor of the London and Westminster Review, which had absorbed the old Westminster but now attracted articles from contributors far beyond the confines of philosophical radicalism. Mrs Taylor was rumoured to be the 'Armida', or mauvaise esprit of this enterprise, but the only evidence of her involvement shows her using her connection with Mill to support her husband's sponsorship of Italian political refugees. Mill and Harriet for a time attended functions together in London, but this caused so much comment and embarrassment that they gradually withdrew almost completely from joint appearances in public (though they were present together at the first of Carlyle's famous lectures on heroes and hero-worship in May 1840). They often travelled together incognito on the continent, concealing their whereabouts even from Mill's closest family.
These tripartite arrangements continued throughout the 1840s until John Taylor fell ill with cancer. Harriet, who appears to have been genuinely fond of her husband, nursed him through his final illness until his death in July 1849. She and Mill were married on 21 April 1851 at the registrar's office in Melcombe Regis, Mill formally declaring that, as he and his new wife wholly disapproved of 'the marriage relation as constituted by law', he proposed to 'disclaim and repudiate all pretence to have acquired any rights whatever by virtue of such marriage' (Hayek, 168). Their union precipitated a major breach between Mill and most of his family, including his mother, whom Mill accused of being insultingly slow to acknowledge his new wife. He and Harriet set up home in Blackheath Park, where they continued to live in great seclusion, again punctuated by frequent visits to the continent. Throughout their marriage Harriet was the dominant partner in all practical affairs—Mill, who had been waited on by his mother and sisters for forty-five years, proving utterly incapable of dealing with such matters as summoning cabs, reserving seats on trains, getting the house cleared of rats, and negotiating publishers' royalties. Both before and after their marriage he and Harriet were troubled by bouts of prolonged ill health. Mill had collapsed with a nervous illness after his father's death in 1836, which left him for the rest of his life with severe facial twitching and recurrent depression; and from the early 1840s he was suffering from consumption, a disease endemic in the Mill family. Their longest separation came in 1854–5, when Mill spent six months travelling in Italy and Greece, much of the time on foot, hoping to effect a remission of his illness (a project that met with some success). Harriet suffered from chronic bronchitis and may also have contracted consumption from Mill, and much of her incessant travelling both in England and abroad was linked to, if not wholly explained by, her search for a climate that would suit her health. She and Mill were engaged in such a search, hoping to find a retirement home in southern France, when Harriet, attacked by sudden congestion of the lungs, died unexpectedly at Avignon on 3 November 1858.
Mill's claims for his wife's intellect and character were expressed most fulsomely in the Autobiography, and were for long regarded as the understandable but exaggerated tributes of a stricken and sorrowing widower. Contemporaries acknowledged Harriet's compelling personality and conversational sharpness; but none except Mill perceived her as a great creative genius and moral giant. The discovery of the fact that many of the tributes in the Autobiography were composed while Harriet was still alive, some being actually revised by her, has tended to reinforce a feeling among more recent commentators that she was not fully worthy of Mill's rapturous admiration. In the letters between them that have survived there is overwhelming evidence of their mutual devotion, but little comparable with the detailed exchange of ideas on philosophy, religion, politics, economics, and ethics that filled his letters to other correspondents such as Sterling, D'Eichthal, Carlyle, Tocqueville, and Comte. This is perhaps scarcely surprising, since daily intimacy drives out the need to express ideas in letters, and there was a similar paucity of intellectual topics in earlier letters to his father (undoubtedly the most powerful mental influence on his early youth).
This leaves open, however, the question of what the nature of Harriet's intellectual, as opposed to emotional, influence on Mill actually was. Mill's claim that in a more auspicious climate Harriet would herself have been recognized as a major thinker does not wholly ring true, since—despite the barriers against clever women that undoubtedly existed in the 1830s—Harriet Taylor was probably better placed than almost any woman in England to overcome them. The circle in which she and John Taylor moved actively encouraged the creative activity of women; and Harriet, who was beautiful and financially secure, would have been in no worse a position to make her mark than, for example, a fellow member of Fox's congregation, the plain and deaf Harriet Martineau. As Mrs Taylor she contributed in the early 1830s to the Monthly Repository, and there was no reason why she should not have continued to write if she had wished to do so. Moreover, it seems almost inconceivable that, if she had really been the prime author of any of Mill's works, her name would not have appeared on the title-page, at least as co-author. Before John Taylor's death there was a reason for reticence in the avoidance of gossip (Taylor on this ground objected strongly to Mill's attempt in 1848 to dedicate to Harriet his Principles of Political Economy). But this can scarcely have been the case with writings of the 1850s—still less so with those works, substantially attributed to her by Mill, that were published only after her death.
What then was Harriet Taylor's influence on the substance of Mill's thought? Despite his exaltation of her talents, Mill's own accounts of Harriet's role in his mental life were not unambiguous. The sketch of an ideal female partner in The Subjection of Women (1869) envisaged a critical, empirical, practical role for a woman as helpmate to 'a man of theory and speculation' who was engaged in formulating 'comprehensive truths of science and laws of conduct' (Collected Works, 21.306), a portrait that presumably reflects Mill's understanding of his own relations with Harriet. And in the Autobiography he denied that she had ever fundamentally 'altered the path' of his opinions. When he first met her, he recalled, 'the only actual revolution which has ever taken place in my modes of thinking, was already complete' (ibid., 1.199); it was much more a question of striking out 'more boldly' down channels along which he was moving already. This new departure did not happen overnight, his early mental relations with Harriet being confined to fostering his interest in Romantic poetry. But gradually, he recalled, his 'mental progress … went hand in hand with hers' (ibid., 1.237), until by the early 1840s he had 'no further mental changes to tell of, but only, as I hope, a continued mental progress' (ibid., 1.229). By then he had 'completely turned back' from the 'excess' of his reaction against Bentham. He had renounced the shallow reformism and tolerance of the status quo that he believed had characterized his flirtation with German philosophy. And 'in addition to this, our opinions were now far more heretical than mine had been in the days of my most extreme Benthamism' (ibid., 1.239). The principle of private property, cherished by Benthamites and the older political economists, was now discarded, and the 'social problem of the future' was redefined as 'how to unite the greatest individual liberty of action, with a common ownership of the globe'. And, similarly, the mechanistic principle of numerical democracy was now viewed by Mill and his wife as heavily qualified by the need for moral transformation of both leaders and masses. In all these matters, Mill concluded, and 'in all that concerned the application of philosophy to the exigencies of human society and progress, I was her pupil, alike in boldness of speculation and cautiousness of practical judgment' (ibid., 1.199, 237–9).
These rather conflicting accounts (of Harriet as faithful research assistant, but also as intellectual master) suggest that her challenge to Mill's mental outlook was perhaps more fundamental than he cared to admit or was even aware of; that it may have amounted not just to a radicalization of specific opinions, or the contribution of a useful helpmate, but to a wider change of underlying sentiment and social philosophy. In the absence of evidence about their intimate conversations, this view must remain conjectural; but there are many archival fragments that point in the same direction. By the time of their first meeting Harriet already held views that, though much less systematically developed than Mill's, were in many respects different from his and certainly far more radical. While he had long inclined towards ralliement and reconciliation between the partial truths of different parties, her vision of right and wrong was much more absolute and exacting. In an essay for the Monthly Repository (composed at a time when Mill himself was still warmly inclined towards social organicism and historic continuity) she had denounced root and branch the sinister 'conformity plan' imposed by the 'phantom power' of social opinion, through the arbitrary imposition of 'some standard of right or duty erected by some or other of the sets into which society is divided like a net—to catch gudgeons' (Hayek, 275–9). There were even some fundamental differences in their views on women. In the essays on divorce which they wrote for each other's benefit some time in 1831–2, both argued that existing marriage laws were wholly unreasonable, and that to secure their economic independence women needed education on the same basis as men. But Mill suggested that liberalized divorce laws were mainly required by 'higher natures', and that for people in general there was some danger that 'giving facilities for retracting a bad choice' might actively encourage irresponsible entry into marriage. He also thought that, even when relations between the sexes had been reformed, most wives and mothers would continue to be occupied in the home: 'it does not follow that a woman should actually support herself because she should be capable of doing so: in the natural course of events she will not', an opinion later echoed in The Subjection of Women (Hayek, 65; Collected Works, 21.298). Harriet by contrast argued for total civic equality between men and women, the opening of all occupations and public offices to both alike, and 'doing away with all laws whatever relating to marriage' (Hayek, 77–8). Shortly after this exchange of views, she wrote to Mill with some indignation suggesting that in intellectual concerns he was withholding from her his full confidence: 'in this, as in all these important matters there is no medium between the greatest, all, and none—anything less than all being insufficient. There might be just as well none' (ibid., 47). Mill protested that this was not so; but since his interest in ‘speculative toryism’ at this time was still powerful, his reticence about some of his deepest opinions is unsurprising. His fostering of conservative as well as radical opinion in the London and Westminster, and indeed his own writings for the review, indicate that his Coleridgean sympathies were still active in the late 1830s. Over the years, however, his correspondence with Harriet suggests that on a wide range of issues he was gradually brought round to her ways of thought. When she dissented from his views on such questions as Comtism, Fenianism, atheism, communism, Greek history, and the moral perfectibility of the human race, Mill almost invariably conceded that he was in the wrong and promised to think again: 'by thinking sufficiently I should probably come to think the same—as is almost always the case, I believe always when we think long enough' (ibid., 135).
These developments were paralleled by Mill's changing relationships with other figures to whom he had once been close. During the 1830s and early 1840s he severed relations with, or drifted away from, many members of the powerful intellectual circles of his youth—Roebuck and Grote, John and Sarah Austin, Sterling and Maurice, Thomas and Jane Carlyle. This happened for a variety of reasons—Roebuck was dismissed for advising Mill against his liaison with Harriet, while the Grotes and the Austins were suspected of malicious gossip. Friendship with the Carlyles miraculously survived the famous incident of March 1835 when Mill arrived at Carlyle's house, speechless with distress, to confess that a maid had accidentally burned the manuscript of Carlyle's French Revolution. Carlyle at the time behaved with impeccable forbearance, and only later came to suspect—and to spread disgruntled rumours suggesting—that the real culprit had been Harriet. By the late 1830s Mill's friendship with Carlyle, though never entirely broken off, had markedly waned—more than twenty years before the great issues of political principle that were to divide them in later life. For Sterling Mill retained a lifelong affection, and in 1838 he was an original member of the notorious Sterling Club, founded by Sterling for discussion of heterodox opinions. But this most charismatic of his former associates was now chronically ill and often out of the country. Their friendship was renewed in 1840 when they spent several weeks together at Falmouth in the company of Henry, Mill's dying younger brother. Mill afterwards wrote to Sterling that 'we have been more to each other lately than ever before', but confessed that 'even now I am very far from appearing to you as I am, for though there is nothing that I do not desire to show, there is much that I never do show, and much that I think you cannot even guess' (Collected Works, 13.428–9). Whether this was a reference to Harriet or to his intellectual differences with Sterling is impossible to say. But in all these connections a complicating factor was Harriet's jealousy of rival spheres of influence and inability to tolerate people who disagreed with her: 'near relationships to persons of the most opposite principles to my own produces excessive embarrassment' (Hayek, 130). This was evident in her disparaging references not merely to 'the vapid and sentimental egoists', Sterling and Carlyle, but to newer influences in Mill's intellectual orbit such as Auguste Comte and Alexis de Tocqueville—the former a 'dry root of a man … not a worthy coadjutor & scarcely a worthy opponent', the latter 'a notable specimen of … the gentility class—weak in moral, narrow in intellect, timid, infinitely conceited & gossiping' (ibid., 114, 156). By the mid-1840s Mill had been won round to the view that on 'cardinal points of human opinion, agreement of conviction and feeling' was an 'essential requisite of anything worthy the name of friendship, in a really earnest mind' (Collected Works, 1.237). Whatever the substantive content of Harriet's contribution may have been, her influence therefore served gradually to isolate Mill from direct intellectual interchange with many of his former associates.
Science and logic
From childhood Mill had been fascinated by the human mind and the foundations and processes of knowledge. Even in the depths of his mental crisis and subsequent attraction to Romantic thought, he seems never substantially to have departed from the views—transmitted via his father from the inheritance of Thomas Hobbes—that knowledge was rooted in material sensations, and that genuine scientific propositions were deductive in character, rather than (as was claimed by Kantians, natural theologians, and the school of Reid and Dugald Stewart) derived from a priori categories or from intuition and common sense. These views were forged and sharpened not merely by his early reading in logic but by daily exposure to the economic reasoning of his father and Ricardo, and by the austere legal positivism in which he had been trained by Austin and Bentham.
Nevertheless, there was more wavering in his opinions than Mill was later willing to admit; and the unravelling of his views is complicated by the varying ways in which both he and his antagonists used terms like a priori, deduction, and induction. Confusingly, both the sense-data school and the intuitionists claimed to be supporters of induction, but disagreed about its place in the sequence of scientific thought. The former school (usually, though not always) held that general deductive laws could be built up from evidence initially supplied by induction, derived from 'observation of what passes in our own minds' and the 'general tendencies' of human nature. The latter school (usually, though not always) saw induction as the process that retrospectively tested a priori hypotheses generated within the mind itself. Mill's thinking in this area over many years indicated some degree of uncertainty on a number of issues. In 1827 he was impressed by the argument of Richard Whately's Logic that knowledge derived from induction could never 'be built up into a regular demonstrative theory like that of the syllogism'. The major shock to his inherited views came, however, in 1829 from Macaulay's onslaught on James Mill's Essay on Government. It was Macaulay's dismissal of his father's deductive approach to history—in combination with the historical theories of his Coleridgean and Saint-Simonian friends—that encouraged John Mill to think for a time of exploring these problems by writing a philosophical history of the French Revolution. In the early 1830s he collected many materials for this work, but in the end was happy to pass them on to Carlyle, feeling that his own talents were essentially analytical—and in particular that thinking about thought, 'the science of science itself', was his peculiar forte.
Mill initially pursued his enquiries in a deliberately open-minded, ‘non-sectarian’ spirit, hoping to reach a position in which the partial truths contained in rival schools might be resolved or synthesized. In the early 1830s he was already working on the theory of syllogisms that was to be propounded twelve years later in book two of his System of Logic. The Autobiography recorded that he 'could make nothing satisfactory of Induction, at this time'; but manuscript sources show him arguing, against Whately, that induction was 'as much entitled to be called Reasoning, as the demonstrations in Euclid' (Collected Works, 1.191, 8.961). His 'Remarks on Bentham's philosophy' in 1833, though more concerned with ethics than theories of knowledge, appeared to make a number of concessions to the intuitionist and anti-deductivist schools—particularly his criticism of Bentham's dismissal of character and conscience, and his rejection of Bentham's claim to have discovered a universal spring of human action that operated regardless of specific variations in history and culture, time and place. In this essay Mill also questioned the view that there was any necessary connection between a thinker's philosophical views and his or her attitudes to practical politics (Collected Works, 10.17–18n). But a year later his essay entitled 'On the definition of political economy' asserted the opposite view: 'systematic differences of opinion' in any sphere could always be traced back to 'a difference in their conceptions of the philosophic method' (ibid., 4.324).
Mill's views began to take shape more firmly, however, as certain leading members of the intuitionist school went on the polemical offensive—and as philosophers of all schools in the 1830s and 1840s became increasingly driven by the passionate quest for a holistic theory of knowledge. Mill was wrong in claiming in later years that intuitionism at this time had been all-powerful; but it was, none the less, strongly represented in certain powerful institutions, most notably the University of Cambridge, where it was closely linked with natural theology, the ethical teachings of Bishop Butler, and the promotion of induction as the practical investigative handmaid of certain categorical assumptions about the noumenal, natural, and social worlds. In 1834 a lecture published by a leading proponent of this school, Adam Sedgwick, linked defence of induction to a broader attack on both the 'selfish' morals of the utilitarians, and their abstract, deductionist methodology. Sedgwick's lecture was mainly concerned with natural science, but it included the claim, in echo of Macaulay, that the facts of history were the only valid basis for a general understanding of politics and society—evoking from Mill the sharp retort that 'not only is history not the source of political philosophy, but the profoundest political philosophy is requisite to explain history … History is not the foundation, but the verification of the social science' (Collected Works, 10.44–5). His essay 'On the definition of political economy' also firmly restated the superior status of deductive reasoning: mere inductive verification a posteriori was 'no part of the business of science at all, but the application of science' (ibid., 4.325).
Mill continued to mull over these questions for more than a decade. In the late 1830s his ideas were further crystallized, both positively and negatively, by the writings of Auguste Comte and William Whewell. From 1837 he was reading the first five volumes of Comte's Cours de philosophie positif, and his correspondence with Comte in 1841–2 (when his own study was far advanced) shows him eagerly awaiting the sixth volume and declaring himself Comte's disciple. The differences between them, he assured Comte, stemmed almost entirely from the fact that public opinion in England was too immature to tolerate a wholly non-religious, explicitly positivist philosophy. At the other extreme his ideas were powerfully influenced by two works from the second great Cambridge intuitionist, Whewell, The History of the Inductive Sciences (1837) and The Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (1840). These two monumental works, designed to expose the logical fallacies of the tradition of Locke, aimed to hitch Baconian inductionism to the a priori reasoning of Immanuel Kant. Like Kant, Whewell argued that there were certain necessary truths about the phenomenal universe—such as the existence of space, time, causality, and geometric forms—that could only be assumed and not proven. Such assumptions were essential to the formulation of general hypotheses, which could then be verified by inductive observation and experiment. Much of practical science, Whewell implied, consisted simply of inspired guesswork, followed up by meticulous case-by-case investigation. All systematic knowledge consisted of an interaction between 'metaphysical ideas' and 'inductive movement'; without the former the latter was pointless, since 'in no case can experience prove a proposition to be necessarily or universally true' (Whewell, 1.62). Whewell's examples were taken largely from mathematics and natural philosophy; but since the early 1820s he had been a recurrent critic of the deductive method of Ricardo and James Mill, and his books were widely viewed, by Whewell himself as well as by others, as a further skirmish in the war against sensationalist theories of mind and abstract political economy.
Whewell's studies provided Mill with a mass of practical examples of scientific method, sifted for him by Alexander Bain, who was later to be his first biographer and chief philosophic disciple. Whewell's Philosophy in particular acted as a timely catalyst that helped him to weld together his own still somewhat disparate thoughts on scientific reasoning. The result was A System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, published after twelve years' gestation in 1843. Mill began his book with the assertion that he was not concerned with the contested territory of epistemology, but only with the structure of logical argument. This austere agenda proved, however, impossible to observe at every point, and the text frequently spilt over into deep questions of human understanding. Throughout his work Mill concurred with Whewell that knowledge was a unity, but he claimed much more explicitly than Whewell that social knowledge was comparable in kind, if not necessarily in degree, with knowledge in the natural sciences. He agreed also about the importance of induction, but disagreed fundamentally about the relation of inductive knowledge to general propositions in either natural or social science. For Whewell, the very possibility of scientific enquiry was rooted in certain inherently untestable a priori assumptions, armed with which it was possible to make sense of empirical data and only thus to formulate general laws. For Mill general propositions (other than those that were purely syllogistic) were deductions, themselves initially derived by inference from induction, without reference at any stage to categorical ideas. The latter he portrayed as having throughout history seduced human minds into the error of believing that there were universal ‘substances’, over and above the sum of the specific cases which such categories were supposed to represent. Substances were the sirens that lured unwary logicians to their doom, down false trails such as animism, mysticism, the Platonic theory of forms, linguistic and mathematical essentialism, the Christian doctrine of human nature, and—closer to Mill's own day—the common-sense philosophy of Thomas Reid and Dugald Stewart and the idealism of Kant. In Mill's view the study of the phenomenal world was a self-contained process of inference between induction and deduction, the latter being the formulation of general laws out of conjunctions of the more particular ‘empirical’ laws derived from the former. The stage to which a particular science had developed and the general conditions under which it operated determined whether inference from deduction or induction took priority. Such inference he claimed was the basis of all scientific, as opposed to merely imaginative, thought about everything from mathematics and celestial mechanics through to mankind living in society and the individual human mind. Even concepts relating to objects imperceptible in nature, such as perfect circles and lines without breadth, could ultimately be traced back, not to axiomatic truths, but to a mental process of neutralizing non-relevant sense-data (just as non-wealth-producing motives and passions were excluded by economists from study of the pursuit of wealth).
Mill's account of geometry challenged the wellnigh universal view that mathematical theorems were intrinsically axiomatic rather than inductive. But the most controversial parts of his thesis, as Mill himself intended, were those that related to the deductive character of social and moral science; and much of book six of the Logic was devoted to anticipating possible objections in this area. These objections related primarily to four interrelated problems: free will, the nature of mind, sociological method, and the precise character of deductive reasoning in relation to such volatile and variable subject matter as the working of human society. In defending the compatibility of social laws with free will, Mill was deeply concerned to dissociate himself from the currently vociferous Owenite view that human character was the creature of social forces and that individuals therefore had no choice and no responsibility for their own deeds. Instead he claimed that law-like regularities in human behaviour in no way precluded the possibility of free will. 'The causes … on which action depends' were 'never uncontrollable', and human beings could actively participate in the formation of their own characters; they could choose whether or not they wished to follow the guidance of social laws (Collected Works, 8.840–42). The study of mind was imperfectly developed, but was, he claimed, no different in principle from the study of other complex phenomena. As with astronomy, however, the scope for induction and experiment in the study of mind was limited; it could only advance by grafting elementary (inductive) psychology onto the still embryonic (deductive) study of 'Ethology' or the science of character, which was concerned with formulating 'general laws of human nature' (ibid., 8.861–74). Laws relating to individual behaviour would also be the basis of the study of 'human beings united together in the social state', since 'human beings in society have no properties but those which are derived from, and may be resolved into, the laws of the nature of individual man' (ibid., 8.879).
Such an assertion sounded like an echo of the widely condemned reductionism of the Essay on Government; but Mill went on to reject his father's ‘geometric’ method as a model for social science, on the ground that geometry took no account of 'conflicting forces'. He also rejected a ‘chemical’ model for social science, arguing that (unlike physical elements transformed into compounds) human beings were simultaneously both participants in the social organism and irreducibly separate and autonomous entities. The appropriate method for social enquiry was the 'Concrete Deductive Method … of which astronomy furnishes the most perfect, natural philosophy a somewhat less perfect, example' (Collected Works, 8.894). Here Mill admitted a provisional role for 'a system of deductions a priori', though he insisted that 'the ground of confidence in any concrete deductive science is not the a priori reasoning itself, but the accordance between its results and those of observation a posteriori' (ibid., 8.896–7), a caveat with which many of his opponents would surely have agreed. Sociology's reliance on such retrospective induction meant that it could not be a 'science of positive predictions' but only of general 'tendencies', the latter constantly liable to disruption by the fact that so many countless threads of social causation were constantly mingled together. The main goal of the social sciences should therefore be, not to assert universal causal laws, but the much more limited methodological goal, of 'teach[ing] us how to frame the proper theorem for the circumstances of any given case' (ibid., 8.898–900).
A further complication was that human societies did not merely differ within themselves, and from each other, but also changed over time, thus producing a degree of complexity that 'could not possibly be computed by human faculties from the elementary laws which produce it' (Collected Works, 8.913–15). The proper procedure here, Mill suggested, was to supplement concrete deduction by the inverse deductive method proposed by Comte. Comte's Cours de philosophie positif had argued that historical laws were deductive propositions or hypotheses derived from the ‘empirical laws of society’. These empirical laws were of two kinds: those which showed how societies were held together (‘social statics’) and those which demonstrated how societies underwent change (‘social dynamics’). To illustrate the kind of laws comprised under the former, Mill quoted the long passage in his own 'Essay on Coleridge', where he had identified the three preconditions of social union in all known historical societies, among them a sense of transcendent origin or purpose (Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, 120–24). On social dynamics he was somewhat more equivocal: societies everywhere seemed to be demonstrating 'certain general tendencies', such as the shift from military to industrial organization, the predominance of masses over individuals, and the ascendancy of minds over bodies; but these tendencies had not yet advanced beyond the status of limited empirical laws. What was needed, Mill conjectured, was an 'element in the complex existence of social man' that could both interpret the sequence of social causation and itself be a prime agent of future social change. And, by a happy 'consilience', it so happened that just such an element did in fact exist (Collected Works, 8.914–15)! The combined evidence of history and human nature proved that 'the speculative faculties of mankind' were not merely the necessary medium of social understanding, but, increasingly, were themselves 'predominant … almost paramount, among the agents of social progression' (ibid., 7.924–30).
On its initial publication in 1843 A System of Logic attracted little public comment, a silence that betokened, according to one contemporary, R. H. Hutton, not lack of interest but sheer terror among the book-reviewing community at the thought of incurring the crossfire of Mill's dialectical powers. Within a very few years, however, it was to become one of the most influential and controversial works of the mid-nineteenth century. Despite Mill's earlier intention of reconciling rival positions, his correspondence with Comte suggests that by the early 1840s he had come to see his book not just as a disinterested work on scientific method but as a polemical attack on the very possibility of metaphysics and theology, at least as conceived by most practitioners of those disciplines in the early Victorian era. Over the next three decades, however, its arguments were to be assimilated in the most unlikely quarters. The book appeared in eight different editions over the course of Mill's lifetime, that of 1851 being, under Harriet's tutelage, the most heavily revised. The edition of 1862 included an additional chapter on Buckle's History of Civilization in England (1857 and 1861), which expounded more fully Mill's thesis that history was the product of dialectical interplay between psycho-social conditions and men's 'own peculiar characters'. After the mid-1840s Mill gradually withdrew from his correspondence with Comte, increasingly perturbed by his former mentor's anti-feminism, constant requests for financial help, and (something Mill appears not to have noticed before) lack of interest in proof and induction. But, despite excision of the first edition's flattering references to Comte, later editions were if anything even more positivist in sentiment than that of 1843—incorporating long passages from Comte's predictions of global convergence towards a heavily industrialized, politically collectivized, and culturally homogenized society of the future. Mill himself clearly hoped that the development of a more precise social science would be a central theme of his own future work in systematic theory, and for some time after publication of the Logic, he was exploring ideas for a projected work on ethology and the study of national character. But the project made little progress, and in the mid-1840s he returned to his earlier studies of the one area of social science in which deductive theory had already made significant headway—the study of political economy.
Mill had drafted a series of theoretical essays on economic problems in the early 1830s, only one of which had been published at the time. In 1844 they appeared as a single volume, Some Unsettled Questions on Political Economy, which was to become the nucleus of a much larger enterprise. Mill's writings on economic theory demonstrated, perhaps even more clearly than book six of the Logic, some of his core preoccupations both as a social philosopher and as a theorist of scientific method. These were, in particular, his hope of synthesizing universal societal ‘laws’ with the variegated facts of history; his concern to reconcile necessity with human autonomy and free will; and his belief that the advance of knowledge required a high degree of artificial conceptual abstraction. His early essays largely accepted the theoretical model that he had learned as a child from his father and Ricardo. Within this model it was assumed, for purposes of scientific analysis, that rational pursuit of wealth could be isolated as the mainspring of human behaviour, that the economy was an integrated self-correcting system, and that distribution of rewards was inexorably determined by the relative availability of the three prime factors of production (land, labour, and capital). Consistent with these views, Mill's early essays condemned all forms of monetary expansion not guaranteed by gold reserves; denied the possibility of deliberately ‘creating’ employment by either government expenditure or expansion of private consumption; and defended the principles of ‘workhouse-test’ and ‘less-eligibility’ as the indispensable safeguards of rational work incentives, promoted by the new poor law of 1834.
Even in his early writings, however, there were fleeting signs of discontent with the deterministic and ahistorical character of Ricardo's and James Mill's ideas. His espousal of Place's campaign for birth-control, for example, was propelled not simply by the practical view that large families necessarily brought poverty to working-class households, but by the more theoretical belief that labour in general could enhance its share of wealth by deliberately increasing its own scarcity. His 1834 essay on Harriet Martineau appeared to endorse his father's geometric method, by claiming that, just as 'he who has solved a certain number of algebraic equations, can without difficulty solve others, so he who knows the economy of England, or even Yorkshire, knows that of all nations actual or possible'. But he qualified this claim by suggesting that it applied only to 'method of investigation', that local circumstances were variable, and that the economist should 'have sense enough not to expect the same conclusion to issue from varying premises' (Collected Works, 4.226). This paradox of universality of method / relativity of circumstance came increasingly to characterize Mill's writings on practical economic problems. His essays on Ireland, for example, argued that abstract poor law principles suited to the way labourers behaved in industrialized England were totally unsuited to the way labourers behaved in agricultural Ireland, where they would inevitably promote fraud, dependence, and explosion of population—though a sceptic might note that Mill never visited Ireland or the industrialized regions of England, and that his personal experience of the way labourers behaved in both countries was virtually nil.
Recurrent debate about the condition of labour was nevertheless the crucible that in the mid-1840s persuaded Mill to attempt to write a major synoptic work that would expand and bring up to date the classic treatises of Smith and Ricardo. The sufferings of the working classes during the ‘hungry forties’ led to many outraged attacks on political economy by high tories, socialists, and Christian philanthropists, who condemned its doctrines of Malthusian determinism and political non-intervention. In an article entitled 'The claims of labour' in the Edinburgh Review for 1845, Mill dismissed such critics as paternalists and 'State Puseyites', who wanted to restore the working classes to feudal subjection; but he was nevertheless troubled that 'the hard, abstract mode of treating such questions … has brought discredit upon political economists & has enabled those who are in the wrong to claim … exclusive credit for high & benevolent feeling' (Collected Works, 4.364). Resolving to rescue political economy from this discredit, he set to work to compose his great treatise, Principles of Political Economy with some of their Applications to Social Philosophy, published early in 1848.
Mill's Principles substantially restated the theorems about optimum conditions for production, circulation of money, and utilization of land, labour, and capital that he had learned from his father and Ricardo. Like them he portrayed the laws of political economy, not as the ideological underpinning of current economic arrangements, but as a critical, progressive science which—if fully incorporated into policy—would dissolve the bastions of feudalism and monopoly that still dominated many areas of economic life. Like his predecessors he assumed a global framework for assessing comparative advantage; and like them he envisaged that removal of all impediments to true economic laws must ultimately lead, like the removal of friction in mechanics, to the onset of a 'stationary state'. But as its title implied, the Principles set these laws in a much more overtly social context than had been employed by Mill's predecessors. It suggested, for example, that there was nothing to fear in the eventual stationary state, because it could come about only after the prior abolition of monopolies, which would have put an end to structural—as opposed to meritorious—inequalities of income and wealth (it was something quite different from the 'Chinese stationariness' that Mill was later to deplore in his political writings). Mill argued also that certain features of economic law—such as the tendency of wages never to rise permanently above subsistence—could be circumvented by improvements in social organization and the growth of human capital. Such developments were most clearly predicted in the chapter 'On the probable futurity of the labouring classes', which Mill attributed to the inspiration of Harriet Taylor; and, although no archival evidence proves her authorship, the vocabulary used in the chapter (and even more so in later editions) seems to suggest that her involvement was far from passive. This chapter reiterated Mill's dismissal of the claim of philanthropists that economic improvement depended on fulfilment of personal obligations from rich to poor. In an echo of his Coleridgean phase, he admitted the attractions of 'a form of society abounding in strong personal attachments and disinterested self-devotion', but concluded that the age of paternal government—'the whole fabric of patriarchal or seigneurial influence'—was now irrevocably past. Newspapers, Chartism, and the downward percolation of the 'principles of the Reformation', all meant that 'the poor have come out of leading-strings, and cannot any longer be treated like children' (Collected Works, 4.760–63). The way ahead lay not in philanthropy and personal obligation, but in education, association, and co-operation—the latter to be not the paternalist egalitarian co-operativism of Robert Owen, but self-governing co-operatives of independent members, each entitled to a return proportionate to what they had put in. Under such a system the interests of employers and workers would gradually shade into one another, thus doing away not just with residual patriarchy, but with the structural segregation of classes implicitly entailed in the theory of Ricardo (Collected Works, 4.766–9).
From the moment of publication, Mill's Principles was hailed as a classic, far more congenial to the public than earlier economic textbooks, and far more readable than the Logic. Yet in Mill's eyes it was out of date almost before it appeared, because of the eruption in 1848 of the ‘year of revolutions’, which brought with it widespread experimentation in co-operative, socialist, and public works schemes in many parts of Europe. Mill later claimed that, if he and Harriet had anticipated the changes in public opinion that occurred in that year, they would have composed the Principles in much more ambitious and 'socialist' terms; and certainly the third edition of 1852 was much more explicit about the extent of their shift towards such themes as co-operative partnership, common ownership of landed property, and the evils of 'division of the human race into two hereditary classes, employers and employed' (Collected Works, 4.790–96). The third edition also developed much more fully a theme only hinted at three years earlier, of the parallels between the servitude of workers under capitalist production and the 'patriarchal despotism' imposed on those, mostly women, who were confined to the home. Yet despite Mill's increasing identification of himself as a socialist, there was little change in his views on the role of the state, which he saw as largely confined to the traditional liberal agenda of maintaining a sound currency and to the more radical liberal agenda of dismantling or taxing monopolies. Later editions elaborated his ideas on the export of capital (necessary in advanced countries to counteract diminishing returns) and his theory of taxation (opposed to progressive income tax as liable to reduce incentives, but in favour of heavy duties on land, development values, and inherited wealth). An edition of 1865 greatly extended the discussion of recent working-class experiments in co-operation, friendly societies, and self-help; and the final revision of 1871 included a tentative reference to his abandonment of Ricardo's doctrine of the wages fund, which had denied the possibility of an artificial increase in real wages without automatic reduction in the volume of employment. In his introduction to the 1871 edition Mill remarked that the time was not yet ripe for the full incorporation of such lines of thought in a general treatise on political economy. But his revisions were widely read as giving countenance to militant trade unionism, and he was obliged to resign from the ultra-orthodox Political Economy Club which he had joined forty years before.
Liberty and virtue
Despite its immense popularity, Mill's Principles still left largely unsolved many of the issues raised by his own Logic, chief among them the relation of individuals to society, and the question of how a social science, comparable in certainty with celestial mechanics, could also take account of historical contingency and particularity. The revised editions of the Principles suggest that over time Mill became less interested in economics as an abstract science, and more interested in its prescriptive use as a tool of civic morality and social policy. This shift away from scientific method towards morals and politics may well have been influenced by his wife, since there can be no doubt that her interests lay more in the latter areas. Because of Mill's ill health, and his promotion in 1856 to the chief examinership at the East India Company, he published little during the 1850s other than journalistic pieces. The last two years of his official life, falling in the aftermath of the Indian mutiny, were spent defending the administrative record of the company (which he portrayed as a regime of enlightened paternal government for the benefit of India) against proposals for a transfer to direct rule from Britain (which he portrayed as inevitably leading to rule in the interests of the governing power). Nevertheless, the eight years of his marriage were a fertile seedbed for Mill's later thought; and, despite prolonged sick leave and official pressures, he was continuously engaged in drafting the works that were eventually to appear as On Liberty, Representative Government, Utilitarianism, The Subjection of Women, and the Autobiography. His first publication after Harriet's death was the pamphlet Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform, which favoured a system of plural voting based on level of education (his own particular concern) and opposed the secret ballot—the latter a view 'in which she had rather preceded me' (Collected Works, 1.261). But the chief monument to her memory Mill saw as his essay On Liberty, 'so much of which was the work of her whom I had lost … I have made no alteration or addition to it, nor shall I ever'.
A draft paper on liberty had been sketched out in 1854, in response to The Sphere and Duties of Government, a translation of the work by Alexander von Humboldt originally published in the 1790s; but it was while travelling in Italy and Greece early in 1855 that Mill conceived the idea of a more ambitious work. 'Almost all the projects of social reformers these days are really liberticide—Comte's particularly so', he wrote to Harriet from Rome; and a few weeks later from Naples, continued 'I shall think seriously about the book on Liberty since my darling approves of the subject' (Hayek, 216, 221). The final version appeared in 1859, within a few months of Harriet's death. Though lacking 'the inestimable advantage of her revision' (Collected Works, 18.216), its language and sentiments—particularly its critique of custom, patriarchy, 'intrusive' piety, and the tyranny of public opinion—certainly bore many hallmarks of her particular concerns. The text began with an attempt to dissociate the work from the deadlock of free will versus structural determinism that had dogged Mill's earlier social writings. Its subject matter was not the 'so-called Liberty of the Will, so unfortunately opposed to the misnamed doctrine of Philosophical Necessity'; rather it was 'Civil, or Social Liberty: the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over the individual' (ibid., 18.217). In this latter sphere, the lines of historical development that Mill as a social scientist had portrayed as universal, progressive, and largely beneficent, now reappeared as menacing, morally coercive, and tending to 'render mediocrity the ascendant power among mankind' (ibid., 18.268). Threats to personal liberty from tyrants, Mill argued, were no longer a problem in advanced societies, but were being replaced by pressure of public opinion—'a social tyranny more formidable than many kinds of political oppression', because more insidious and tending to enslavement of 'the soul itself'. Throughout Europe, business, philanthropy, education, fashion, and communications were all combining to subvert the 'plurality of paths' that had been the glory of European civilization, and to replace it with the 'Chinese ideal of making all people alike' (ibid., 18.274). Such trends were reinforced by the quietism of traditional Christianity, the 'bigotry' of contemporary Christian revivalism, and the emergence of newer religions more repressive than the systems they sought to replace—a trend exemplified by the later doctrines of Comte (ibid., 18.222–7, 254–7). Everywhere, Mill claimed, original thought was being stunted and truths glossed over by the race towards uniformity, while in planning their private lives, men were submitting like machines to unreflecting custom, exercising no other faculty 'than the ape-like one of imitation' (ibid., 18.262–3). The result was that 'mind itself is bowed to the yoke; even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of' (ibid., 18.265). And even in England:
the greatness … is now all collective; individually small, we only appear capable of anything great by our habit of combining … it was men of another stamp than this that made England what it has been; and men of another stamp will be needed to prevent its decline.ibid., 18.272
Mill's antidote for these tendencies was rooted, he claimed, not in any abstract right to freedom, but in 'utility in the largest sense, grounded in the permanent interests of man as a progressive being' (Collected Works, 18.224). In the spheres of thought and belief, suppression of any kind was manifestly both dangerous and absurd, as demonstrated by the historical fates of Socrates and Jesus Christ. In the sphere of action, 'the fact of living in society renders it indispensable that each should be bound to observe a certain line of conduct towards the rest' (ibid., 18.276); but in balancing 'individual independence and social control', a clear distinction needed to be drawn between actions that were other- and self-regarding. In the former case, behaviour that involved fulfilment of obligations or avoidance of harm to others was the rightful subject of social regulation. But in the latter case, the individual was the only legitimate judge of his or her own best interests; in the private sphere, whether comprising flights of sublime inspiration or acts of gross indecency, 'all errors which he is likely to commit against advice and warning are far outweighed by the evil of allowing others to constrain him to what they deem his good' (ibid., 18.277). Moreover, individuality was far more than simply an assertion of the individual's right to freedom: it was also, paradoxically, the medium of the highest collective good. The constant enhancement of individuality made each person not merely 'more valuable to himself', but 'more valuable to others', and thus rendered the human race itself 'infinitely better worth belonging to' (ibid., 18.266).
Mill's On Liberty aroused a stir of comment on publication and, perhaps more than any other of his works, has been viewed by posterity as the kernel of his social philosophy. None the less, it needs to be set in the context of Mill's other writings of the period, which drew on 'principles … I have been working up during the greater part of my life' (Collected Works, 19.373), and which, much more clearly than On Liberty, reflected the goal of higher synthesis between conflicting doctrines that had beckoned him on since his mental crisis thirty years before. Moreover, even in On Liberty itself there was more qualification and ambiguity than either critics or admirers were prepared to concede. Mill's catalogue of other-regarding acts, that could justly be regulated by both law and public opinion, was much more extensive than the fire of his libertarian rhetoric led some readers to suppose. It included, for example, any form of self-injury, or injury to a person's own property, that might harm his dependants, undermine his performance of social duties, or 'diminish … the general resources of the community'. If his actions offered a bad example to others, he 'ought to be compelled to control himself, for the sake of those whom the sight or knowledge of his conduct might corrupt or mislead' (ibid., 18.280). Offences against decency, not in themselves indictable, might nevertheless be prohibited if done in public, as 'a violation of good manners' (ibid., 18.295). Despite a plea for marriage to be dissolvable by 'nothing more than the declared will of either party', this plea was heavily qualified by references to the moral aspect of contractual obligation and duties to third parties (ibid., 18.301). Although idleness per se was nobody else's business, idleness that led to failure to support oneself or one's children might legitimately be dealt with by forced labour. Laws in other countries that prohibited marriage unless parties could prove they had means to support a family were 'not objectionable as violations of liberty' (ibid., 18.304). Individual citizens were at all times perfectly entitled to express their disapproval of the acts of others, either by pointing out their faults, or by shunning them and warning others against them. None of the arguments for non-interference countenanced 'misapplied notions of liberty' in the rearing of children; instead, the whims of parents should be set aside and the state should 'require and compel' the education (preferably private) of all children, to prepare them for their duties as citizens and freemen (ibid., 18.301–4). All these caveats indicate some degree of tension between Mill's championship of individuality, privacy, and self-development, and the rival claims of a quite different ethic, hinted at in On Liberty but elaborated much more fully in the almost exactly contemporaneous Utilitarianism and Considerations on Representative Government.
Mill's Representative Government, published in 1861, linked many of his long-standing political concerns with a number of more immediate issues. It surveyed the political institutions most appropriate for different kinds of society; and at the same time addressed certain questions about franchise and civil service reform, and colonial and federal government that were specific themes in British politics in the late 1850s and 1860s. As a treatise in political thought its frame of reference was eclectic. Despite Mill's reaction against Comte, the assumption of a close, predetermined, connection between political institutions, physical environment, and mental stage of advancement reflected his debt to Comtean thought, as did his continuing emphasis on the explanatory power of variations in national character. His discussion of organic and mechanical models of constitutions echoed his earlier thoughts on the polarity of Coleridge and Bentham. Bentham's influence was clearly apparent in his advocacy of an impartial, well-informed, civil service recruited by open competition; while Coleridge's influence was equally apparent in the claim that, alike in bureaucracies and voting systems, superior intellect should carry more weight than property or mere power of numbers. Perhaps the most striking strain in Representative Government, however, was the salience of a number of classical republican themes that had not been particularly prominent in Mill's earlier writings. These themes stemmed partly from Mill's long-standing interest in Plato (whom he tended to treat as an honorary utilitarian, unwisely prone to metaphysical metaphors) and partly from Grote's History of Greece (1846–53), which likewise found many utilitarian resonances in the institutions of Athens and Sparta. Mill had reviewed Grote's volumes in several journals, on each occasion vividly contrasting the culture of active citizenship, political education, and exaltation of 'public interest' in Periclean Athens, with the largely private and personal preoccupations of the average citizen of his own day.
These arguments were now spelt out much more fully in Representative Government, where Mill tried to project into modern indirect democracy some of the principles of direct democracy embodied in the practices of fourth-century Athens. As suggested by Grote's History, he argued that active participation in civic affairs was itself a crucial form of popular political education. Despite the contrast between ancient and modern systems, service on juries and boards of guardians offered opportunities for Athenian style public service that should be open to everyone entitled to vote. Moreover, the very act of voting was likely to bring about mental improvement and unawakened civic capacity among women, manual labourers, and other members of the politically excluded classes. The ballot, favoured by many radicals as a safeguard against improper pressures, was condemned by Mill as the negation of civic virtue, since anyone vulnerable to improper pressures was self-evidently unworthy to have the vote. Voting itself should be undertaken, not as an expression of private interest, but as an affirmation of the public good; the voter's choice was 'not a thing in which he has an option; it has no more to do with his personal wishes than the verdict of a juryman' (Collected Works, 19.489). The right and duty of citizenship could and should be exercised without reference to property, gender, status, or class. Nevertheless, it could not be automatically extended to all, but was dependent on possession of a minimum degree of education and independence. Education was a prerequisite since 'power over others, over the whole community' should not be exercised by those with no understanding of what they were doing. Taxation was another prerequisite, since non-taxpayers could not be trusted with management of other people's money; therefore 'a direct tax, in the simple form of a capitation, should be levied on every grown person in the community', and the vote should be denied to tax refusers, undischarged bankrupts, and recipients of poor relief. Such conditions, Mill claimed, would 'leave the suffrage accessible to all who are in the normal condition of a human being' (ibid., 19.472). In addition, plural voting should be allowed for the better educated, both to protect the interests of minorities and to improve the quality of public decisions—though 'deference to mental superiority is not to go to the length of self-annihilation' (ibid., 19.510). Minorities would also be secured by a system of proportional representation, proposed by his friend Thomas Hare some years before. Civic competence throughout society was to be fostered by a massive extension of municipal democracy, manned mainly by local ratepayers but leavened as far as possible by 'the presence … of a higher order of characters … inspiring them with a portion of their own enlarged ideas, and higher and more enlightened purposes' (ibid., 19.534–45). The result, Mill concluded, would be to subvert the prevailing culture of passive contentment ('unmanliness and want of spirit') and replace it by 'the ideally best form of government' in which every citizen would share in sovereignty and 'take an actual part in the government, by the personal discharge of some public function local or general' (ibid., 19.399–412).
The third of Mill's major political tracts, Utilitarianism, appeared two years later. Though originally serialized for a popular readership in Fraser's Magazine (October–December 1861), it was nevertheless a more subtle and original work than either of its partners. It picked up the threads of Mill's earlier interest in the long-standing debate between intuitionist and sensationalist philosophies, and applied it to criteria of right and wrong. Mill's 'Essay on Bentham's philosophy' in 1833 had hinted that utility as a touchstone itself shared many of the properties that Benthamites condemned as intuitive (it was deemed to be self-evident, and could not be inferred from anything else). In Utilitarianism he now inverted this argument by suggesting that intuitive categories themselves often shared the properties of utility: indeed, 'I might go much further, and say that to all those a priori moralists who deem it necessary to argue at all, utilitarian arguments are indispensable' (Collected Works, 10.207). As an example he cited Kant's categorical imperative (that moral acts should 'admit of being adopted as a law by all rational beings') as a rule wholly consistent, if not indeed identical with, the dictates of utility. Utility itself, no less than any other 'ultimate end', was not susceptible of proof; and like any other ultimate end it had to be judged by what was capable of proof, namely consequences. This did not mean, as its critics claimed, that utility sanctioned selfishness, expediency, and instant gratification. On the contrary, no less than the ethics of Kant, utilitarianism judged actions by their conformity to a general rule whose frame of reference was the benefit of mankind in general: 'the standard is not the agent's own greatest happiness, but the greatest amount of happiness altogether' (ibid., 10.213). Utilitarians were as prepared for self-sacrifice as any Stoic or transcendentalist, their only caveats being that sacrifice should not be pointless but for the 'sum total of happiness'. Nor did utility merely sanction crude material pleasures, since it was quite compatible with utility to differentiate quality of pleasure: 'better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied' (ibid., 10.212).
Mill's account of utility thus challenged three of Bentham's fundamental positions: that 'public interest' was ultimately reducible to the arithmetical sum of private satisfactions; that the ends of utility were morally neutral; and that it was impossible to distinguish between 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures. On the contrary, utility fostered, no less than other ethical theories, the highest forms of virtue, since love of virtue was itself the most intense form of happiness, and 'the mind is not in a right state … not in the state most conformable to the general happiness, unless it does love virtue in this manner' (Collected Works, 10.235). Under the present 'wretched social arrangements' only some were aware of the greater happiness-producing potential of the higher faculties; and while such inequalities continued, Socrates would have to judge for the pig. But in Mill's view there was 'absolutely no reason in the nature of things why an amount of mental culture sufficient to give an intelligent interest in these objects of contemplation, should not be the inheritance of every one born in a civilised country' (ibid., 10.215–16). Nor was there any reason to suppose that, globally as well as nationally, existing inequalities would not eventually pass away, bringing all mankind within the framework of the utilitarian/Kantian calculus: 'so it has been with … slaves and freemen, nobles and serfs, patricians and plebeians; and so it will be, and in part already is, with the aristocracies of colour, race, and sex' (ibid., 10.259). The teachings of Comte showed that, even without divine sanction, there would be no difficulty about endowing 'the service of humanity' with all the 'psychological power and social efficacy of a religion'—the only danger being, not that such a religion might be too weak, 'but that it should be so excessive as to interfere unduly with human freedom and individuality' (ibid., 10.232).
Westminster and women
Mill's three classic treatises of 1859–63 therefore left him with something of a dilemma, as the champion both of privacy, spontaneity, and absolute personal choice, and of communitarianism, public spirit, and the sovereignty of higher over lower goals. This dilemma reflected a long-standing tension in Mill's own inclinations, since throughout life he cherished privacy, quietude, intimate friendships, and refined tastes, yet was constantly sucked into the public sphere by the pull of duty, reformism, moral indignation, and a sense of inner mission about his own role as one of the tiny élite to whom it was given both to 'see' and to 'feel' the 'futurity of the species' (Collected Works, 21.294). This pull between private and public roles became more acute after Harriet's death, as Mill felt himself called not merely to write about, but to act on, many of the causes they had shared together. In these his new companion was to be his stepdaughter Helen Taylor, who was twenty-seven when her mother died. Helen in the 1850s had fought a long battle with Harriet to be allowed to train for the stage, and had achieved some limited success in provincial repertory. In 1859, however, despite her strongly independent views, she seemed more than happy to slide into her mother's role as Mill's helpmate, amanuensis, and housekeeper of his homes in Blackheath and Avignon. Surprisingly, given Harriet's views on women's education, Helen had had very little formal schooling; but she was soon taking an active role in the editing of Mill's manuscripts,
which I go over five or six times, putting in words here, stops there; scratching through whole paragraphs; asking him to write whole new pages in particular places where I think the meaning is not clear; condensing, enlarging, polishing, etc.Packe, 481
Helen was much more interested in active politics than her mother, and was also more hospitable, with the result that Mill began to resume contact with many old and newer friends—the Grotes, the Bains, the Amberleys, the Fawcetts, Herbert Spencer, John Morley, Moncure Conway, and many others.
It was through the medium of this expanding circle that Mill became involved in many contentious radical causes of the 1860s, among them land reform in Ireland, the Amberleys' campaign for birth-control, Thomas Hare's campaign for proportional representation, and the embryonic movement for women's suffrage. He wrote extensively in support of the North in the American civil war, and in 1866 was to become a very active chairman of the controversial Jamaica committee, which pressed for the prosecution of Governor Eyre—a move denounced by a rival faction, headed by Carlyle, to whom Eyre was a national hero. In 1865 Mill was invited to stand as a Liberal candidate for Westminster in the forthcoming general election, an invitation he felt to be 'one of those calls upon a member of the community by his fellow citizens, which he was scarcely justified in rejecting' (Collected Works, 1.273). He accepted on the understanding that, as a matter of principle, he would not campaign or incur election expenses, and he held only two election meetings, one for registered electors, the other for persons without the vote. At the latter he won credit for honesty with his audience by confessing to having written that the British working classes, 'though differing from those of some other countries in being ashamed of lying, are yet generally liars' (ibid., 1.274–5). The election was accompanied by a great surge in the sale of his political, economic, and philosophical works, many of them now reprinted for the first time in cheap popular editions.
Mill was elected with a majority of 700, and, after a shaky start, became a respected speaker in the Commons, particularly with carefully prepared speeches on the great issue of the day, parliamentary reform, in which he pressed for the adoption of his favourite scheme of cumulative voting. On several matters he proved to be markedly at odds with advanced radical opinion, notably in his support for capital punishment, high defence spending, and reduction of the national debt; but on other issues he felt it his duty to go out of his way to espouse unpopular radical causes, such as defence of the Fenians and Irish land reform, resistance to the extradition of political refugees, and promotion of women's rights. On 20 May 1867 he forced a debate on an amendment to Disraeli's Suffrage Bill, proposing the substitution of 'person' for 'men'—an action he later regarded as 'the only really important public service I performed in the capacity of a member of Parliament' (Collected Works, 1.285). A year later he presented to parliament a petition demanding amendment of the law relating to married women's property. He lost his seat in the general election of 1868, after a rather muddled controversy over his contribution to the election expenses of Charles Bradlaugh (an action portrayed by opponents as violating his own declared principle of three years before).
Mill withdrew from Westminster with something of a sense of relief, and thereafter spent much of his time in Avignon, preparing an edition of his father's Essay on Mind, revising his own earlier works, and answering the objections of his critics. For the rest of his life his political energies were concentrated almost exclusively on issues relating to the cause of women. In 1869 he published the last of his great political tracts, The Subjection of Women, which had originally been drafted in 1861. As with his other mature political writings, the question must be asked: how far was this tract his own work and how far did it reflect the thought of Harriet—and also, in this case, that of his stepdaughter Helen Taylor? In his Autobiography Mill gave three slightly different answers to this question. In a long footnote he stated that the abstract principles of the Subjection were his own, but the 'perception of the vast practical bearings of women's disabilities' came from Harriet, an account that reflected his broader perception of their respective roles within their marriage (Collected Works, 1.253). In a discarded fragment he also ascribed to Harriet the grasping of the more strategic fact that women's freedom was 'the great question of the coming time: the most urgent interest of human progress' (ibid., 1.252). In the main text of the Autobiography he stated that the writing of the treatise had initially been suggested by Helen, and that the published version 'was enriched with some important ideas of my daughter's, and passages of her writing'; in the parts composed by himself, 'all that is most striking and profound belongs to my wife', stemming from the 'innumerable conversations and discussions on a topic which filled so large a place in our minds' (ibid., 1.252–3, 265). These references suggest some confusion about the work's genesis, and in the absence of other corroboration the biographer is thrust back on the content and style of the published text. The Subjection of Women certainly showed many substantive signs of Harriet's influence, and drew on the arguments for women's enfranchisement she had set out in her classic Westminster Review article of 1851. The critique of views that afforded women superior moral status as a compensatory placebo for inferior legal power directly echoed Harriet's curt dismissal of these visions of women as a 'sentimental priesthood'. There was also clear reference back to their essays on divorce composed in 1831–2—the Subjection combining both Harriet's argument for opening careers and public offices to women, and Mill's own argument that even under conditions of total equality most women would probably choose the option of managing a home. The detailed references to matrimonial violence, and to the sexual despotism legally practised by the most brutish of men, derived from articles relating to contemporary court cases that Harriet and Mill had composed jointly during the 1850s.
Yet there can be little doubt that the main structure of the text of The Subjection of Women was the work of Mill himself, if only because it was the most elaborately rhetorical of all his writings, and drew on all the vast battery of classical and scholastic devices for the advancement of a cause that he had learned at his father's knee from the age of three. It also closely fused the arguments in Mill's other works about the problematic balance between individual and society, and the conjunction of private and public virtue. In no area of life was the repression of 'natural freedom' by the 'despotism of custom' to be seen as so all-encompassing as in society's thinking about women. Women's case for equality rested above all on the fact that their status under existing laws was the only remaining residue of personal bond-service, now universally acknowledged as incompatible with full humanity. That status had survived because—alone among the various forms of servitude—it conferred domination, not on a single ruler or ruling class but on the whole male sex: 'The clodhopper exercises … his share of power equally with the highest nobleman' (Collected Works, 21.268). Even married to a good husband, a wife was little more than a domestic 'uncle Tom'; married to a bad one, she was the 'body-servant of a despot' (ibid., 21.284–5). Such an anomaly went against the whole modern current of private rights and free personality; but it also damaged and corrupted the public sphere, by fostering a spirit of patronage and clienthood, confining virtue exclusively to private life, and depriving society of the talents and public services of half the human species. Claims about women's superior moral qualities were a mere 'empty compliment, which must provoke a bitter smile from every woman of spirit, since there is no other situation in life in which it is … considered quite natural and suitable, that the better should obey the worse' (ibid., 21.320). Claims about their inferior mental qualities could not be scientifically substantiated, because—except for a tiny handful of (often successful) female rulers—history had never tested them out. 'What, in unenlightened societies, colour, race, religion … are to some men, sex is to all women; a peremptory exclusion from almost all honourable occupations' (ibid., 21.340).
In the short term Mill's The Subjection of Women proved the most unpopular and bitterly contested of all his writings. It was widely denounced both by a majority who saw it as subversive of familial and social stability, and by a minority who disliked Mill's picture of companionate marriage, his very limited endorsement of divorce, and his belief that even liberated women would opt for homes and children. It was the only one of his published works on which he made a financial loss, even though pirated popular editions soon began to circulate widely in Europe and America. Among campaigners for women's suffrage, however, it rapidly became a sacred text and gave him a position of heroic, almost apostolic, authority within the nascent women's movement. This role was not confined to his theoretical works, but for a time involved him in somewhat uneasy participation in practical organization. Mill and Helen had been involved since 1867 in setting up a provisional women's franchise committee, which in 1868 became the London National Society for Women's Suffrage, and similar societies were founded at the same time in Manchester and Edinburgh. These societies mobilized support from middle-class women in many parts of the country, and were to become the spearhead of the women's suffrage campaign. Nevertheless, their early activities were fraught with internal divisions, over such questions as the terms on which women should claim the vote, the role to be played by male sympathizers, and the attitude of the suffrage campaign to the other great women's crusade of the period, the campaign for repeal of the Contagious Diseases Acts (CDA). In these disputes Mill played a prominent but somewhat erratic role that was not always congenial to other leaders of the women's movement. Faithful to the opinions of Harriet, he tried to insist that, in their day-to-day management, women's organizations had to be run exclusively by women, a principle resisted by cautious pragmatists like Millicent Fawcett and Emily Davies, who valued active co-operation with influential men. Mill at first supported, but then retreated from, co-operation with the contagious diseases campaign, on the ground that prurient and fanatical elements were discrediting the primary objective of gaining the vote. Within the National Society for Women's Suffrage he began to lobby for exclusion of CDA activists; and when in 1872 a Women's Suffrage Bill received fewer votes in parliament than his own amendment of 1867, he blamed the failure on the repealers and 'the total want equally of good taste and good sense with which they conduct the proceedings' (Kamm, 190). Such attitudes dismayed those of Mill's disciples who viewed him above all as the champion of personal liberties; they demonstrated once again the awkward tensions between Mill as the champion of resistance to convention, and his rather different role as the promoter of an austere, rational, self-disciplined, public sphere.
Agnosticism, positivism, Christianity
Mill in his Autobiography portrayed himself as 'one of the very few examples, in this country, of one who has, not thrown off religious belief, but never had it' (Collected Works, 1.44). He had been brought up against the backcloth of his father's conclusions that orthodox Christian doctrine was immoral, that dogmatic atheism was absurd, and that 'concerning the origin of things nothing whatever can be known' (ibid., 1.41). Throughout his life Mill underwent nothing that he regarded as a religious experience, and he believed that such experiences in others were rooted either in ignoble feelings of fear or in a noble but misidentified quest for the beautiful and the sublime. Much of his aversion to intuitive and idealist modes of thought, even when practised by secular thinkers, was rooted in the suspicion that they were liable to slide inexorably into some form of mysticism and superstition. He opposed notions of ‘natural’ conscience in man, insisting that the moral sense was entirely the product of social conditioning (a claim that sat rather uneasily with his equally strong view that people could choose to alter their own characters). His writings on logic, economics, and politics were widely regarded by contemporaries not just as exercises in secular science but as veiled attacks on Christian orthodoxy, and there were occasions on which Mill himself seemed to endorse this view.
Nevertheless, Mill's polemic against both religion in general and Christianity in particular was less sustained and less uniformly hostile than was often supposed. During his Saint-Simonian phase he came to view ecclesiastical institutions not as his father had done as instruments of state terror, but as bodies that had played an indispensable role in the past development of mental and cultural progress; and the early stages of his enthusiasm for Comte were fuelled by the hope that Comte had discovered an ethical and scientific substitute for orthodox Christianity. In the 1830s and 1840s he was visibly impressed by the efforts of churchmen like Whately, Baden Powell, and W. G. Ward to align Christianity to developments in modern knowledge, and he was impressed also by the attempts of the Tractarians to reconstitute a sense of organic Christian community (though he was convinced that in modern circumstances they were bound to fail). Bain's claim that Mill never read a work of theology is clearly false. He had a deep and detailed knowledge of the Bible and of the history of theological argument from the early church fathers through to F. D. Maurice and J. H. Newman, Schleiermacher and Strauss; and part of his irritation with Christianity as a working philosophy stemmed from the fact that many of its adherents seemed to know far less about the subject than he knew himself. Moreover, the circles in which he moved were not so much anti-religious as heterodox and proto-modernist. The dearest friend of his youth, J. H. Sterling, though wildly unorthodox, was nevertheless an ordained Anglican clergyman who combined day-to-day sacramental piety with private pursuit of uninhibited modernist speculation. Fragments of evidence relating to Harriet Taylor's views on religion seem to indicate that, although profoundly hostile to ecclesiastical establishments and formal doctrine, she was sympathetic to the freethinking ethical transcendentalism taught by William Fox and his successors at the South Place Chapel. Her daughter Helen combined absolute commitment to free choice in religion with a private attraction to Roman Catholicism: when, during the Bradlaugh expenses dispute, Helen remonstrated with Mill for publicly denying that he was an atheist, her anger stemmed not from her own personal views but from what she saw as Mill's betrayal of the liberal principle that the public had no right to question a politician's private beliefs.
These affinities with persons of diffuse, unorthodox, radical, religious sympathies provide a context for Mill's meditations on religion, which moved a long way from the pessimistic agnosticism inherited from his father. The correspondence of his middle life reveals his deep interest in debate about the intellectual possibility of belief, not just in contemporary discussion, but in the writings of Catholic authors of the seventeenth century such as Bellarmine, Bossuet, Fénélon, and Suarez. In Mill's view, evidence of the supernatural origins of Christianity was everywhere crumbling under the heel of historical criticism, thrusting religious belief back on claims about the intrinsic excellence of its ethics and metaphysics, claims that directly meshed with his own primary concerns. Like his father before him Mill found that the existence of evil made it logically impossible to envisage a divine being who was both ethically righteous and omnipotent; but unlike James Mill he was able to conceive of an 'ideal Perfect Being' of whose existence there was 'enough in the course of Nature (when once the idea of Omnipotence is discarded) to give to that belief a considerable degree of support'. Human apprehension of that being was however circumscribed by the theory of inference set out in A System of Logic, which limited knowledge properly so-called to objects susceptible to induction and deduction: it was this logical constraint that determined Mill's 'position in respect to Theism: I think it a legitimate subject of imagination, and hope, and even belief (not amounting to faith) but not of knowledge' (Collected Works, 15.755). There were nevertheless many hints in Mill's writings that he saw his purpose as being not to subvert Christian belief but to strengthen it, by offering the possibility of an alliance with 'good ethics and good metaphysics', and leaving 'Xtianity to reconcile itself with them the best way it can. By that course, in so far as we have any success, we are at least sure of doing something to improve Christianity' (ibid., 15.646). Many of his later works referred to the teaching of Christ as a standard of ethical perfection never yet acknowledged by Christians; and although he had nothing but contempt for the crude rapprochement between Christianity and utility offered by Archdeacon Paley, his own Utilitarianism claimed to offer a higher synthesis, not just between utility and Kantianism but between utility and the ethics of the New Testament. This synthesis Mill saw as embodying 'the doctrine of loving one's neighbour as oneself, this being of course understood not of the feeling or sentiment of love, but of perfect ethical impartiality between the two' (ibid., 15.762).
Such aspirations help to explain Mill's growing interest in religion in his later years; not, as cynics at the time implied, as a sentimental hope of reunion with his wife, but as a natural extension of his long-standing interest in ethics and theories of knowledge. His study of Comte in 1865 attacked the fetishism, manic asceticism, and spiritual autocracy of Comte's later writings; but he nevertheless defended the principle of Comte's endeavour to transform positivism into an organized religion, and claimed that more orthodox creeds would be 'made better in proportion as, in their practical result, they are brought to coincide with that which he aimed at constructing' (Collected Works, 10.335). The quest for an ethically compelling, rationally defensible, restatement of religious truth also lay behind the work that many regarded as his most serious onslaught on transcendental belief, The Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, published in 1865. Hamilton, an Edinburgh professor of metaphysics who had died in 1856, was famous for his doctrine of the 'relativity of human knowledge', a doctrine that sounded superficially not unlike the principle affirmed by Mill's own epistemological school, that knowledge was limited to whatever could be derived from evidence of the senses. Certainly Mill began his study of Hamilton's works in the belief that Hamilton had deployed Scottish common-sense philosophy to demolish the rationalist idealism of post-Kantian German philosophers like Hegel and Schelling. But in fact Hamilton had developed quite the opposite view; he had claimed that there was a noumenal world of 'things in themselves', imperceptible by the senses and inaccessible also to 'immediate or intuitive' reasoning. The fact of unknowability Hamilton portrayed, not as a ground for scepticism, but—to Mill's disgust—as the ground for 'a great mass of Belief, differing from Knowledge in the mode but not in the certainty of conviction … respecting the attributes of the Unknowable' (Collected Works, 15.816–17). This doctrine had been deployed by Hamilton's disciple Henry Mansel in his Bampton lectures, to suggest that God was absolute, infinite, utterly unfathomable by 'vulgar Rationalism', and vested with moral attributes wholly different in kind from, and apparently contrary to, the moral attributes of mankind. In the realm of the absolute the 'infliction of physical suffering, the permission of moral evil, the adversity of the good, the prosperity of the wicked' were all compatible with the infinite goodness of God, though not in the least compatible with the goodness of human beings (ibid., 9.100–01). Such a doctrine seemed to Mill to confirm his lifelong suspicion that idealist metaphysics was not merely intellectually false but morally evil. 'The question it involves', he declared:
is, beyond all others which now engage speculative minds, the decisive one between moral good and evil for the Christian world … All trust in a Revelation presupposes a conviction that God's attributes are the same, in all but degree, with the best human attributes … I will call no being good, who is not what I mean when I apply that epithet to my fellow-creatures; and if such a being can sentence me to hell for not so calling him, to hell I will go.ibid., 9.90, 102–3
Mill's attack on Hamilton and Mansel shocked some Christians, but brought him virtually into the Christian fold with many others—most notably with disciples of his old friend and debating opponent F. D. Maurice, the apostle of incarnationalism and of the immanent ‘Kingdom of Christ’. Mill's Hamilton did not, however, mark any change in his religious views, but simply a clearer statement than hitherto of the direction in which he had been trying to steer moral philosophy since the 1840s. It made no difference at all to his advocacy of the claims of Bradlaugh, nor to the tenor and argument of his posthumously published essay 'Theism' (composed 1868–70), which was to prove his last sustained work. In this essay he expounded the view, mentioned often in private correspondence in his later years, that religious belief—though by its nature outside the boundaries of genuine knowledge—was a legitimate construct of the imagination linked to the conception of a morally perfect being. (To Mill, the term imagination never implied falsehood, but simply, as in aesthetics, a faculty wholly outside the realm of knowledge and science.) This perfect being could take many forms—creator, judge, nature, pure abstraction—but it was 'the God incarnate, more than the God of the Jews or of Nature, who being idealized has taken so great and salutary a hold on the modern mind' (Collected Works, 10.487). Such an imaginative construction seemed to Mill 'excellently fitted to aid and fortify that real, though purely human religion, which sometimes calls itself the Religion of Humanity and sometimes that of Duty'; it was 'a part of wisdom to make the most of any, even small, probabilities on this subject, which furnish imagination with any footing to support itself upon' (ibid., 10.488, 483). Even without such exiguous probabilities, 'we venture to think that a religion may exist without belief in a God, and that a religion without a God may be, even to Christians, an instructive and profitable object' (ibid., 10.332).
Death and posthumous reputation
Mill's last years were spent partly in London, partly in Avignon, always in the company of the devoted Helen Taylor, often visited by Bain, Hare, the Fawcetts, and John Morley. One of his last public appearances was before the royal commission on contagious diseases (1871), where he argued that, whether the acts were retained or repealed, the key principle was even-handed treatment for both sexes. At his house in Avignon he was befriended by a young protestant pastor, Louis Rey, and his wife, whose undoctrinal Christianity closely coincided with Mill's own undoctrinal agnosticism. In April 1873 he contracted erysipelas, an inflammation of the skin endemic in the Avignon region, and died on 7 May 1873. His last words to his stepdaughter were 'you know that I have done my work' (Packe, 507). In England, the billboards of popular newspapers announced his death in many cities, a tribute accorded to no other English philosopher. Moves were set in hand to have him interred in Westminster Abbey, but before this could be arranged he was buried as he had wished in Avignon in the tomb that he had built for Harriet. A modestly religious service was conducted by Pastor Rey, who nevertheless crushed rumours of a deathbed conversion by insisting that Mill had died, as he lived, an agnostic.
Mill was a national legend long before his death, simultaneously both revered and deplored by large numbers of his fellow citizens. To Gladstone he was the 'Saint of Rationalism', to Disraeli 'the finishing governess', to F. H. Bradley 'the moral Nautical Almanack', to a young liberal of the next generation, L. T. Hobhouse, 'the greatest and best man of this century' (Packe, 51–5; Bradley, 101; Collini, 54). Even in his lifetime different strands in his thought encapsulated some of the most powerful cross-currents of the Victorian age—positivism and idealism, free-market capitalism and the rise of collectivism, mass democracy and the republic of civic virtue. Within the Victorian and post-Victorian women's movement he was to be a profoundly ambiguous figure, venerated for his promotion of female suffrage, less unanimously admired for his constructions of sex and gender. His writings on ethics and religion were to be a powerful force for translating religious belief into the purely private sphere and generating a pervasive culture of 'agnosticism'. But at the same time many of his views about ethics and the nature of belief were to be widely incorporated into late nineteenth-century Christian apologetics, and by the 1890s A System of Logic had joined Butler's Analogy as one of the two most commonly prescribed books for courses on moral theology. The reputation of Mill's other works has ebbed and flowed over the course of the last century. The Principles of Political Economy was an instant success, but declined in popularity at the end of the nineteenth century with the rise of marginalism and collectivism (even though Mill's ideas about monopoly and unearned increment were to play an important part in the economic doctrines of Fabianism and new liberalism). Mill's Logic failed to generate a new theory and methodology of the social sciences; indeed its methodological individualism has been blamed for the failure of sociological theory to seed itself deeply in twentieth-century British culture. On the other hand, its powerful social environmentalism was a major influence on the development of the applied social sciences and social policy from the mid-nineteenth century down to the present day. Mill's On Liberty was frequently dismissed in the Edwardian era as atomistic, anti-statist, and out-of-date, but it acquired a wholly new significance in the age of totalitarian dictatorship, and was to be reborn yet again during the libertarian movements of the 1960s. As a philosophical work its emphasis on the autonomy of the individual has been seen as a tacit resort to the kind of essentialism that Mill had always claimed to reject; a point that might also be made about his conceptions of character and the laws of human nature. Works like Utilitarianism and Representative Government have acquired a new salience with the emergence of liberal communitarianism since the 1980s; and the endemic tension in Mill's thought between private liberty and civic duty has many resonances in current Anglo-American political philosophy. Pinpointing Mill's precise identity on the political spectrum was a problem in his lifetime and has been so ever since—his allegiance being claimed by free-marketeers and collectivists, social democrats and liberal conservatives, paternalists and libertarians.
Mill left an estate of £14,000, of which £6000 was bequeathed to women's education and £1000 to other charities. Part of his library and private papers were left to Somerville College, Oxford, much of the rest eventually being acquired by the British Library of Political Science. A portrait by G. F. Watts, painted in 1873, is in the National Portrait Gallery. An earlier portrait by Cunningham, which has not survived, was painted during his visit to Falmouth in 1840, and reproduced in several cameo copies.
- The collected works of John Stuart Mill, ed. J. M. Robson and others, 33 vols. (1963–91)
- M. St J. Packe, The life of John Stuart Mill (1954)
- Mill on Bentham and Coleridge, ed. F. R. Leavis (1950)
- John Stuart Mill and Harriet Taylor: their correspondence and subsequent marriage, ed. F. A. Hayek (1951)
- J. Kamm, John Stuart Mill in love (1987)
- W. Thomas, The philosophic radicals: nine studies in theory and practice, 1817–1841 (1979)
- A. Ryan, The philosophy of John Stuart Mill (1970)
- S. Hollander, The economics of John Stuart Mill, 2 vols. (1985)
- S. Collini, D. Winch, and J. Burrow, That noble science of politics (1983)
- W. Whewell, The philosophy of the inductive sciences, new edn, 2 vols. (1847)
- F. H. Bradley, Ethical studies, 1959 edn (1876)
- S. Collini, Liberalism and sociology: L. T. Hobhouse and political argument in England (1979)
- BL, letters to his father; French travel, journal, Add. MS 31909
- BL, papers relating to his memorial, 1873, Add. MSS 44095, 44103, 44141, 44207, 44439, 44440
- BL, revised MS of ‘A system of logic’, Add. MSS 41624–41627
- BLPES, corresp. and papers
- Bodl. Oxf., journal of a tour of Yorkshire and the Lakes, 1831
- Hunt. L., letters
- King's AC Cam., corresp.
- Somerville College, Oxford, his personal library, with annotations
- Trinity Cam., corresp.
- U. Leeds, Brotherton L., letters
- University of Illinois, Urbana–Champaign, MSS of his autobiography, letters
- University of Toronto, Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, speech notes
- Yale U., Beinecke L., corresp. and papers
- BL, letters to Sir Charles Dilke, Add. MS 43897
- BL, corresp. with W. E. Gladstone, 1859–69, Add. MSS 44392, 44401–44402, 44407, 44409–44411, 44413, 44421
- BL, letters to George Grote and his wife, Add. MS 46691
- BL, corresp. with Thomas Hare, Add. MS 43773
- BL, letters to Macvey Napier, Add. MSS 34621–34626
- BL, corresp. with Florence Nightingale, Add. MS 45787
- BLPES, letters to Leonard Courtney
- BLPES, letters to Macrae Moir
- Bodl. Oxf., letters to Sir William Napier
- Co-operative Union, Manchester, Holyoake House archive, corresp. with George Jacob Holyoake
- Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, letters to William Christie
- Herts. ALS, letters to Lord Lytton and Albany Fonblanque
- Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, corresp.
- Maison d'Auguste Comte, Paris, corresp. with Auguste Comte
- NL Aus., letters to John Chapman
- NL Scot., corresp. with Thomas Carlyle
- Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois, corresp. with Herbert Spencer
- RS, corresp. with Sir John Herschel
- UCL, letters to Edwin Chadwick
- UCL, letters to Augustus De Morgan
- UCL, corresp. with George Croom Robertson
- University of Melbourne, letters to John Plummer
- J. and C. Watkins, photographs, 1865, NPG
- G. F. Watts, oils, 1873, City of Westminster, London; replica, NPG
- T. Woolner, bronze statue, 1878, Victoria Embankment Gardens, London
- H. Furniss, pen-and-ink drawing, NPG
- A. Legros, bronze medallion (posthumous), Man. City Gall.
- P. A. Rajon, etching (after Cunningham, 1840), Westminster City Hall, London
- Spy [L. Ward], caricature, watercolour and pencil drawing, NPG
- Spy [L. Ward], chromolithograph caricature, NPG; repro. in VF (29 March 1873)
- J. Watkins, cartes-de-visite, NPG
Wealth at Death
under £14,000: probate, 5 Sept 1873, CGPLA Eng. & Wales