Mill, John Stuart (1806–73)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DC054-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2005
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

1. Life

Mill was born in London on the 20 May 1806, the eldest son of a Scotsman, James Mill, and an English woman, Harriet Burrow. James educated his son himself - an education made famous by the account John Stuart gave of it in his Autobiography (1873). He taught John the classics, logic, political economy, jurisprudence and psychology - starting with Greek at the age of three. John was brought up in a circle of intellectual and political radicals, friends of his father, which included Jeremy Bentham and David Ricardo. In his twenties (not surprisingly, perhaps) he was afflicted by a deep depression from which he recovered partly through reading poetry. In those and subsequent years he also came to know some of the most interesting younger figures in English politics and culture. These included conservative critics of Benthamism, as well as radical adherents to it.

Mill followed his father into the East India Company, where he became an influential official, resigning only in 1858 when, following the Indian Mutiny, the Company was taken over by the Crown and the governance of India became the direct business of the British State. In 1851 he married Harriet Taylor, who according to his own account greatly influenced his social philosophy. In the 1860s he was briefly a member of Parliament, and throughout his life was involved in many radical causes. Among them was his lifelong support for women’s rights - see The Subjection of Women (1869).

Mill made his philosophical reputation with his System of Logic, published in 1843. The Principles of Political Economy (1848) was a synthesis of classical economics which defined liberal orthodoxy for at least a quarter of a century. His two best-known works of moral philosophy, On Liberty and Utilitarianism, appeared later - in 1859 and 1861. But he had been thinking about ethics and politics all his life, and it is his moral and political philosophy which is at present most widely read.

Citing this article:
Skorupski, John. Life. Mill, John Stuart (1806–73), 2005, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DC054-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

Related Articles