J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism

J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism

J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism

J.S. Mill on Civilization and Barbarism

Synopsis

Mill's contributions in many disciplines are highly regarded by scholars, but the author argues that what has been relatively ignored was his commitment to societal development. The author situates his achievements alongside contemporaries like Comte, Marx and Toqueville.

Excerpt

John Stuart Mill is remarkable not merely for the quality of his intellect but also for the breadth of his concerns. His writings cover the fields of philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, religion and psychology. This particular study derives from an initial interest in his political theory. Within that field scholarship has tended to concentrate around a few key issues. First there is the question of how Mill adapted his utilitarian heritage; of whether his suggested modifications reform or undermine it. Related to this is the question of whether On Liberty, his most famous work, is compatible with his professed utilitarianism or whether it is based on other principles. Second, there is Mill's attempted defence of individuality against both society and the state. This question involves the adequacy, or otherwise, of Mill's famous distinction between self- and other-regarding actions. Third, there is discussion of where, if anywhere, to draw the line on free expression. Fourth, in his Autobiography Mill declared his adherence to a 'qualified socialism', without saying precisely what the qualifications were. Fifth, the connection between Mill and liberalism has been much discussed, and is an issue to which I shall turn in the final chapter.

Here I shall suggest that the categories of relevance within which we place a thinker put the focus on certain issues concerning them and so necessarily downgrade or exclude others. in political theory we too easily ignore Mill's major contribution to economics. His Principles of Political Economy went through seven editions in his lifetime and was probably the major British economics textbook of the second half of the nineteenth century. Mill is also famous for the early and severe education that his father imposed upon him. He did not go out to school and so had minimal contact with other children. He was reading Greek and Latin at an age when other boys were sent outdoors to get some fresh air and exercise. His education, presumably, gave him his life-long commitment to education as such, and so he is well known for his concern with individual development.

What is relatively neglected, and what we shall here discuss, is that Mill showed an equal commitment to societal development and so can be placed

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