John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

John Stuart Mill

Excerpt

John Stuart Mill was a versatile writer: economist, moralist, logician, political philosopher and literary journalist. His books on economics and logic, once thought his most important, are nowadays less esteemed, but his work in other fields, especially in politics and ethics, has come in the past few years to be more highly regarded than ever before. As a man he has lost none of his charm. To his Victorian contemporaries Mill was the 'saint of rationalism', a stern but sympathetic champion of agnostic rectitude and measured political reform. To the reader of today he seems, in the light of recent biographies, a more human, a less formidable figure; and it is clear that his personality holds more than the usual number of keys to the understanding of his work.

Mill's childhood was a singular one. He was born in 1806, the eldest son of a philosopher. James Mill, himself the son of an ambitious Scots domestic servant, lived frugally on patronage and writing for the press, but he was the friend of the great Jeremy Bentham, and Bentham's chief disciple as an exponent of ethical hedonism. Even more than Bentham, James Mill belonged to the eighteenth century and the Enlightenment. His thinking was in the main tradition of Locke and Hume and Voltaire, though he brought to their somewhat cold philosophy the ardour of his Scottish Calvinist temperament. James Mill was determined to educate his eldest son to be another philosopher like himself.

John Stuart Mill Autobiography has made the story of that education famous. He was taught at home, and his father was his tutor. He was made to learn Greek at the age of three, then arithmetic, history and Latin. He saw hardly any children's books, and few other children. When he was twelve he began the study of logic, metaphysics and ethics which was to be the crowning feature of his upbringing; it was a close study, but one carefully confined to those schools of thought of which his father approved.

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