The Many Faces of Philosophy: Reflections from Plato to Arendt

By Amélie Oksenberg Rorty | Go to book overview

26
Education and Social Progress

JOHN STUART MILL

J. S. Mill (1806–1873) was the son of James Mill, a leading Benthamite political
reformer. The elder Mill oversaw the education of his precocious son, setting
him to learn Greek at three and Latin at eight. In 1826, the young Mill went to
study in France, where he suffered a severe depression, attributing it to the
intensity of his hothouse education. On recovering from his depression, Mill
began to read Wordsworth and Coleridge. He became a friend of Carlyle, who
encouraged his interest in art. His two-volume Dissertations and Discussions
(1859)—a collection of occasional pieces written for the Westminster Review
and the Fortnightly Review—includes essays on poetry, and on literary and po-
litical subjects. In 1830, he met Mrs. Harriet Taylor, with whom he formed an
enduring close friendship. They married in 1851, some two years after the death
of her husband. Mill worked as an administrator for the East India Company
from 1823 until the company dissolved in 1858; he served as a member of Par-
liament for a term, 1865–1868. After the death of Harriet Taylor in 1858, he spent
a good deal of time in Avignon, until his own death in 1873.

Although he remained a utilitarian, Mill greatly modified Bentham's hedonic
calculus by distinguishing qualities, as well as quantities of pleasure and pain.
With characteristic modesty, Mill said that his far-reaching revisions of Ben-
tham's views were little more than a revival of Aristotelian eudaimonism. Mill's
version of utilitarianism had significant consequences for his views on education:
he argued that moral education requires the development of appropriate sen-
timents as well as the skills of sound empirical and analytic reasoning (Inaugural
Address to the University of St. Andrews
, 1867). Since the political application
of utilitarianism requires grounding in the logic of practical reasoning, Mill also
wrote a System of Logic, Deductive and Inductive (1843) and Political Economy
(1848). With the aim of providing an empirical basis for the calculation necessary
for making sound policy decisions, he developed techniques and methods for
inductive reasoning in the social sciences. His applied logic suited his associa-
tional philosophical psychology, which traces general ideas back to associations
among perceptual experience.

Mill held political views that were considered radical for the times. His in-
fluential On Liberty (1859) presents an argument that the constraint of individual
liberty is only justified when its exercise is likely to limit the liberty of others.
The primacy of the liberty of public discussion was, he argued, a condition for
the progressive movement toward truth. The principle of unfettered liberty
should, he thought, only be applied in societies that have achieved a relatively
high level of education. In his movingly reflective Autobiography (1867), he at-
tributed his far-reaching views on the status of women to his association with
Harriet Taylor. They both advocated women's rights to suffrage and to equal
access to education and the occupations. In The Subjection of Women (1869),
Mill argued that the inequality of women is a bar to progress because it de-
grades the educational importance of intelligent discussion in the family and
provides a harmful model of social life. A utilitarian even in matters of religion,

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