The Routledge Companion to Nineteenth Century Philosophy

By Dean Moyar | Go to book overview

20
MILL: LOGIC AND
METAPHYSICS

Fred Wilson


Introduction

John Stuart Mill (20 May 1806–8 May 1873) was born in Pentonville, then a suburb of London. He was the son of James Mill. The young Mill never attended school, nor went to university: he was home educated by his father. The educational practice was guided by the learning theory, associationism, of James Mill and Jeremy Bentham, one of the leaders (James Mill was another) of the radical reformers who defended reform principles on the basis of utilitarianism in ethics and political philosophy, Ricardo’s theory in classical economics, and associationism in psychology. A remarkable education it was – beginning with Greek at three, and proceeding rapidly through history, mathematics, Latin, economics and logic – certainly by the age of seventeen he was the best educated young man in Great Britain. He always held up his own person to give an example of what a good education could achieve and what the existing systems of education at public schools and universities in England certainly did not achieve. He was educated to be the leader of the utilitarian party, which in due course he did become, though not without reworking its doctrines and principles, in major works such as his System of Logic (1843) and Principles of Political Economy (1848). These went through many editions, and both shaped discussions for years to come. His essays on “Utilitarianism” (1861) and “On Liberty” (1859) were important in their own day, and continue to this day to be of interest to philosophers and political scientists. His argument in “The Subjection of Women” (1869a) was important in the strong impetus it gave towards the movement for women’s liberation. His major work in metaphysics was his Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy (1865); this deserves greater attention than it has received, but so thoroughly demolished the philosophy it was attacking that it is now little read. He wrote many essays and reviews for Victorian journals, including major essays on “Bentham” (1838) and “Coleridge” (1840) which re-shaped the utilitarianism of the radical reformers, and a review on the published lectures on moral philosophy and its history by William Whewell in which Mill critically attacked intuitionism in ethics. His posthumously published Autobiography (1873) is a classic of Victorian literature.

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