MILL, John Stuart

Born: May 20, 1806, in Pentonville, London, England

Died: May 8, 1873, in Avignon, France

John Stuart Mill was an English philosopher and economist who was a leading proponent of a liberal movement which greatly influenced Western thought at the time. He was a champion of Utilitarianism and a supporter of women's suffrage. Many of his best-known works were influenced by his wife, Harriet Taylor, to whom he attributed his understanding of the human side of his reforms. In his time, Mill was considered a radical for supporting such measures as public ownership of natural resources, equality for women, and birth control.

The oldest son of James Mill, he was educated by his father. He began his studies of Greek at age three. By the age of seventeen he was fluent in Greek literature, philosophy, chemistry, botany, psychology and law. As the oldest child in the family, his responsibility was to teach his younger siblings what he had already learned.

He worked for the examiner's office of the India House rising to be an assistant to his father in 1822. He eventually replaced his father as director in 1857. In his spare time he edited the papers of Jeremy Bentham, and wrote for the Utilitarian Westminster Review. He was also a member of London's debating society.

In 1826 Mill suffered a breakdown manifested in the symptoms of depression. At age 30 he discovered his great resource of knowledge lacked a spiritual focus. He had a crisis that he resolved partly though the study of Wordsworth. The poet's emphasis on morality and emotional community with others helped Mill recover. He came to realize the doctrine of Utilitarianism needed to be changed to meet intellectual, economic and emotional needs of humans.

In 1830 he met Harriet Taylor, who was married at the time, and had a platonic relationship with her for twenty-one years. They married in 1851 after the death of her husband. After the collapse of India House, Mill took up residence in France but in 1858 his wife suddenly died and he bought a house in Avignon so he could be close to her grave.

He returned to England to hold public office from 1865-1868. When he failed to be re-elected in 1868, he retired to France where he studied and wrote until his death.

One of Mill's key writings was Representative Government, published in 1861. It was a systematized culmination of Mill's political principles arguing for a form of government which combines the greatest amount of good with the least amount of evil.

Mill's writings bridge the eighteenth century ideals of liberty, reason and science with those concerns of the nineteenth century such as empiricism and collectivity. His philosophy based knowledge on human experience and emphasized human reason culminating in the work Utilitarianism in 1836.

Politically, he advocated individual liberty, emphasizing that liberty is threatened by social or political interference and tyranny. Although never a socialist, he was influenced by pre-Marxist doctrine to work to improve the conditions of the working class and his debates in parliament on the Reform Bill are credited for spurring the suffrage movement.