John Stuart Mill
Researched and written by: Danny Moore
|I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original
| John Stuart Mill (1806-1873),
19th century British philosopher, is among one of the most prominent and
influential thinkers of our time. Though known more widely for his logical,
moral, political, and economic theories, he was a major contributor to
the defense of empiricism and the science of psychology as well.
John Stuart Mill was born
on May 20, 1806 in a suburb of London. He was the eldest son of philosopher
James Mill. His father James was a firm believer in the mechanistic perspective,
the view that humans are like machines. This view led him to believe that
the mind as well is nothing more than a machine. Therefore James believed
that at birth the mind was like a blank slate for experience to write.
All knowledge then becomes a result of experience. James extended these
views to the upbringing of his son John. He believed that in determining
the experiences his son would take he could mold him into some kind of
super intelligent machine. Therefore, shortly after birth he began drilling
his son with a massive amount of strict private tutoring. This would be
the only way young Mill was ever taught. All of his education came from
his father and his fatherís friends. Through his fathers rigorous system
Mill was able to read Greek by age 3 and Latin by age 8. By the time he
was 14 he had already mastered most of the classics of several languages.
In addition, he was well educated in history, logic, mathematics, and economic
Though his fatherís system
was fairly controversial, Mill was developing into a very intelligent child.
However, there was one problem that concerned many, as well as John Stuart
Mill himself. Though his intellectual development was far superior to that
of any other child his age, his personal and emotional development was
highly neglected. His father restricted him from associating with other
boys. Thus all of his development as a child was forced and programmed
into him making it difficult for him to develop naturally and experience
what most kids his age experienced.
After his early years and
at about age 15 Mill began studying with Jeremy Bentham, a friend of his
father James Mill who together founded the utilitarian school of philosophy.
Bentham was a strong influence on young Millís thought. It was in reading
Bentham that he believed gave order to his previously tangled thoughts.
Soon afterwards Mill and a few friends formed a Utilitarian Society embracing
the political and philosophical views of his father James. When came time
for Mill to begin working he took up a job with his father at the East
India Company. He eventually took over his fatherís position as Chief Examiner
and held that position until the company disbanded in 1858.
At the age of 21 Mill suffered
from a severe depression and experienced a mental crisis. He believed this
to be the result of the severe physical and mental stress his fatherís
rigid system exerted upon him during his younger years. He described his
crisis as a loss or dullness of life. Everything had lost its charm. Everything
he had worked for and all of his accomplishments were no longer worthwhile.
It was if his life had lost meaning. He had nothing left to live for. This
crisis lasted several years before he began to regain a sense of meaning
in his life. He also began to stray away from his traditional teachings
and utilitarian mode of thought insisted upon him by his father and Jeremy
His recovery from life may
have been associated with a close relationship beginning in 1830 he maintained
with Harriet Taylor, a married woman who became a significant factor in
his life. Although Mrs. Taylor husband was surprisingly tolerant of their
relationship, Millís father was not. Regardless they remained close until
1851, two years after the death of Mr. Taylor, when John and Harriet were
married. Mill believes that Harriet was a major influence and inspiration
to his life and development. During these years his work began to increase
and expand dramatically. His wife actually co-authored with him on some
pieces. He also began to embrace poetry in which his father had previously
restricted him from. In 1858 however Harriet passed away. Mill was extremely
heart broken as a result. She was buried in Avignon were he proceeded to
build a cottage in which he could view upon her grave. It was there that
he spent a great deal of the rest of his life.
In 1865 Mill was elected
to the House of Commons. He continued to serve here before failing to be
re-elected in 1868. His performance was, however, well noted. During his
time he emphasized three major things including the interest of the working
classes, women suffrage, and land reform in Ireland. He continued to work
after this and eventually became tied in with Helen Taylor, daughter of
Harriet Taylor, as close friends and who became another important aspect
of his life. After Millís death in 1873 Helen continued to release and
publish many of his important works. Mill was buried next to his wife Harriet
In his earlier years Mill
contributed numerous articles, reviews, and essays appearing in several
publications. The two articles on Bentham and Coleridge, published between
1838 and 1840, began to show a more matured and independent thinking Mill.
These articles are believed to be crucial in understanding Millís mode
of thought. It was this way of thinking that did not change much the remainder
of his career.
Millís first great accomplishment
in philosophy came with his release of System of Logic (1843). This was
one of the few systematic approaches to logic of his time and his only
systematic treatise in philosophy. After first establishing his terminology
and propositions, as well as the deductive reasoning of the syllogism,
he then set the book aside for several years before picking it up again
in order to focus on the inductive process. His analysis of the method
of induction is what he is most credited for in this work.
Many of the ideas in Millís
System of Logic (1843) can be applied directly to scientific methodology.
It is for these reasons that Mill is recognized as an important figure
in the history of psychology. Millís logic clearly supports empiricism
and the idea that every event has a cause, or underlying law, that is available
for us to discover. He believes all knowledge comes from experience, rejecting
the existence of innate ideas, that is knowledge that exists prior to experience.
Therefore Mill supports the notion that we are born with a blank slate
in which experience will write.
It is Millís analysis of
induction that he believes is the basis of the scientific method. He believes
it is induction that can allow us to more accurately infer any kind of
knowledge from the sample to the population. He states that although this
method does not result in absolute certainty it does not follow that it
is irrational or unjustified. In addition, he believes that it is induction,
and not deduction, that can lead us to the discovery of new truths.
Another significant contribution
to philosophy and empirical thought came with Millís Examinations of Sir
William Hamiltonís Philosophy (1865). This work goes along the same lines
as his System of Logic (1843). Mill adds to this work an account of perception.
He states that the external world is full of what he refers to as a permanent
possibility of sensation. He believes that there are things that exist
unperceived, such as the inside of an orange, and upon discovery lead us
to form expectations. Our experiences and expectations are what lead us
to associate certain ideas. Therefore, when we again view an orange we
not only perceive what is immediately available, but associate what we
have previously experienced with it as well. Association is a big part
of Millís psychology.
Mill focuses again on the
idea of association while reprinting his fatherís work known as Analysis
of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829). When Mill reprinted this in
1869 he revised and corrected some of his fatherís ideas. Mill states that
when one impression or idea is accompanied by another an association is
formed. These associations create the habit of expectation and causal inference.
Thus Mill seems to view the mind as somewhat passive.
In addition to his analysis
of associationism Mill also included the idea of mental chemistry, or how
it is known now, creative synthesis. Mill rejects the view, which was held
by his father, that complex ideas are simply a summation of its simpler
parts. Mill however believes that there is more to it than that. He states
that complex ideas usually take on a whole new form which is greater than
the simple combination of its simpler parts. In addition, complex ideas
may contain properties not originally found in the simpler components.
A classic example of this notion is the mixing of blue, red, and green
light. When combined the outcome is white light, a result not expected
and possessing original qualities not present before hand.
Mill also contributed greatly
to other areas of philosophy not strictly dealing with psychology or scientific
methodology. This includes work concerning moral philosophy, social and
political philosophy, and his essays on religion. Among his noted works
concerning these topics are Essays on Some Unsettled Questions of Political
Economy (1844), The Principles of Political Economy (1848), Thoughts on
Parliamentary Reform (1859), Considerations on Representative Government
(1860), Essays on Religion (1874), and his more well known works On Liberty
(1859), On the Subjection of Women (1869), and Utilitarianism, first appearing
in 1861 then more widely published in 1863. These works all have their
importance and significance and follow his previous methods of thought
and reasoning previously discussed, though applying them to different issues
such as economics and morality.
Although Mill never published
anything dealing strictly with psychology, his works included many ideas
that would be of importance to psychology and more specifically the methodology
of science and empiricism. His System of Logic (1843) and reprinting of
his fatherís Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1869), as discussed
above, contain many crucial ideas to psychology and science as a whole.
Many of these ideas remain significant today and in their own time were
crucial in the development of psychology as an empirical science. Thus
Mill remains an important figure in the history of psychology.
| Internet Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. (2001). John Stuart Mill. Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
[On-line], available at: http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/.
Schultz, D. P., & Schultz,
S. E. (Eds.). (2000). A History of Modern Psychology (7th ed.). Philadelphia:
Harcourt College Publishers.
Stanford Encyclopedia of
Philosophy. (2001). John Stuart Mill. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
[On-line], available at: http://plato.stanford.edu/.