John Stuart Mill was born on May 20, 1806 in London, [1] England to James Mill and Harriet Burrow. Mill was a philosopher, political economist, and a member of the British Parliament. John Stuart Mill is considered one of the greatest thinkers of the nineteenth century. [2]

John Stuart Mill


Mill’s father, James Mill, was Scottish philosopher, historian, and economist who was made famous by his book History of British India (1817). Mill's father was a good friend and loyal follower of Jeremy Bentham. Bentham was a leading theorist on the philosophy of law, a political radical and a well-known utilitarian . He viewed John Stuart Mill as his apprentice. Mill had a strong intellect and was a talented student. James Mill and Jeremy Bentham saw the education of John Stuart Mill as something of an experiment.

At the age of three Mill began Greek lessons, followed by Latin, mathematics, and English history. By the age of 12 he was reading Plato, Aristotle, Adam Smith, and David Ricardo [3]. Mill was very fond of Socrates and Plato, and the logic they applied to their ideas. At 15 he was considered to be formally educated. "His education put him, as he later said, a quarter a century ahead of his contemporaries"[4].

At 17 Mill began a 35 year career as a clerk at India House, the headquarters of the East India Company and the same company his father worked for. Following in his father's footsteps, he eventually rose to the highest post of managing director.[5] At the same time, Mill began writing and established himself as a literary figure. He wrote for newspapers and at age 18 he edited Bentham's book Rationale and Judicial Evidence. Mill founded a 'Utilitarian society' and in his day, was viewed as an emerging leader in the Utilitarian movement [6].

Mill suffered a 'mental crisis' at age 20. He stopped working for approximately two years.[7]
This time of healing was enlightening for Mill, and his ideas about moral theory were reshaped. Mill emerged with a new sense of the narrowness and insufficiency of his father's doctrinare beliefs"[8]. He also emerged with changed ideas about “pleasures” as the desired consequence.

Shortly after his recovery from depression, Mill went to Paris, France where he met Harriet Taylor in 1830. [9] At the time, Harriet Taylor was married to John Taylor. Mill and Harriet Taylor became close friends. They shared and edited each other's work. Taylor was “favourably inclined to socialism”[10]. Two years after John Taylor died, Harriet and John Stuart Mill married in 1851. Mill was influenced greatly by his relationship with Harriet Taylor. In the dedication of On Liberty (1859), Mill wrote that Taylor was "the inspirer, and in part author, of all that is best in my writings"[11].

Harriet Taylor Mill

Mill's views were also shaped by the philosophy of hedonism. Arguably, however, Jeremy Bentham had the strongest influence on Mill.

Mill's Utilitarianism

Mill's Utilitarianism is based on Jeremy Bentham's principle of utility and the 'happiness principle' [12]. The Utilitarian Principle of Utility is the 'greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people'. Mill argued "Happiness is the justification and ought to be the controller of all ends, but is not itself the sole end"[13]. Utilitarians believe everyone's happiness is equally important. Mill believed utilitarian principles become universal objective standards and guidelines to answer moral questions and determine what is right and wrong.

While Mill was suffering from depression, he revealed that emotion does have a role in human nature and that making decisions based on the sheer benefit of pleasure was too “crude to be deployed as a tool of social change”[14].

Utilitarians are consequentialists, they ask "what should I do?" and "what will the consequences and outcomes be?" [15]

Mill introduced the idea that all pleasures are not equal and some pleasures are of higher quality than others which needs to be considered before a moral decision can be made. He argued that the pleasures of the intellect are higher quality than physical pleasures. He described that few humans would prefer 'beastly pleasures' and was famous for writing "it is better to be a human being dissatisfied than a pig satisfied; better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied" [16].

Benthamite utilitarianism was “without distraction” which meant that utilitarian moral theory could not consider “religion, art, poetry or philosophy, or more generally without any sense of the proper place the emotions should occupy in a healthy view of the world” [17].

Harm Principle

Mill also introduced the Harm Principle in what is considered to be his greatest work, On Liberty. Here Mill wrote “That the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”[18]. This essay appeared in 1859 and was written in reaction to what was occurring in the world politically.On Liberty addresses individual liberty and the legitimate power of society.

Mill was an advocate for the Rights of Women, was elected Member of Parliament for Westminster in 1865,
and he was Elected Lord Rector of Saint Andrew’s University[19].

Mills died on May 7, 1873 in Avignon, France. He is buried next to his wife, Harriet. [20]

Mill's Works

Popular published works of John Stuart Mill include: Utilitarianism, On Liberty, Considerations of Representative Government, The Subjection of Women. All were written between 1854-186 [21].

The standard edition of Mill's writings, in thirty-three volumes, is the following:
Mill, J. S., Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, J. M. Robson (ed.), Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1963ff.

(1838) “Bentham,” CW, v. 10, pp. 75-115.
(1840) “Coleridge,” CW, v. 10. pp. 117-63.
(1843) System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, CW, v. 7-8.
(1848) Principles of Political Economy, CW, v. 2-3.
(1859) On Liberty, CW, v. 18, pp. 213-310.
(1861a) Utilitarianism, CW, v. 10, pp. 203-59.
(1861b) Considerations on Representative Government, CW, v. 29, pp. 371-577.
(1865a) An Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, CW, v. 9.
(1865b) Auguste Comte and Positivism, CW, v. 10, pp. 261-368.
(1869a) The Subjection of Women, CW, v. 21, pp. 259-340.
(1869b) Notes to James Mill, Analysis of the Phaenomena of the Human Mind, 2nd edition, J. S. Mill (ed.); (1st edition, 1829; 2nd edition, London: Longman, Green, Reader and Dyer, 1869; reprinted New York: A. Keley, 1967).
(1873) Autobiography, CW, v. 1, pp. 1-290.
(1874) Three Essays on Religion, CW, v. 10, pp. 369-489.
Chapters on Socialism, CW, v. 5, pp. 703-53.
(1963) Earlier Letters, CW, v. 12-13 [Mill's correspondence through 1848].
(1972) Later Letters, CW, v. 14-17 [Mill's correspondence after 1848].
(1988) Public and Parliamentary Speeches, CW, v. 28-29.


1. Skorupski, J. (2006). Why read Mill today? Oxon, England: Routledge.
2. Skorupski, 2006; Wilson, 2012
3. Skorupski, 2006, p. 2
4. Burtt, E. (1939) The English Philosophers From Bacon to Mill. New York: Random House, Inc. p. 893
5. Burtt, 1939, p. 893
6. Ellery, J. B. , 1964
7. Skorupski, 2006 p. 1X
8. Burtt, 1939, p. 893
9. Skorupski, 2006, p. 1X
10. Waldron, J. , 2002, John Stuart Mill: Intro. In Classics of Political and Moral Philosophy (pp.890-892).

11. Mill in Gray & Smith, 1991, p. 22
12. Skorupski, 2006, p. 15
13. Mill in Skorupski, 2006, p. 15
14. Mill, J. S. (1838). Bentham. In A. W. Levi (Eds.). The Six Great Essays of John Stuart Mill (pp.27-70)
15. Seib, P. & Fitzpatrick, K., 1995, p. 30
16. Mill, J. S. (1838). Utilitarianism. In A. W. Levi (Eds.). The Six Great Essays of John Stuart Mill (p. 252)
17. Waldron, J. (2002). p. 890
18. Mill. J. S., (1863). On Liberty. In A. W. Levi (Eds.).Six Great Essays of John Stuart Mill (p.135).
19. Ellery, J.B. 1964
21. Waldron, J. (2002). p.892