John Stuart Mill



Life and Writings

John Stuart Mill was born in London on May 20, 1806, and was the eldest of son of James Mill. He was educated entirely by his father, James Mill, and was deliberately shielded from association with other boys of his age. From his earliest years, he was subjected to a rigid system of intellectual discipline. As a result of this system, according to his own account, he believed this gave him an advantage of a quarter of a century over his contemporaries. Mill recognized, in later life, that his father's system had the fault of appealing to the intellect only and that the culture of his practical and emotional life had been neglected, while his physical health was probably undermined by the strenuous labor exacted from him. James Mill's method seems to have been designed to make his son's mind a first-rate thinking machine, so that the boy might become a prophet of the utilitarian gospel. He had no doubts at the outset of his career. On reading Bentham (this was when he was fifteen or sixteen) the feeling rushed upon him "that all previous moralists were superseded." The principle of the utility, he says, understood and applied as it was by Bentham, "gave unity to my conception of things. I now had opinions; a creed, a doctrine, a philosophy; in one among the best senses of the word, a religion; the inculcation and diffusion of which could be made the principle outward purpose of a life." Soon afterwards he formed a small Utilitarian Society, and, for some few years, he was one of "a small knot of young men" who adopted his father's philosophical and political views "with youthful fanaticism." A position under his father in the India Office had secured him against the misfortune of having to depend on literary work for his livelihood; and he found that office-work left him ample leisure for the pursuit of his wider interests.

He was already coming to be looked upon as a leader of thought when, in his twenty-first year, the mental crisis occurred which is described in his Autobiography. This crisis was a result of the severe strain, physical and mental, to which he had been subjected from his earliest years. He was "in a dull state of nerves;" the objects of his life for which he had been trained and for which he had worked lost their charm; he had "no delight in virtue, or the general good, but also just as little in anything else;" a constant habit of analysis had dried up the fountains of feeling within him. After many months of despair he found, accidentally, that the capacity for emotion was not dead, and "the cloud gradually drew off". Another important factor in his life was Mrs. Taylor, who co-authored pieces with him. He maintained a close relationship with her for many years while she was married. When her husband died, Mill married her in 1851. His work in connection with the literary journals was enormous. He wrote articles almost without number and on an endless variety of subjects (philosophical, political, economic, social). They began with The Westminster Review and extended to other magazinesespecially The London Review and, afterwards, The London and Westminster Review. They were valuable as enabling us to trace the development of his opinions, the growth of his views in philosophy, and the gradual modification of his radicalism in politics.

His first great intellectual work was his System of Logic, R atiocinative and Inductive, which appeared in 1843. This was followed, in due course by his Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1844), and Principles of Political Economy (1848). In 1859 appeared his little treatise On Liberty, and his Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform. His Considerations on Representative Government belongs to the year 1860; and in 1863 (after first appearing in magazine form) came his Utilitarianism. In the Parliament of 1865-68, he sat as Radical member for Westminister. He advocated three major things in the House of Commonswomen suffrage, the interests of the laboring classes, and land reform in Ireland. In 1865, came his Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy; in 1867, his Rectorial Inaugural Address at St. Andrews University, on the value of culture; in 1868, his pamphlet on England and Ireland; and in 1869, his treatise on The Subjection of Women. Also in 1869, his edition of his father's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind was published. Mill died at Avignon in 1873. After his death were published his Autobiography (1873) and Three Essays on Religion: Nature, the Utility of Religion, and Theism (1874), written between 1830 and 1870.

Early Writings

Mill's widened intellectual sympathies were shown by his reviews of Tennyson's poems and of Carlyle's French Revolution in 1835 and 1837. The articles on Bentham and on Coleridge, published in 1838 and 1840 respectively, disclose his modified philosophical outlook and the exact measure of his new mental independence. From the position now occupied, he did not seriously depart throughout the strenuous literary work of his mature years. The influence of the new spirit, which he identified with the thinking of Coleridge, did not noticeable develop further; if anything, perhaps, his later writings adhered more nearly to the traditional views than might have been anticipated from some indications in his early articles on Bentham and Coleridge.

These two articles provide the key for understanding Mill's own thought. He looks upon Bentham as a great constructive genius who had first brought light and system into regions formally chaotic. No finer nor more just appreciation of Bentham's work has ever been written. Mill agrees with Bentham's fundamental principle and approves his method. Bentham made morals and politics scientific, but his knowledge of life was limited. "It is wholly empirical and the empiricism of one who has had little experience." The deeper things of life did not touch him; all the subtler workings of mind and its environment were hidden from his view. It is significant that Mill assumes that, for light on these deeper and subtler aspects of life, we must go not to other writers of the empirical tradition, but to thinkers of an entirely different school. He disagrees with the latter fundamentally in the systematic presentation of their viewswhether these be defended by the easy appeal to intuition or by the more elaborate methods of Schelling or Hegel. What we really get from them are half-lightsglimpses, often fitful and always imperfect, into aspects of truth not seen at all by their opponents. Coleridge represented this type of thought. He had not Bentham's great constructive faculties; but he had insight in regions where Bentham's vision failed, and he appreciated, what Bentham almost entirely overlooked, the significance of historical tradition.

The ideas which Mill derived from the writings of Coleridge, or from his association with younger men who had been influenced by Coleridge, did not bring about any fundamental change in his philosophical standpoint, we can trace their effect. He seems conscious that the analysis which satisfied other followers of Bentham is imperfect, and that difficulties remain which they are unable to solve and cannot even see.

System of Logic

Mill's System of Logic was published in 1843, and ran through many editions. The third (1850) and the eighth (1872) editions, especially, were thoroughly revised and supplemented with new and controversial material. It is his only systematic philosophical treatise. In spite of Hobbe's treatise, and of the suggestive discussions in the third book of Locke's Essay, the greater English philosophers almost seem to have conspired to neglect the theory of logic. Logic kept its place as an academic study, but on traditional lines; Aristotle was supposed to have said the last word on it, and that last word was enshrined in scholastic manuals. English thought, however, was beginning to emerge from this stage. Richard Whately had written a text-book, Elements of Logic (1826), which gave considerable impetus to the study, and Hamilton's more comprehensive researches had begun. Mill first worked out his theory of terms, propositions, and the syllogism; he then set the book aside for five years. When he returned to it and focused on the inductive process, he found material John Herschel's Discourse on the Study of Natural Philosophy (1830), and William Whewell's History of the Inductive Sciences (1837). After his theory of induction was substantially complete, he became acquainted with, and derived stimulus and assistance from, the first two volumes of Comte's Cours de Philosophie Positive (1830). These were the chief influences on his work.

The reputation of Mill's Logic was largely due to his analysis of inductive proof. He provided the empirical sciences with a set of formula and criteria which might serve the same purpose for them as the time-worn formulae of the syllogism had served for arguments that proceeded from general principles. Mill's work is not merely a logic in the limited sense of that term which had become customary in England. It is also a theory of knowledge such as Locke and Hume provide. Mill's account is made more precise by its reference to the question of proof or evidence. Mill formulates five guiding methods of inductionthe method of agreement, that of difference, the joint or double method of agreement and difference, the method of residues, and that of concomitant variations. The common feature of these methods, the one real method of scientific inquiry, is that of elimination. All the other methods are thus subordinate to the method of difference. Here we have a case of the occurrence of the phenomenon under investigation and a case of its nonoccurrence, these cases having every circumstance in common, save one, that one occurring only in the former; and we are warranted in concluding that this circumstance, in which alone the two cases differ, is either the cause or a necessary part of the cause of the phenomenon.

It is only in the simpler cases of casual connection, however, that we can apply these direct methods of observation and experiment. In the more complex cases, we have to employ the inductive method, which consists of three operations: induction, ratiocination or deduction, and verification.

To the Deductive Method, thus characterized in its three constituent partsInduction, Ratiocination, and Verificationthe human mind is indebted for its most conspicuous triumphs in the investigation of nature. To it we owe all the theories by which vast and complicated phenomena are embraced under a few simple laws, which, considered as the laws of those great phenomena, could never have been detected by their direct study. (Logic, Book III. Chapter XI. Section 3).

We deduce the law or cause of a complex effect from the laws of the separate causes whose concurrence gives rise to it. For example, "the mechanical and the organized body and the medium in which it subsists, together with the peculiar vital laws of the different tissues constituting the organic structure," afford the clue to "the laws on which the phenomena of life depend" (Logic, III. XI. I). But these "laws of the different causes" must first be ascertained by direct induction, and finally verified, as comparison with the facts of the case. Thus the entire process is based on induction.

To warrant reliance on the general conclusions arrived at by deduction, these conclusions must be found, on careful comparison, to accord with the results of direct observation wherever it can be had. . . Thus it was very reasonably deemed an essential requisite of any true theory of the causes of the celestial motions, that it should lead by deduction to Kepler's laws; which, accordingly, the Newtonian theory did. (Ibid, III. XI. 3).

The validity of the entire inductive process is thus clearly seen to depend upon the validity of its underlying assumption, the law of causation itself. Assuming that every phenomenon has a cause, or invariable and unconditional antecedent, we investigate the problem of causation in detail. Is this fundamental assumption itself valid? Mill cannot avail himself of the theory that the law of universal causation is an intuition of reason or an a priori and transcendental principle. For him the only possible view is that

the belief we entertain in the university, throughout nature, of the law of cause and effect, is itself an instance of induction. . . We arrive at this universal law by generalization from many laws of inferior generality. We should never have had the notion of causation (in the philosophical meaning of the term) as a condition of all phenomena, unless many cases of causation, or, in other words, many partial uniformities of sequence, had previously become familiar. The more obvious of the particular uniformities suggest, and give evidence of, the general uniformity, once established, enables us to prove the remainder of the particular uniformities of which it is made up. (Logic, III. XXI. 4)

These early inductions, which result in the law of universal causation, cannot belong to the same type as those rigorous inductions which conform to the canons of scientific induction and presuppose the law of universal causation; they belong to "the loose and uncertain mode of induction per enumeration simplicem." How, then, can a process whose basis is thus loose and uncertain have any certain validity? Mill's answer is that induction by simple enumeration, or "generalisation of an observed fact from the mere absence of any known instance to the contrary," as contrasted with the critical induction of science, is a valid, though a fallible process, which must precede the less fallible forms of the inductive process, and that "the precariousness of the method of simple enumeration is in an inverse ratio to the largeness of the generalization."

As the sphere widens, this unscientific methods becomes less and less liable to mislead; and the most universal class of truths, the law of causation, for instance, and the principles of number and geometry, are duly and satisfactorily proved by that method alone, nor are they susceptible of any other proof.

The universality of the law of causation, as it is an induction from our experience, does not extend to "circumstances unknown to us, and beyond the possible range of our experience."

In distant parts of the stellar regions, where the phenomena may be entirely unlike those with which we are acquainted, it would be folly to affirm confidently that this general law prevails, any more than those special ones which we have found to hold universally on our own planet. The uniformity in the succession of events, otherwise called the law of causation, must by received, not as a law of the universe, by of that portion of it only which is within the range of our means of sure observation, with a reasonable degree of extension to adjacent cases. To extend it further is to make a supposition without evidence, and to which, in the absence of any ground from experience for estimating its degree of probability, it would be idle to attempt to assign any. (Logic, III. XXI. 4)

There is no difficulty in conceiving "that in someone, for instance, of the many firmaments into which sidereal astronomy now divides the universe, events may succeed one another at random without any fixed law; nor can anything in our experience, or in our mental nature, constitute a sufficient, or indeed any, reason for believing that this is nowhere the case" (Ibid., III. XXI. 4).

The appearance of paradox in the view that the law of causation is at once the presupposition and the result of induction disappears, according to Mill, with "the old theory of reasoning, which supposes the universal truth, or major premise, in a ratiocination, to be the real proof of the particular truths which are ostensibly inferred from it." His own view is that "the major premise is not the proof of the conclusion, but is itself proved, along with the conclusion, from the same evidence." The old theory implies that the syllogism is a petitio principii, since the conclusion the conclusion which is supposed to be proved is already contained in the major premise; if we know that all men are mortal, we know, and do not require to prove, that Socratesis mortal. "No reasoning from generals to particulars can, as such, prove anything, since from a general principle we cannot infer any particulars, but those which the principle itself assumes as known" (Ibid., II. III. 2). The only use of the syllogism is to convict your opponent of inconsistency; it cannot lead us from the known to the unknown. In reality the major premise is a register of previous inductions and a short formula for making more. "The conclusion is not an inference drawn from the formula, but an inference drawn according to the formula; the real logical antecedent or premise being the particular facts from which the general proposition was collected by induction" (Logic, II. III. 4). The major premise is merely a shorthand note, to assist the memory. "The inference is finished when we have asserted that all men are mortal. What remains to be performed afterwards is merely deciphering our own notes." The mistake of the traditional view is,

that of referring a person to his own notes for the origin of his knowledge. If a person is asked a question, and is at the moment unable to answer it, he may refresh his memory by turning to a memorandum which he carries about with him. But if he would scarcely answer, because it was set down in his notebook: unless the book was written, like the Koran, with a quill from the wing of the angel Gabriel. (Ibid., III. III. 3)

All inference is from particulars to particulars; the syllogistic process is only an interpretation of our notes of previous inferences. "If we had sufficiently capacious memories, and a sufficient power of maintaining order among a huge mass of details, the reasoning could go on without any general propositions; they are mere formulae for inferring particulars from particulars" (Ibid., III. IV. 3).

Syllologistic reasoning is thus a circuitous way of reaching a conclusion which might have been reached directly, like going up a hill and down again when we might have traveled along the level road. There is no reason why we should be compelled to take the high priori road except by the arbitrary fiat of logicians. "Not only may we reason from particulars to particulars without passing through generals, but we perpetually do so reason. All our earliest inferences are of this nature" (Ibid., II. III. 3). Mill, however, acknowledges "the immense advantage, in point of security for correctness, which is gained by interposing this step between the real evidence and the conclusion," the importance of "the appeal to former experience in the major premise of the syllogism" (IBid., II. III. 6). When we say that Socrates is mortal because he is a man, and all men are mortal, we assert that because he resembles that other individuals in the attributes connoted by the term man, he resembles them further in the attribute morality. "Whether, from the attributes in which Socrates resembles those men who have heretofore died, it is allowable to infer that he resembles them also in being mortal, is a question of Induction" (Logic, II. III. 7). The major premise is the record and reminder that we have made that induction, and are therefore not merely warranted, but required, to apply it in particular case before us.

"The chief strength of this false philosophy {intuitionism} in morals, politics, and religion," Mill remarks in his Autobiography,

lies in the appeal which it is accustomed to make to the evidence of mathematics and of the cognate branches of physical science. To expel it from these, is to drive it from its stronghold: and because this had never been effectually done, the intuitive school, even after what my father had written in his Analysis of Mind, had in appearance, and as far as published writings were concerned, on the whole the best of the argument. In attempting to clear up the real nature of the evidence of mathematical and physical truths, the System of Logic met the intuitive philosophers on ground on which they had previously been deemed unassailable; and gave its own explanation, from experience and association, of that peculiar character of what are called necessary truths, which is adduced as proof that their evidence must come from a deeper source than experience. (Autobiography, P. 226)

The peculiar certainty and necessity attributed to these truths is, he argues, "an illusion, in order to sustain which, it is necessary to suppose that those truths relate to, and express the properties of purely imaginary objects." As a matter of fact, the truths of geometry do not hold, except approximately, of the real world, but only of that imaginary world which corresponds to its initial definitions. The truth is that geometry

is built on hypothesis; that it owes to this alone the peculiar certainty supposed to distinguish it; and that in any science whatever, by reasoning from a set of hypotheses, we may obtain a body of conclusions as certain as those of geometry, that is, as strictly in accordance with the hypotheses, and as irresistibly compelling assent, on condition that those hypotheses are true. (Logic, II. V. I)

As for the axioms which, together with the definition, form the basis of geometrical reasoning, they are in reality "experimental truths, generalizations from observation." The great argument for their a priori character is that their opposites are inconceivable. But conceivability "has very little to do with the possibility of the thing in itself, but is in truth very much an affair of accident, and depends on the past history and habits of our own minds" (Ibid., II. V. 6). It is the effect of habitual association, itself the result of our earliest and most widely based inductions from experience; it is an acquired incapacity which can hardly, but be mistaken for a natural one, an experimental truth which can hardly, but be mistaken for a necessary one.

It is in the application of the inductive and psychological method to social and political problems that Mill sees the crowning achievement of scientific investigation. This application has yet to be made; the "German Coleridgian school" were "the first (except a solitary thinker here and there) who inquired with any comprehensiveness or depth, into the inductive laws of the existence and growth of human society" (Dissertations, I. 425). To the consideration of this new science of Ethology, or the study of the causes influencing the formation of national character, the final book of the Logic is devoted. In thus seeking to inaugurate a scientific Sociology, Mill was undoubtedly influenced by Comte, but he was also proceeding on the familiar lines of the Utilitarians, who always regarded character as the product of circumstances, and looked to education to effect the transition from the present unsatisfactory state of things to one more in accordance with their social ideal. The indefinite modifiability of human nature by circumstances is the working hypothesis of the school; all that Mill adds is the demand that social life be conducted on scientific principles. It is significant that Mill finally abandoned the intention to construct the scheme of such a science, and devoted his energies to the writing of his Political Economy, published five years after the Logic, in 1848. It would be difficult to reconcile the view of the growth of character implied in the desiderated Ethology with his insistence upon the importance of individuality, and his protest against the interference of society with the liberty of the individual, in the essay on Liberty, published in 1859.

Examination of Hamilton

Mill's only other work in general philosophy is the Examinations of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy, published in 1865. "I mean in this book," he writes to Bain, "to do what the nature and scope of the Logic forbade me to do there, to face the ultimate metaphysical difficulties of every question on which I touch" (Letters, I. 271). The discussion of Hamilton's philosophy was intended, as we learn from the Autobiography, to be made the occasion of a thorough-going examination of the rival philosophies of Intuitionism and Empiricism, the controversy between which had, in Mill's eyes, as we have already seen, the utmost practical and social significance.

The difference between these two schools of philosophy, that of Intuition, and that of Experience and Association, is not a mere matter of abstract speculation; it is full of practical consequences, and lies at the foundation of all the greatest differences of practical opinion in an age of progress. In particular, I have long felt that the prevailing tendency toward innateness is one of the chief hindrances to the rational treatment of great social questions, and one of the greatest stumbling blocks to human improvement. It was necessary, therefore, to determine the issue between these two philosophies.

Mill's Examination covers much of the same ground as his Logic. Its key contribution is its account of beliefs in the External World and in Mind. As regards the former, Mill elaborates his famous view of the External World as "a Permanent Possibility of Sensation" (Examination, Ch. XI). As regards the latter, he elaborates the view of the Self as follows:

If we speak of the Mind as a series of feelings, we are obliged to complete the statement by calling it a series of feelings which is aware of itself as past and future; and we are reduced to the alternative of believing that the Mind, or Ego, is something different from any series of feelings, or possibilities of them, or of accepting the paradox, that something which ex hypothesi is but a series of feelings, can be aware of itself as a series. The truth is, that we are here face to face with that final inexplicability, at which, as Sir W. Hamilton observes, we inevitably arrive when we reach ultimate facts. (Ibid, p. 248)

In the Appendix to Chapters XI and XII, he speaks more positively of the Self.

The inexplicable tie, or law, the organic union (as Professor Masson calls it) which connects the present consciousness with the past one, of which it reminds me, is as near as I think we can get to a positive conception of the Self. That there is something real in this tie, real as the sensations themselves, and not a mere product of the laws of thought without any fact corresponding to it, I hold to be indubitable. . . This original element, which has no community of nature with any of the things answering to our names, and to which we cannot give any name but its own peculiar one without implying some false or unguarded theory, is the Ego, or Self. As such, I ascribe a reality to the Egoto my own Minddifferent from that real existence as a Permanent Possibility, which is the only reality I acknowledge in Matter; and by fair experimental inference from that one Ego, I ascribe the same reality to other Egos, or Minds. . . We are forced to apprehend every part of the series as linked with the other parts by something in common, which is not the feelings themselves, any more than the succession of the feelings is the feelings themselves; and as that which is the same in the first as in the second, in the second as in the third, in the third as in the fourth, and so on, must be the same in the first and in the fiftieth, this common element is a permanent element. (Examination, Pp. 262, 263)


In spite of the numerous ethical discussions in his other writings, Mill's sole contribution to the fundamental problem of the ethical theory was his small volume Utilitarianism. It first appeared in Fraser's Magazine in 1861 and was reprinted in book-form in 1863. Perhaps he regarded the fundamental positions of Benthamism as too secure to need much elaboration.

In the first Chapter, "General Remarks," Mill argues that moral theories are divided between two distinct approaches: the intuitive and inductive schools. Although both schools agree that there is a single and highest normative principle, they disagree about whether we have knowledge of that principle intuitively (without appeal to experience), or inductively (though experience and observation). Kant represents the best of the intuitive school, and Mill himself defends the inductive school. Mill criticizes Kant's categorical imperative noting that it is essentially the same as utilitarianism since it involves calculating the good or bad consequences of an action to determine the morality of that action. Mill argues that his task is to demonstrate this highest principle inductively.

In Chapter two, "What Utilitarianism Is," Mill gives a precise formulation of the highest principle, and defends the principle against attacks. The highest normative principle is that,

Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.

Following his predecessors, such as Hume and Bentham, he refers to this as the principle of utility. Mill argues that by "happiness" he means pleasure both intellectual and sensual. However, we have a sense of dignity which has us prefer intellectual pleasures over sensual ones. He continues that the principle of utility involves an assessment of only an action's consequences, and not the motives or character traits of the agent performing the action. In this regard, he rejects classical virtue theory. Mill argues that the principle of utility should be seen as a tool for generating secondary moral principles, such as "don't steal," which promote general happiness. Most of our actions, then, will be judged according to these secondary principles. We should appeal directly to the principle of utility itself only when we face a moral dilemma between two secondary principles. Suppose, for example, that a moral principle of charity dictates that I should feed a starving neighbor, and a moral principle of self-preservation dictates that I should feed myself. If I do not have enough food to do both, then I should determine whether general happiness would be better served by feeding my neighbor, or feeding myself.

In Chapter three, "The Ultimate Sanction of the Principle of Utility," Mill discusses our motivations to abide by the utilitarian standard of morality. The problem is that we are commonly motivated to not kill or steal, which are specific acts, but it is less clear that we are motivated to promote the broad notion of general happiness. Mill argues that there are two classes of motivations (or sanctions) for promoting general happiness. First, there are external motivations arising from our hope of pleasing and fear of displeasing God and other humans. More importantly, though, there is a motivation internal to the agent herself which is her feeling of duty. For Mill, an agent's feeling of duty consists of a conglomerate of many feelings developed over one's life, such as sympathy, religious feelings, childhood recollections, and self-worth. The binding force of our sense of duty is that we experience pain or remorse when we act against these feelings by not promoting general happiness. Mill argues that duty is a subjective feeling which develops with experience. However, humans have an instinctive feeling of unity which guides the development of duty toward general happiness.

In Chapter four, "The Proof of the Principle," Mill presents his inductive proof of the principle of utility. He begins noting that his proof must be indirect since no foundational principle is capable of a direct proof. Instead, the only way to prove that general happiness is desirable is to show that people actually desire it. His indirect proof is as follows:

If X is the only thing desired, then X is the only thing that ought to be desired General happiness is the only thing desired Therefore, general happiness is the only thing that ought to be desired

Mill believes Premise two is the most controversial and therefore anticipates criticisms. A critic might argue that there are other things we desire besides happiness, such as virtue. Mill responds that everything we desire becomes part of happiness. Happiness, then, is a complex phenomenon composed of many parts, including virtue, love of money, power, and fame.

Chapter five, "The Connection Between Justice and Utility," was originally written as a separate essay, but later incorporated into this work. Critics of utilitarianism argue that morality is not based on consequences of actions (as utilitarians suppose), but is instead based on the foundational and universal concept of justice. Mill sees this as the strongest attack on utilitarianism, and thus sees the concept of justice as a test case for utilitarianism. For, if he can explain the concept of justice in terms of utility, then he has thereby addressed the main nonconsequentialist argument against utilitarianism. Mill offers two counter arguments. First, he argues that all moral elements in the notion of justice depend on social utility. There are two essential elements in the notion of justice: punishment, and the notion that someone's rights were violated. Punishment derives from a combination of vengeance and social sympathy. Vengeance alone has no moral component, and social sympathy is the same thing as social utility. The notion of rights violation also derives from utility. For, rights are claims we have on society to protect us, and the only reason society should protect us is because of social utility. Thus, both elements of justice (i.e. punishment and rights) are based on utility. Mill's second argument is that if justice were as foundational as nonconsequentialists contend, then justice would not be as ambiguous as it is. According to Mill, there are disputes in the notion of justice when examining theories of punishment, fair distribution of wealth, and fair taxation. These disputes can only be resolved by appealing to utility. Mill concludes that justice is a genuine concept, but that we must see it as based on utility.

Social and Political Writings

Mill's social and political writings, in addition to occasional articles, consist of the short treatise Considerations on Representative Government (1806), Thoughts on parliamentary Reform (1859), the essays On Liberty (1859) and On the Subjection of Women (1869), Essays on some Unsettled Questions of Political Economy (1831, 1844) and The Principles of Political Economy (1848). The method appropriate to these topics had been already discussed in the chapters on the Logic of the Moral Sciences included in his Logic. He sought a via media between the purely empirical method and the deductive method. The latter, as employed by his father, was modeled on the reasonings of geometry, which is not a science of causation. The method of politics, if it is to be deductive, must belong to a different type, and will (he holds) be the same as that used in mathematical physics. Dynamics is a deductive science because the law of the composition of forces holds; similarly, politics is a deductive science because the causes with which it deals follow this law: the effects of these causes, when conjoined, are the same as the sum of the effects which the same causes produce when acting separatelya striking and unproved assumption. Like his predecessors, Mill postulated certain forces as determining human conduct; especially self-interest and mental association. From their working, he deducted political and social consequences. He did not diverge from the principles agreed upon by those with whom he was associated. Perhaps he did not add very much to them, but he saw their limitations more clearly than others did; the hypothetical nature of economic theory, and the danger that democratic government might prove antagonistic to the causes of individual freedom and of the common welfare. To guard against theses dangers, he proposed certain modifications of the representative system. But his contemporaries, and even his successors, of the same way of thinking in general, for long looked upon the dangers as imaginary, and his proposals for their removal were ignored. The essay On Liberty defends of the thesis "that the sole end for which mankind are warranted, individually or collectively, in interfering with the liberty of action of any of their number, is self-protection;" but, as an argument, it meets everywhere with the difficulty of determining the precise point at which the distinction between self-regarding and social (even directly social) activity is to be drawn.

Political Economy

Mill's Political Economy has been variously regarded as an improved Adam Smith and as a popularized Ricardo. Perhaps the latter description is nearer the mark. Its essential doctrines differ little, if at all, from those of Ricardo; the theory of the wages fund, for example, is formulated quite in the spirit of Ricardo, though this theory was afterwards relinquished or modified by Mill in consequence of the criticisms of William Thomas Thornton. But the work has a breadth of treatment which sometimes reminds one of Adam Smith; the hypothetical nature of economic theory was not overlooked, and the "applications to social philosophy" were kept in view. In spite of his adherence to the maxim of laissez faire, Mill recognized the possibility of modifying the system, he displayed a leaning to the socialist ideal, which grew stronger as his life advanced. His methodical and thorough treatment of economics made his work a text-book for more than a generation, and largely determined the scope of most of the treatises of his own and the succeeding period, even of those written by independent thinkers.

Essays On Religion

The posthumously published volume of Essays on Religion contains three essayson Nature, the Utility of Religion, and Theism. The first and second were written between 1850 and 1858, that is, during the same period as the essays on Utilitarianism and on Liberty, while the third belongs to a much later time, having been written between 1868 and 1870, and is thus "the last considerable work which he completed," and "showsthe latest state of the Author's mind, the carefully balanced result of the deliberations of a lifetime" (Essays on Religion, Preface).

The first essay is a protest against the view that the ideal of human conduct is found in conformity to Nature. It reminds us of Huxley's later condemnation, in his famous Romanes lecture on Evolutioin and Ethics, of the cosmic process from the ethical point of view. "In sober truth, nearly all the things which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are nature's every day performances" (Essays on Religion, p. 28). It is a protest rather against naturalistic ethics than against Natural Theology, but the latter is included in the same condemnation with the former type of theory. The Author of Nature cannot be at once good and omnipotent.

The main argument of the essay on the Utility of Religion, which, like that on Nature, is a fine specimen of Mill's philosophical style, is the sufficiency of the Religion of Humanity and its superiority to all but the best of the supernatural religions. "Let it be remembered that if individual life is short, the life of the human species is not short; its indefinite duration is practically equivalent to endlessness; and being combined with indefinite capability of improvement, it offers to the imagination and sympathies a large enough object to satisfy any reasonable demand for grandeur of aspiration" (Ibid, P. 106).

The essence of religion is the strong and earnest direction of the emotions and desires towards an ideal object, recognized as of the highest excellence, and as rightfully paramount over all selfish objects of desire. This condition is fulfilled by the Religion on Humanity in as eminent a degree, and in as high a sense, as by the supernatural religions even in their best manifestations, and far more so than in any of their others. (Ibid., P. 109)

The characteristic tendency of supernaturalism is to arrest the development not only of the intellectual, but also of the moral nature. Its appeal is to self-interest rather than to disinterested and ideal motives; and like the intuitional theory of ethics, it stereotypes morality. The special appeal of supernatural religion is to our sense of the mystery which circumscribes our little knowledge, but the same appeal is made, and the same service to the imagination rendered, by Poetry. "Religion and poetry address themselves, at least in one of their aspects, to the same part of the human constitution; they both supply the same want, that of ideal conceptions grander and more beautiful than we see realized in the prose of human life" (Essays on Religion, P. 103). "The idealization of our earthly life, the cultivation of a high conception of what it may be made," is "capable of supplying a poetry, and, in the best sense of the word, a religion, equally fitted to exalt the feelings, and (with the same aid from education) still better calculated to ennoble the conduct, than any belief respecting the unseen powers" (Ibid., P. 105). Yet "he to whom ideal good, and the progress of the world towards it, are already a religion" may find consolation and encouragement in the belief that he is,

a fellow-laborer with the Highest, a fellow-combatant in the great strife; contributing his little which by the aggregation of many like himself becomes much towards that progressive ascendancy, and ultimately complete triumph of good over evil, which history points to, and which this doctrine teaches us to regard as planned by the Being to whom we behold in Nature. Against the moral tendency of this creed no possible objection can lie; it can produce on whoever can succeed in believing it, no other than an ennobling effect. (Ibid., P. 117)

The essay on Theism bears evidence, in the imperfection of its construction and the inferiority of its style, to its lack of the author's final revision. The argument for a First Cause is condemned, on the ground that there is a permanent element in nature itself; "as far as anything can be concluded from human experience, Force has all the attributes of a thing eternal and uncreated" (Ibid., P. 147). The argument from Design is found to be less unsatisfactory. The principle of the survival of the fittest, while not inconsistent with Creation, "would greatly attenuate the evidence for it." But "leaving this remarkable speculation to whatever fate the progress of discovery may have in store for it," Mill concludes that "it must be allowed that, in the present state of our knowledge, the adaptations in Nature afford a large balance of probability in favor of creation by intelligence" (Essays on Religion, P. 174). On the other hand, "it is not too much to say that every indication of Design in the Kosmos is so much evidence against the Omnipotence of the Designer" (Ibid., P. 176). The necessity of contrivance, or the adaptation of means to ends, implies limitation of power in the agent. As to Immorality, there is "a total absence of evidence on either side." Miracles, while not impossible, are extremely improbable, even on the hypothesis of a supernatural Being. The reasonable attitude, on all these questions, is that of atheism.

If we are right in the conclusions to which we have been led by the preceding inquiry, there is evidence, but insignificant for proof, and amounting only to one of the lower degrees of probability. The induction given by such evidence as there is, points to the creation, not indeed of the universe, but of the present order of it, by an Intelligent Mind, whose power over the materials was not absolute, whose love for his creatures was not his sole actuating inducement, but who nevertheless, desired their good. (Ibid., P. 242)

Where belief is not warranted, however, hope is permissible, and the imagination need not be controlled by purely rational considerations.

To me it seems that human life, small and confined as it is, and as considered merely in the present, it is likely to remain even when the progress of material and moral improvement may have freed it from the greater part of its present calamities, stands greatly in need of any wider range and greater height of aspiration for itself and its destination, which the exercise of imagination can yield to it without running counter to the evidence of fact; and that it is a part of wisdom to make the most of any, even small, probabilities on this subject, which furnish imagination with any footing to support itself upon. (Ibid, p. 245).

Above all, the conception of a morally perfect being, and of his approbation, is an inspiration for the moral life which would be sorely missed, and Christianity has provided us with an "ideal representative and guide of humanity;" nor, "even now, would it be easy, even for an unbeliever, to find a better translation of the rule of virtue from the abstract into the concrete, than to endeavor so to live that Christ would approve our life" (Essays on Religion, P. 255). "The feeling of helping God" in the struggle with evil is "excellently fitted to aid and fortify that real, though purely human religion, which sometimes calls itself the Religion of Humanity and sometimes that of Duty," and which "is destined, with or without supernatural sanctions, to be the religion of the Future."