This April, the OUP Philosophy team honors John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) as their Philosopher of the Month. Among the most important philosophers, economists, and intellectual figures of the nineteenth century, today Mill is considered a founding father of liberal thought. A prolific author, Mill’s collected works encompass thirty-three volumes ranging in subject from philosophy to social issues and beyond.
Born in London and educated by his father James Mill, an economist and prominent member of a utilitarian group called the Philosophic Radicals, John Stuart was raised in the intellectual tradition of his godfather, utilitarian philosopher Jeremy Bentham. Mill’s Principles of Political Economy, which promoted the concept of free enterprise while maintaining an awareness of the market’s failure to maximize utility, was the leading textbook in the field for over 40 years. Mill’s On Liberty bases individual freedom on utilitarian values rather than natural right, arguing that the only limit to and individual’s freedom of choice should be when those choices would harm others; it remains among the most celebrated texts on the subject. In his revision of Benthamism, Utilitarianism, Mill argues for a distinction between high and low pleasures, affirming an ethical duty to promote happiness. His System of Logic, Ratiocinative and Deductive provided what some consider to be the most significant contribution to social science methodology prior to the work of Emile Durkheim. Mill served as a member of parliament from 1865 to 1868, where he argued in support of such radical positions as women’s suffrage and Irish land reform.
For more on Mill’s life and work, browse our interactive timeline below.