radical philosopher, and home-schooled his children. He was a strict disciplinarian in the Scots Calvinist tradition educating his children in the works of Greek and Latin historians and philosophers, alongside the prominent British historians, philosophers, political theorists and economists of the time.
Considered a prodigy, by the age of 8 John Stuart Mill was teaching his younger siblings. He would become famous for his developing of a positive Utilitarian philosophy influenced by such luminaries as John Locke, George Berkeley and David Hume and Jeremy Bentham.
At the age of 14, Mr Mill moved to France to live with Sir Samuel Bentham to further his studies under Sir Samuel’s brother Jeremy and another renowned Reformer, Francis Place. Mr Mill studied the sciences, languages, the arts, psychology, mathematics, French and English Law, and continued his Classics, politics and philosophical classes. During his Mr Mill read the French reformer philosophies of the time, which would have a profound effect on his own work.
In 1823 Mr Mill began work in the East Indies Trading Company as a probationary employee in the examining house and by age 22 was promoted to Assistant Examiner in the Trading House. He continued to work for the company throughout his life, reaching the position of Chief of the Examiners Office in 1856, until the company was dissolved in 1858.
Mr Mill wrote and studied throughout his life. He advocated a rational, scientific approach to reform encompassing the contribution of humanities and arts to social constructs. In an article written when he was 18 for The Westminster Review, a newspaper founded by Bentham and Mr Mill’s father, Mr Mill pushed for the right for women to vote and was one of the first to fight for emancipation of women. This position put him in opposition to his own father and many other social reformers of the day.
Mr Mill’s work was interrupted in 1826 when he suffered a nervous breakdown, and he would continue to suffer with bouts of depression. His experience inspired him to become an activist as well as a writer. Mr Mill wrote essays and letters throughout his lifetime for myriad publications, and gave many lectures throughout Britain and America. In 1843 he published System of Logic, which set out the application of scientific methodology to social phenomena, developing an analysis of causation which is the basis of most modern forms of social discussion and policy creation.
Mr Mill’s most well-known publication during his lifetime was 1848’s Principles of Political Economy, which advocated a more egalitarian system utilising worker-owned cooperative businesses. Students of John Stuart Mill still debate whether this meant ‘socialism’ or ‘worker capitalism’. This belief also led to his strong opposition to the slave trade.
Mr Mill was supported in his work by Harriet Taylor (formerly Hardy), who he first met in 1830; Ms Taylor was married to John Taylor. The couple were strongly attracted to each other and in 1833 Ms Taylor initiated a separation from her husband. The couple experienced social isolation as a result, but Mr Mill stood by his decision to the extent of cutting off any friends who unwisely expressed their disapproval of the friendship. It was not until 1849, when Mr Taylor passed away, that the couple married.
Ms Taylor Mill was herself a respected feminist writer and reformer who held more radical views than Mr Mill; Mr Mill openly acknowledged her influence on his work. Ms Taylor Mill would not allow her name to be put forward as co-author on his works; although she influenced his thoughts, the work was his own. In Mr Mill’s eyes they were co-authors of his works on gender issues.
Mr Mill became a father figure to his stepdaughter Helen Taylor. Ms Taylor Mill died in 1853 on a trip to Avignon, France, and Ms Taylor stepped in to act as House-keeper and Secretary. She would contribute to what was to become his most well-known essay “The Subjection of Women”, published in 1869, and was an active Suffragist. Mr Mill was keen to ensure the contributions of both Harriet and Helen would be remembered, writing in his autobiography that "Whoever, either now or hereafter, may think of me and my work I have done, must never forget that it is the product not of one intellect and conscience but of three, the least considerable of whom, and above all the least original, is the one whose name is attached to it.”
In 1865 Mr Mill became Member of Parliament for Westminster, for the now defunct Radical Party. In 1866 he presented the petition organised by Barbara Bodichon, Emily Davies, Elizabeth Garrett and Dorothea Beale in favour of women's suffrage and added an amendment to the 1867 Reform Act that would give women the same political rights as men. This amendment was defeated in parliament. In the same year, he and Helen Taylor joined the newly-formed National Society for Women’s Suffrage, for which he would serve as President.
By 1868 Mr Mill’s opposition to colonialism in the West Indies had made him unpopular and he lost his parliamentary seat. His activism continued, always careful to ensure women’s suffrage was not swallowed up by the campaign for universal (working men’s) suffrage, as he believed women’s suffrage would be subjugated under such a circumstance.
Mr Mill died on 8th May 1873 in Avignon, France, to which he would travel from his home in Blackheath, London, England, to be near his wife’s grave. He remains one of the most respected figures in early modern feminism.
“On Liberty”, JS Mill (2005, Walter Scott Publishing Co. Ltd, Kindle edition)
FOTW No.51 by Kayla Calkin, “This is What a Feminist Looks Like Facebook” group:
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