John Stuart Mill

Portret van John Stuart Mill

Hieronder het artikel uit Chambers’s cyclopædia of English Literature uit 1886 over John Stuart Mill.


Letter This philosophical author (son of the late historian of British India) has professed to supersede the Baconian principle of induction, without which, according to Reid „experience is as blind as a mole.”. In 1846, Mr.Mill published A System of logic, Ratiocinative and Inductive, being a Connected View of the Principles of Evidence and the Methods of Scientific Investigation, two volumes. He was author, also, of Essays on some Unsettles Questions of Political Economy, 1844, and The Principles of Political Economy, two volumes, 1848.

The metaphysical opinions of Mr.Mill warped his judgment as to the Baconian system, but he expounds his views with clearness and candour, and is a profound as well as independent thinker. This was still further evinced in his work On Liberty, 1859, in which he describes and denounces that „strong permanent leaven of intolerance which at all times abides in the middle classes of this country”, and which, he thinks, subjects society to an intolerable tyranny.


Social Intolerance

Though we do not inflict so much evil on those who think differently from us as it was formerly our custom to do, it may be that we do ourselves as much evil as ever by our treatment of them. Socrates was put to death, but the Socratic philosophy rose like the sun in heaven, and spread its illumination over the whole intellectual firmament. Christians were cast to the lions, but the Christian Church grew up a stately and spreading tree, overtopping the older and less vigorous growths, and stiffing them by its shade.

Our merely social intolerance kills no one, roots out no opinions, but induces men to disguise them, or to abstain from any active effort for their diffusion. With us, heretical opinions do not perceptibly gain or even lose ground in each decade or generation. They never blaze out far and wide, but continue to smoulder in the narrow circles of thinking and studious persons, among whom they originate, without ever lighting up the general affairs of mankind with either a true or a deceptive light…

A convenient plan for having peace in the intellectual world, and keeping all things going on therein very much as they do already. But the price paid for this sort of intellectual pacification is the sacrifice of the entire moral courage of the human mind. A state of things in which a large portion of the most active and inquiring intellects find it advisable to keep the genuine principles and grounds of their convictions within their own breasts, and attempt, in what they adress to the public, to fit as much as they have internally renounced, cannot send forth the open, fearless characters, and logical consistent intellects who once adorned the thinking world.

The sort of men who can be looked for under it are either mere conformers to commonplace or time-servers for truth, whose arguments on all great subjects are meant for their hearers, and are not those which have convinced themselves. Those who avoid this alternative do so by narrowing their thoughts and interest to things which can be spoken of without venturing within the region of principles – that is, to small practical matters which would come tight of themselves if but the minds of mankind were strengthened and enlarged, and which will never be made effectually right until then – while that which would strengthen and enlarge men’s minds, free and daring speculation on the highest subjects, is abondened.


On the laws against Intemperance.

Under the name of preventing intemperance, the people of one English colony, and of nearly half the United States, have been interdicted by law from making any use whatever of fermented drinks, except for medical purposes; for prohibition of their sale is, in fact, as it is intended to be, prohibition of their use. An though the impracticability of executing the law has caused its repeal in several of the states which had adopted it, including the one from which it derives its name, an attempt has notwithstanding been commenced, and is prosecuted with considerable zeal by many of the professed philanthropists, to agitate for a similar law in this country.

The association, or „Alliance”, as it terms itself, which has been formed for this purpose, has acquired some notoriety throught the publicity given to a correspondence between its secretary and one of the very few English public men who hold that a politician’s opinions ought to be founded on principles. Lord Stanley’s share in this correspondence is calculated to strengthen the hopes already built on him, by those who know how rare such qualities as are manifested in some of his public appearances, unhappily are among those who figure in political life.

The organ of the Alliance, who would „deeply deplore the recognition of any principle which could be wrested to justify bigotry and persecution,” undertakes to point out the „broad and impassable barrier” which divides such principles from those of the association. „All matters relating to thought, opinion, conscience, appear to me,” he says, „to be without the sphere of legislation; all pertaining to social act, habit, relation, subject only to a discretionary power vested in the state itself, and not in the individual to be within it.”

No mention is made of a third class, different from either of these – namely, acts and habits which are not social, but individual – although it is to this class, surely, that the act of drinking fermented liquors belongs. Selling fermented liquors, however, is trading, and trading is a social act. But the infringement compleined of is not on the liberty of the seller, but on that of the buyer and consumer; since the state might just as well forbid him to drink wine, as purposely make it impossible for him to obtain it.

The secretary, however, says: „I claim, as a citizen, a right to legislate whenever my social rights are invaded by the social act of another.” And for the definition of these „social rights”. „If anything invades my social rights, certainly the traffic in strong drink does. It destroys my primary right of security, by constantly creating and stimulating social disorder. It invades my right of equality, by deriving a profi from the creation of a misery I am taxed to support. it impedes my right to free moral and intellactual development, by surrounding my path with dangers, and by weakening and demoralising society, from which I have a right to claim mutual aid and intercourse.”

A theory of „social rights”, the like of which probably never before found its way into distinct language; being nothing short of this – that it is the absolute social right of every individual, that every other individual shall act in every respect exactly as he ought; that whosoever fails thereof in the smallest particular, violates my social right, and entitles me to demand from the legislature the removal of the grievance. So monstrous a principle is far more dangerous than any single interference with liberty; there is no violation of liberty which it would not justify; it acknowledges no right to any freedom whatever, except, perhaps, to that of holding opinions in secret, without ever disclosing them; for the moment an opninion which I consider noxious passes any one’s lips, it invades all the „social rights” attributed to me by the Alliance. The doctrine ascribes to all mankind a vested interest, in each other’s moral, intellectual, and even physical perfection, to be defined by each claimant according to his own standard.


The limits of Government Interference.

The objections to government interference, when it is not such as to involve infringement of liberty, may be of three kinds.

The first is, when the thing to be done is likely to be better done by individuals than by the government. Speaking generally, there is no one so fit to conduct any business, or to determine how or by whom it shall be conducted, as those who are personally interested in it. This principle condemns the interferences, once so common, of the legislature, or the officers of government, with the ordinary processes of industry. But this part of the subject has been sufficiently enlarged upon by political economists, and is not particularly related to the principles of the Essay.

The second objection is more nearly allied to our subject. In many cases, though individuals may not do the particular thing so well, on the average, as the officers of government, it is nevertheless desirable that it should be done by them, rather than by government, as a means to their own mental education – a mode of strengthening their active faculties, exercising their judgment, and giving them a familiar knowledge of the subjects with which they are thus left to deal.

This is a principal, though not the sole, recommendation of jury trial (in cases not political); of free and popular local and municipal institutions; of the conduct of industrial and philanthropic enterprises by voluntary associations. These are not questions of liberty, and are connected with that subject only by remote tendencies; but they are questions of development. It belongs to a different occasion from the present to dwell on these things as parts of national education; as being, in truth, te peculiar training of a citizen, the practical part of the political education of a free people, taking them out of the narrow circle of personal and family selfishness, and accustoming them to the comprehension of joint interests, the management of joint concerns – habituating them to act from public or semi-public motives, and guide their conduct by aims which unite instead of isolating them from one another. Without these habits and powers, a free constitution can neither be worked, nor preserved; as is exemplified by the too often transitory nature of political freedom in countries where it does not rest upon a sufficient basis of local liberties.

The management of purely local business by the localities, and of the great enterprises of industry by the union of those who voluntarily supply the pecuniary means, si further recommended by all the advantages which have been set forth in this Essay as belonging in individuality of development, and diversity of modes of action. Government operations tend to be everywhere alike. With individuals and voluntary associations, on the contrary, there are varied experiments, and endless diversity of experience. What the State can usefully do is to make itself a central depository, and active circulator and diffuser, of the experience resulting from many trials. Its business is to enable each experimentalist to benefit by the experiments of others; instead of tolerating no experiments but its own.

The third, and most cogent reason for restricting the interference of government, is the great evil of adding unnecessarily to its power. Every function superadded to thoes alredy exercised by the government, causes its influence over hopes and fears to be more widely diffused, and converts, more and more, the active and ambitious part of the public into hangers-on of the government, or of some party shich aims at becoming the government.

If the roads, the railways, the banks, the insurance offices, the great joint-stock companies, the universities, and the public charities, were all of them branches of the government; if, in addition, the municipal corporations and local boards, with all that now devolves on them, became departments of the central administration; if the emplyes of all these different enterprises were appointed and paid by the government, and looked to the government for every rise in life; not all the freedom of the press and popular constitution of the legislature would make this or any other country free otherise than in name.


Mr.Mill held the office long possessed by his father, that of Examiner of Indian Correspondence, India House. On the dissolution of the East India Company, 1859, he retired with a liberal provision, and, we may add, with universal respect. Subsequently het published Considerations on Representative Government, 1861; Utilitarianism, 1862; Comte and Positivism, and Examination of Sir William Hamilton’s Philosophy, 1865; England and Ireland, 1868; The subjection of Women, 1869.

Mr.Mill was returned to the House of Commons as one of the members for Westminster, and retained his seat for about three years, from 1865 to 1868. As a politician, he acted with the Liberal party, but made little impression on the House or the country.
He was aware, he said, of the weak points in democracy as well as in Conservatism, and was in favour of a plurality of votes annexed to education, not to property. His speeches on Ireland and the Irish Land Question were published.

Mr.Mill died at Avignon in 1873. Shortly after his dead appeared his Autobiography, one of the most remarkable narratives in the language.

He was trained by his father with extraordinary care. He had no recollection of beginning to learn Greek, and before he was eight years old he had read in Herodotus, Xenophon, and Plato and had devoured such English books as the histories of Hume, Robertson, and Gibbon. „My father,” he added, „never permitted anything which I learned to degenerate into a mere exercise of memory. He strove to make the understanding not only go along with every step og the teaching, but, if possible, precede it.”

The father had entirely given up religious belief, Though educated in the Scotch creed of Presbyterianism, he had come to reject not only the belief in revelation, but the foundations of what is commonly called natural religion. Hence the son received no religious instruction. „I grew up,” he says, „in a negative state with regard to it: I looked upon the modern exactly as I did upon the ancient religion, as something which in no way concerned me.”

The result of this system of education and unbelief was not favourable. The elder Mill thought „human life a poor thing at best, after the freshness of youth and of unsatisfied curiosity had gone by;” and the son fell into a state of mental depression, the habit of analysis having worn away feeling and pleasure in the ordinary subjects of human desire. He never seems to have possessed the vivacity and tenderness of youth; in his autobiography he does not once mention his mother. At length he became acquainted with a married lady, a Mrs.Taylor, of whom he speaks in the most extravagant terms, comparing her to Shelly in her general spiritual characteristics as well as in temperament and organisation; but in thought and intellect the poet, he says, „so far as his powers were developed in his short life, was but a child to what she ultimatelu became.”

This lady was to Mill an object of idolatry – a being that seemed to supply the want of religion and veneration. After twenty years of Platonic affection, and the death of Mr.Taylor, she became the wife of the philosopher. He adds: „For seven years and a half that blessing was mine; for seven and a half only! I can say nothing which could describe, even in the faintest manner, what that loss was and is. But because I know that she would have wished it, I endeavour to make the best of what life I have left, and to work for her purposes with such diminished strength as can be derived from thoughts of her, and communion with her memory.”

In 1881 Dr.Bain issued a life entitled John Stuart Mill, a Criticism, with Personal Recollections.