John Stuart Mill: Biography, Utilitarianism, Contributions And Works

John Stuart Mill (1806-1873) was a renowned English politician, economist, and philosopher who stood out as a theoretician of utilitarian thought, as well as as a representative of the school of classical economics.

Mill is remembered in the history of philosophy for his attempts to reconcile what is known as classical English economics with the historical-socialist currents that were on the rise in the 19th century. Furthermore, his way of thinking was notably influenced by liberal and progressive ideas.

Stuart Mill also stood out for the works in which he addresses the issue of freedom. For example, in his work entitled On freedom , the author maintains the position that each individual has the undeniable right to act according to his will and principles, as long as the actions carried out do not harm the development of the other.

This means that, if the action carried out by a certain individual only affects himself, society does not have the power to intervene, even though it considers that the individual is harming himself. This precept excludes those people who do not have the ability to “self-govern”, such as children or socially marginalized people.

Both her liberal and progressive stances can also be seen in her approach to gender inequality, as Mill advocated eradicating the imposed differences in the roles of men and women in the 19th century. He also maintained an academic link with romanticism, socialism, and positivism.


John Stuart Mill was born in the London city on May 20, 1806. From a very young age, Mill showed a genuine interest in knowledge, also being strongly instigated by his father to excel at an early age in different disciplines.

The paternal treatment was so particular and difficult, that even Stuart himself affirmed in his Autobiography that his father never really esteemed his children or his wife, since the education he exercised over them was based on fear and not on fear. love, also influenced by a strong utilitarianism .

A child prodigy

Despite this, Stuart Mill decided to take advantage of the academic opportunities his father offered him. At just three years old, little Mill already recognized the Greek alphabet; By the time he was 8 years old, he had already read a large number of classics in their original language, such as some texts by Plato and Herodotus.

Mill was passionate about reading history books; however, he also excelled in his studies of both Greek and Latin authors. He was fluent in Latin and also had knowledge of algebra. His academic performance was so remarkable that he was even assigned as a teacher for the other children.

When he was twelve years old, he entered the texts of Adam Smith and David Ricardo, whom Mill greatly admired and took into account for his later works.

At age 20, he suffered from severe depression as a result of parental abuse; However, she managed to recover after the death of her father and decided to dedicate herself to expanding her knowledge.

Since then, the author rebelled against his alienating education, distancing himself slightly from the utilitarian trend and nourishing himself with other forms of thought such as romanticism, socialism and positivism.

Stuart Mill subsequently devoted himself to work for the British East India Company, while also serving as a member of the Liberal Party within Parliament. In 1840 he established a remarkable friendship with the Scottish psychologist Alexander Bain.


In 1851 he married his great love Harriet Taylor, with whom he had maintained a fruitful friendship for 21 years.

For his part, Taylor also had a notorious participation within the field of philosophy, especially in the feminist current. In fact, it is believed that this lady was the one who inspired Mill to write about women’s rights.

When John Stuart met Harriet Taylor, she was still a married woman; however, they could not be kept apart due to the great affection they had for each other.

For this reason, this pair of friends was cruelly criticized by the prejudiced Victorian society of the time. Since those episodes, Taylor’s husband separated from her and began living in a separate house.

Taylor died seven years after they were married, in 1858. She was buried in Avignon, France, where John lived for a year in order to stay near the grave of his late wife.

Professional development

John Stuart’s influence in economics is invaluable. Much of his work revolved around promoting equal rights and was also in agreement with regulation and protectionism.

In addition, Stuart Mill also pointed out the environmental damage that a rampant Industrial Revolution could cause , for which he is considered one of the first defenders of the environment.


John Stuart Mill died on May 8, 1873, at the age of 67, in the French city of Avignon. This philosopher continued his investigative work until his later years and his work has become a legacy that has transcended generations.


The ethical theory known as utilitarianism was founded by the philosopher and economist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. John Stuart Mill was an arduous follower of this philosophical current; However, induced by his liberal stance, he undertook to develop his own utilitarian thought, which he exhibited in his work known as Utilitarianism (1861).

For example, Bentham considered that good, valuable or useful actions are those that contribute to the acquisition of general and collective happiness , while bad actions are those that do not achieve it.

To this precept, Mill added a qualitative character, since he considered that some actions that lead to pleasure are more desirable and valuable than others.

According to Mill, the most valuable quality pleasures are those that seek to satisfy people with superior faculties; that is, those people whose way of life employs the highest capacities of man. These ideas were exposed by the philosopher in his work entitled Considerations on representative government (1861).

In other words, the author favors an elitist politics; However, in the same way he was interested in appeasing social differences based on much more egalitarian policies.

Likewise, John Stuart Mil established that, in order to achieve collective well-being, it is necessary that only the most educated are in charge of directing both the State and society. This in order to avoid the tendency of a mediocre government.

Importance of rationality

Despite Mill’s conflictive relationship with his father, this was an elementary factor in the author’s utilitarian ethics. John Stuart Mill considered that the human being should advocate for the development of rationality, since in this way a superior mode of existence could be acquired.

Another of the precepts that Mill proposed as part of the utilitarian theory consists of the belief that the individual must act in order to promote happiness in the greatest number of people, as long as it remains within the limits of reason.

In conclusion, the most notorious attribution that Mill made to the thought of utilitarianism resides in having made a distinction between the different pleasures derived from happiness, since those pleasures destined for intellectual enjoyment are more valuable than any other physical form of satisfaction.

In the same way, it also makes a differentiation between happiness and satisfaction, the first being higher than the second, since this corresponds to moral and intellectual well-being, while the second refers to happiness related to worldly pleasures and physical.

Interest in positivism

John Stuart Mill also ventured into positivist methods, studying with special dedication the postulates of Comte , for whom social science represented an independent unit, without being the sum of the parts.

This social unity is achieved through consensus, which is the expression of a collective will and a general conscience. In turn, harmony of a collective nature can be acquired through individual fickleness through punishments or rewards.

Similarly, the positivist method proposed by Comte stated that the social sciences should abhor any method and explanation that could not be verifiable in reality.

Mill, who had applied the proposals of this author in his sociology, considered that Comte’s positivism was very restrictive, distancing him from the field of economics.

Consequently, Mill wrote to Comte to inform him that he would use his positivist precepts for his works, but that these investigations would be provisional, since it was complex to apply rigorously Comtian theories to the discipline of economics.

Other contributions

Mill’s method

John Stuart Mill stood out for using a mix between the deductive method and the inductive method . In his work Logic , of 1843, he carried out a theory where he makes a distinction about which is the most appropriate scientific method to apply it in the social or moral sciences.

The first method proposed by Mill is based on observation, experimentation, and induction; the second is carried out through abstraction and deduction, taking into account the a priori premises, since it cannot be applied in its entirety to the moral sciences.

Pure theory consistent with the historical-inductive method

This means that, according to Stuart Mill, a method can be established based on a pure (that is, deductive) theory. However, this must be complemented and nourished by the historical-inductive method, taking into account the investigations of historical changes within the social structure.

It is necessary to link this pure method with the historical method within the economic discipline since, in most cases, questions related to the economy depend on institutions and social relations. Therefore, a theory that is oriented solely towards abstraction cannot be applied.

In order to focus directly on economic and social events, it is necessary to dispense with other aspects of daily reality, such as political, legal, cultural and religious aspects.

Due to this, Mill proposes that at the time of making the conclusions, they cannot have a universality character, since human behavior depends on all those elements of reality that could not be included in the investigation.

Foreign trade theory

John Stuart Mill was widely recognized for his achievements within the field of economic theory, specifically in the range of international trade. The works in which he addressed this topic are Principles of Political Economy (1848) and Essay on some unresolved questions of political economy ( 1848).

In these texts the author addresses different aspects concerning the indeterminacy of the price relationship, where each country simultaneously obtains an income from foreign trade. To carry out this study, Mill was inspired by the work of David Ricardo.

In turn, the author relied on the law of supply and demand to establish the relationship between international prices, taking into account the stabilization of trade.

To be able to do this, Mill proposes some simplifications where the exchange is based on two goods from two countries of similar dimensions and similar productive capacity.

Feminist labor

John Stuart Mill is also acclaimed for having done different works in which he addressed the performance of the female figure within society . One of his most outstanding works is entitled Female slavery, in which the author argues the importance of gender equality for the progress of humanity.

For example, in the first chapter of this text, Mill explains that the social relations between the two sexes —that is, those where one depends on the other in the name of the law— symbolize an obstacle to the development of modern societies.

For the author, this dependence must be replaced by a perfect equality of opportunities, without the existence of privileges or disabilities for both one and the other.


Mill establishes that this inequality is not the result of reasoning since, if it were so, it would be easier to carry out debates in which this type of mental structure is modified.

Rather, inequality is based on sentiment, on the irrational; therefore, it is more difficult to attack the problem from the root, because the emotionality of the other is being attacked.

According to JS Mill, due to this emotionality, gender inequality is a problem that has not been completely dissipated despite the great intellectual and social revolutions that took place during modern times.

Likewise, the author argues that institutions, although they have advanced in some aspects, are still as barbaric in other elements as those that preceded them.

Inequality and slavery

Another of the ideas proposed by Mill is the fact that, for him, the adoption of the inequality regime has never been aimed at ensuring the happiness of humanity nor has it sought to maintain social order.

On the contrary, this inequality responds to a primal mandate from the beginnings of human society; when the woman was handed over as a slave to the man who wanted on a whim to possess her and she, due to her inferior muscular condition, could neither deny nor claim, then she had to accept her inexorable destiny of complete submission.

In turn, what began as a brutal act of violence and barbarism, over the years began to transform into a legal reality; that is, it is protected under the name of the law.

Stuart Mill uses slavery as an example, since at first it was a question of force between master and slave, and later it became a legal institution.


John Stuart Mill wrote an overwhelming number of works, in which he addressed different subjects; the author made from texts on the merely philosophical to complex treatises on economics, also passing through topics related to human rights.

He also stood out for his studies on the social sciences, some research in the area of ​​literature and others on religious issues, such as Three essays on religion , from 1874, and Nature, the utility of religion and theism , published in the same year.

Some of his most notable works were the following:

-The spirit of the era, published in 1831.

-What is poetry? , 1833.

-State of society in America , written in 1836.

-Civilization, from the year 1836.

-A system of Logic , a work that was highly acclaimed in 1843.

His most cited texts are the following:

-On Liberty , 1859.

-Considerations on the representative government , 1861.

-Utilitarianism , a work that was also highly recognized in 1863.

The Slavery of Women , a book that he wrote taking into account some of his wife’s ideas in 1869.

-Autobiography , published in 1873.

In addition, Stuart Mill carried out some essay-style works, such as: Auguste Comte y el positivismo , 1865; Essay on Bentham , from the year 1838; Essay on Coleridge , 1840 and Essay on Government , also from the same year.


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  5. Mill, J. (nd ) Female slavery. Retrieved on November 12, 2018 from SLD Institutions:

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