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Mill, James

Mill, James 1773-1836

BIBLIOGRAPHY

James Mill was a British political philosopher, economist, and historian. Born in Scotland, he was educated at the University of Edinburgh through the patronage of Sir John Stuart, where he attended the lectures of the philosopher Dugald Stewart (17531828) and specialized in philosophy, according to Alexander Bains 1882 James Mill: A Biography. Mill moved to London in 1802 to pursue a career as a journalist, writing for several periodicals. He became closely associated with Jeremy Bentham (17481832) and was an ardent advocate of utilitarianism and of the Benthamite objective of achieving the greatest happiness of the greater number (Stephen [1900] 1968). The group of radicals around Bentham and Mill shared a set of policy objectives that included the abolition of Britains Poor and Corn Laws, the extension of the franchise, and religious tolerance.

Mill wrote a pamphlet in 1804 in which he reviewed the history of the Corn Laws, calling for the removal of all export bounties and import duties on grains and criticizing Thomas Robert Malthus (17661834), among others, for defending them. As noted in Thomas Sowells Says Law: An Historical Analysis (1972), Mills Commerce Defended (1808) reiterated his arguments against the Corn Laws and is credited with providing the first version in English of Jean-Baptiste Says (17671832) law of markets, which states that supply creates its own demand. In 1977 William Baumol pointed out that, for Mill, Says law was not fundamentally about the impossibility of overproduction, but rather about the notion that productive consumption (investment), rather than consumption of luxuries, was the effective means to promote growth. David Ricardo (17721823), who became Mills close friend, adopted Says law in part as a result of Mills influence.

Mill extended the utility principle to the science of politics in his essay titled On Government ([1820] 1967). For Mill, the aim of government was to increase human happiness, and only individuals could make the utilitarian calculation of pleasure and pain. Thus, Mill concluded that only representative democracy was compatible with the principle of utility, since it would prevent those in power from acting for their own advantage. According to Murray Milgate and Shannon Stimson, in a 1993 article in the American Political Science Review, the requirement for voting was the capacity to judge ones own interest; that is, knowledge, rather than birth or property, was at the center of Mills political theory. In his History of British India (1817), which helped him secure a permanent position with the East India Company, Mill defended British rule in India, contradicting his own theory of political representation. In addition, his Eurocentric views on colonial rule reveal contempt for other cultures and societies.

Mills 1821 book, Elements of Political Economy written as lessons for his son John Stuart Mill (18061873)were central in popularizing a certain version of Ricardian economics that included elements like the wage fund theory, which were extraneous to Ricardos ideas, according to a 2004 article in European Journal of the History of Economic Thought by Sergio Cremaschi. Neil De Marchi (1983) contrasts the dogmatic Mill of the Elements, which simplifies and deduces everything from first principles, with the more open-minded thinker of previous works. Mills defense of Ricardian economics and his commitment to utilitarianism led to a confluence of both strands of his thought, which would eventually come together within the marginalist school.

SEE ALSO Corn Laws; Says Law; Utilitarianism

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Bain, Alexander. [1882] 1967. James Mill: A Biography. New York: Kelley.

Baumol, William. 1977. Says (at Least) Eight Laws, or What Say and James Mill May Really Have Meant. Economica 44:145162.

Cremaschi, Sergio. 2004. Ricardo and the Utilitarians. European Journal of the History of Economic Thought 11 (3): 377403.

De Marchi, Neil. 1983. The Case for James Mill. In Methodological Controversy in Economics: Historical Essays in Honor of T. W. Hutchison, ed. A. W. Coats, 155184. New York: JAI Press.

Milgate, Murray, and Shannon Stimson. 1993. Utility, Property, and Political Participation: James Mill on Democratic Reform. American Political Science Review 87 (4): 901911.

Mill, James. [1804] 1966. An Essay of the Impolicy of a Bounty on the Exportation of Grain, and on the Principles which Ought to Regulate the Commerce of Grain. New York: Kelley.

Mill, James. [1808] 1965. Commerce Defended. New York: Kelley.

Mill, James. [1817] 1968. The History of British India. New York: Chelsea House.

Mill, James. [1820] 1967. On Government. In Essays on Government, Jurisprudence, Liberty of the Press and Law of Nations. New York: Kelley.

Mill, James. [1821] 1963. Elements of Political Economy. New York: Kelley.

Sowell, Thomas. 1972. Says Law: An Historical Analysis. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Stephen, Leslie. [1900] 1968. The English Utilitarians. Vol. 2: James Mill. New York: Kelley.

Matías Vernengo

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James Mill

James Mill

The Scottish philosopher and journalist James Mill (1773-1836) implemented and popularized utilitarianism. Although possessing little originality of thought, he indirectly influenced the development of one of the main currents of 19th-century philosophy through the sheer force of his personality.

James Mill's father was a shoemaker in the small village of Northwater Bridge, where James was born and attended the local school. His mother, Isabel, was quite ambitious for the social advancement of her first son, and James, unlike his younger sister and brother, was forbidden manual labor so that he could devote himself exclusively to education and become a gentleman. Through Isabel's intervention and his own intelligence and self-discipline, Mill secured the patronage of the local lord, Sir John Stuart. He entered the University of Edinburgh to study for the ministry. He was impressed by the lectures of Dugald Stewart, leader of the Scottish school of "commonsense" philosophy.

Mill was licensed to preach in 1798 and for the next 4 years earned his living mainly by tutoring. In 1802 he traveled to London in order to take up journalism. He translated, wrote reviews, and edited two journals. In 1805 he married Harriet Burrow, and they later had nine children. His first son, John Stuart Mill, was born in 1806, the year he began his History of India, which was completed 11 years later. This 10-volume work became a standard reference and earned its author a permanent position with the East India Company. Mill's achievement was to interpret historical events in terms of political, economic, and sociological factors.

In 1808 Mill met Jeremy Bentham and became closely associated with his other disciples, including the historian George Grote, the jurist John Austin, and the economist David Ricardo. Under Ricardo's influence, Mill wrote Elements of Political Economy (1821). His other important works include Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829) and several influential contributions to the Encyclopaedia Britannica which applied utilitarian principles to social questions ranging from law to education.

Practical Applications of Utilitarianism

According to the principles of utility, man's happiness consists exclusively in gaining pleasure or, more practically, in avoiding pain. Mill's psychology, following David Hume and David Hartley, explains all the data of mental life in terms of association. Thus, he source of individual pleasure is, by and large, the result of associations that the individual has learned. It follows that education should be directed toward forming the appropriate associations, that is, identifying a man's pleasure with that of his fellowmen, just as the function of government is to promote "the greatest happiness of the greatest number." As a result of his own practical efforts in behalf of utilitarianism, Mill lived to see many of the utilitarians' commonsense attitudes toward law, voting, and education incorporated within the Parliamentary Reform Bill of 1830. But undoubtedly the most significant contribution he made was the strict application of these principles to the education of his eldest child. Mill completely supervised his son's early childhood and adolescence. Although the son later acknowledged that his father's system was deficient in cultivating normal emotions, he credited his remarkable education with giving him a 25-year advantage over his contemporaries.

Further Reading

Mill's books have not been collected in standard editions or reissued. For a study of his life see Alexander Bain, James Mill (1882). Of great interest is the portrait of James Mill by his son John Stuart Mill in the Autobiography (1873; many editions). Useful background studies are Leslie Stephen, The English Utilitarians (3 vols., 1900), and Élie Halévy, The Growth of Philosophic Radicalism (1928; new ed. 1934; repr. with corrections 1952).

Additional Sources

Mazlish, Bruce, James and John Stuart Mill: father and son in the nineteenth century, New Brunswick, USA: Transaction Books, 1988, 1975. □

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Mill, James

James Mill, 1773–1836, British philosopher, economist, and historian, b. Scotland; father of John Stuart Mill. Educated as a clergyman at Edinburgh through the patronage of Sir John Stuart, Mill gave up the ministry and went to London in 1802 to pursue a career writing for and editing periodicals. He met Jeremy Bentham c.1808 and became an ardent advocate of utilitarianism. On the strength of his History of British India (3 vol., 1817), on which he had worked for over 10 years, Mill secured a permanent position with the British East India Company. His other works include Elements of Political Economy (1821), Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (2 vol., 1829), and A Fragment on Mackintosh (1835), which contains the best exposition of his psychological and ethical theories. Mill furnished a psychological basis for utilitarian ethics by expanding the associationism of David Hume. According to Mill, association by contiguity, where ideas that occur frequently together form combinations, may be such a subtle process that the merging of ideas may occur without leaving any trace of the elements that went into their formulation. Derived conceptions may thus achieve autonomy of value quite apart from their obvious egoistic advantage. This is seen as the origin of altruistic motives, which are otherwise difficult to explain on utilitarian grounds, and also as the origin of conscience.

See W. H. Burston, James Mill on Philosophy and Education (1973); B. Mazlish, James and John Stuart Mill (1975, repr. 1988).

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Mill, James

Mill, James (1773–1836). Utilitarian philosopher. Son of a Scottish shoemaker, educated at Edinburgh University, Mill became an itinerant preacher but lost his faith and came to London in 1802 to work as a hack journalist. He fell under the influence of Jeremy Bentham and developed his ideas into a coherent philosophy, substituting strict puritanical morality for Bentham's hedonism. Mill rather than Bentham formulated the distinctive ‘philosophical radicalism’ of the 19th-cent. British utilitarians. He contributed ideas on education, political economy, psychology, penology, law, history, and political theory, which he set out in five books and over 1,000 essays. His best-known political work, the Essay on Government (1820), argued the case for representative democracy against monarchy and aristocracy and declared that the purpose of all government was to achieve the happiness of the whole community.

E. A. Smith

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Mill, James

Mill, James (1773–1836) Scottish philosopher, father of John Stuart Mill. Mill became a friend of Jeremy Bentham, and together they evolved the doctrine of utilitarianism. He wrote an Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829) and, among other works, a multi-volume history of the East India Company, for which he worked.

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