Mill, James

views updated May 17 2018

Mill, James 1773-1836


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


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

Mill, James

views updated Jun 11 2018


ideas on government
ideas on education

MILL, JAMES (1773–1836), Scottish philosopher.

Famous as the father of John Stuart Mill (1806–1873), James Mill was an important thinker in his own right. Trained during the Scottish Enlightenment at the University of Edinburgh, he studied Greek and philosophy, taking a degree in theology in 1798. Instead of becoming a preacher, he went to London in 1802 to become a journalist. An agnostic by 1808, as a writer he analyzed problems confronting the Anglican Church, education, economics, and government. His articles frequently appeared in the Anti-Jacobin Review, the British Review, the Eclectic Review, and the Edinburgh Review, and in 1811 he became one of the editors of the Philanthropist. He was also a regular contributor to the Encyclopaedia Britannica. Despite numerous journalistic pursuits, Mill could not provide a comfortable living for his large family until he was appointed an Assistant Examiner in the India House in 1819, a result of his most important work, History of British India, begun in 1806 and published in 1817. He later became Chief Examiner of the India House in 1830.

Significantly, in 1808 Mill became a disciple, friend, and assistant to Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), helping to popularize the ideas of utilitarianism (also known as Benthamism or radical philosophy). Mill is known for being the organizer of Bentham's followers, who included David Ricardo (1772–1823) and Joseph Hume (1777–1855). In 1821 Mill, an advocate of the Banking School theory, helped establish the Political Economy Club in London, a precursor to the establishment of economics as a profession and university discipline. Thomas Robert Malthus (1766–1834), Ricardo, and others frequented these meetings. Mill's utilitarian tome on economics, Elements of Political Economy, was published in 1821.

As a utilitarian, Mill believed in seeking "the greatest happiness of the greatest number"; assumed that human beings are only motivated by self-interest and that they will always seek pleasure and avoid pain; sought to educate citizens to understand what was truly in their self-interest; and focused on training individuals to choose behavior that would result in the greatest happiness for the whole society. For Mill, utilitarianism was not a self-indulgent philosophy but one that required individuals to be self-disciplined and ethically exacting. In fact, he once noted that "under a bad government there is no common interest. Every man is governed by his private interest" (cited in Burston, p. 15). Mill explains the ethical foundations of utilitarianism in his Fragment on Mackintosh (1835). Indeed, like the prolific Bentham, Mill systematically articulated utilitarian ideas that are important in the history of thought about education, psychology, economics, ethics, and government.

ideas on government

Mill's 1820 article "Essay on Government," which appeared in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, laid out the utilitarian notion that good governments are representative in form. His rationale was that the more people have political power, the more their government is obliged to seek what is in the people's self-interest. Utilitarians distrusted the aristocracy and monarchy, assuming that aristocrats and monarchs wanted to aggregate all power and benefits to themselves. In this influential article, Mill concluded that a large portion of the citizenry would need to have the vote and that the House of Commons was the best locus of governmental power because it represented a majority of the people and could provide adequate checks to the monarch and aristocracy. This article also asserts that in order to ensure the greatest happiness to the greatest number, men must be guaranteed the highest compensation for their work and that a representative system could best fulfill this need.

Writer and politician Thomas Babington Macaulay (1800–1859) famously lambasted Mill's article on government, saying it was hardly the scientific document Mill claimed it was. Contemporary critics note numerous problems with the utilitarian philosophy. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that his "Essay on Government" helped to create a climate in which the first Reform Bill of 1832 was passed, enlarging the voter rolls to include some of the middle and lower classes. The second (1867) and third (1884) Reform Acts would gradually add more unrepresented citizens to the voter rolls.

Even though Mill never went to India, he spent more than a decade writing his masterwork, TheHistory of India. As an examiner in the India House, the headquarters of the East India Company in London, reviewing incoming dispatches and preparing preliminary dispatches in return for almost two decades, he was able to put into practice some of his ideas about governing India, otherwise known as "the jewel in the crown" of England's colonies. Using a utilitarian rationale, he suggested that it was actually a positive that he had never been to India because he could be more objective about the people and the culture rather than sentimentalizing them as he thought other writers had done.

In the nineteenth century, Ricardo critiqued Mill's India politics, noting that one universal form of government might not be good for all cultures. He added that it was, at the very least, inconsistent to support representative government in general while also insisting that India be governed by England.

Modern critics differ on The History. Many have pointed out that it is in keeping with the work of postcolonial theorist Edward Said and others who argue that those who colonized the East in the nineteenth century viewed it and its peoples as inferior and as in need of the civilizing influence of the British. Javeed Majeed, however, suggests that The History is ambivalent about maintaining an imperial presence in India (it was not economical, for one thing), and that it is important to note that Mill wrote the work in order to critique British governmental practices at home and abroad so as to call for reform through establishment of utilitarian principles. Others find that in The History Mill attacks an Orientalist approach to India typical of his time—that is, an approach that stereotypes India as an exotic, romantic site of vast economic and aesthetic riches for the use of Britain.

ideas on education

In keeping with the utilitarian optimism about the potential to change human behavior so as to create a society in which the greatest happiness was to be had by the greatest number, Mill asserted that differences between human beings could be explained by their difference in education. Reflecting the influence of John Locke (1632–1704), he added that people could be educated through "association of ideas" to learn the behaviors that would be in their own and society's self-interest. That is, he assumed, with David Hartley (1705–1757), that human beings are like a blank slate (tabula rasa), and their knowledge of the world occurs only through sense experiences. Thus Mill reasoned that through a utilitarian education of systematic rewards and punishments people could be trained to truly know and act upon what was best for themselves and their society. For example, Mill writes, "Under the guidance and stimulus of desire to obtain Pleasure and to avoid Pain, we can associate beneficent means of attaining these ends, and become morally good people, or we can find such ends associated with causing pain to others, with corruption and so forth, and be morally bad" (cited in Burston, p. 231). Laying out "associationist" ideas and strongly critiquing the imagination, Mill's Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (1829) is seen as important to the history of psychology.

Though Mill and his utilitarian friends abandoned efforts to establish such a system for the lower classes in London, Mill did train his own nine children according to the associationist method, combining it with the monitorial method used in Scotland. To Mill this seemed an efficient, cheap, and scientific educational model: the teacher directly educated the best students, who were then required to teach the younger children, thus reinforcing their own education while easing the strain of teachers having to work with large groups of students.

Though Mill's pedagogy produced his brilliant son John Stuart Mill, it was at a high emotional cost. As John Stuart later wrote, his father was overly strict, providing his children more punishments than rewards and little emotional support. For example, Mill made his son start learning Greek in demanding doses when John was just three years old. Dedicated to logic, the elder Mill also derided the imagination, fiction, and literary writing. As an adult, John Stuart Mill realized that this lack of the poetic had all but destroyed his ability to feel.

In Hard Times (1854), Charles Dickens (1812–1870) fiercely lampooned the teaching paradigm that had so badly affected John Stuart Mill by featuring utilitarian educators named Grad-grind and McChoakumchild who only focus on "Facts." Likewise, Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) and Romantic writers, including William Blake (1757–1827) and William Wordsworth (1770–1850), attacked Hartley's associationist ideas. They argued that the human mind is not just a passive receptor of sensations from the outside world but also actively engages with and changes reality.

Dedicated to putting into practice utilitarian ideas about schools, Mill actively helped to establish the University of London in 1825 as a means of democratizing education. At the time, Oxford and Cambridge only admitted upper-class men who were members of the Anglican Church. Mill ensured that the University of London would serve children of the middle and lower classes who were of all denominations as well as those who were nonbelievers.

See alsoBentham, Jeremy; Economists, Classical; Malthus, Thomas Robert; Mill, John Stuart; Utilitarianism.


Burston, W. H. James Mill on Philosophy and Education. London, 1973.

Leung, Man To. "James Mill's Utilitarianism and the British Imperialism in India." Political Studies Association Conference (1998), 1–15. Available from

Majeed, Javed. Ungoverned Imaginings: James Mill's The History of British India and Orientalism. Oxford, U.K., 1992.

Milgate, Murray, and Shannon C. Stimson. Ricardian Politics. Princeton, N.J., 1991.

Stokes, Eric. The English Utilitarians and India. Oxford, U.K., 1959.

Thomas, William. Mill. Oxford, U.K., 1985.

Zastoupil, Lynn. John Stuart Mill and India. Stanford, Calif., 1994.

Gail Turley Houston

James Mill

views updated May 14 2018

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. □

Mill, James

views updated Jun 11 2018


Philosopher, psychologist, economist, and historian; disciple of J. bentham and D. Hartley; b. Northwater Bridge, Scotland, April 6, 1773; d. London, June 23, 1836. Mill studied for the ministry but failed to get a parish; later, under Bentham's influence, he came to see Christianity as "a mere delusion," "a great moral evil," and "the greatest enemy of morality." In London, after some years in journalism, he wrote a History of British India [1818; 4th ed., ed. H. H. Wilson, 9 v. (London 1848)], entered the East India Company, and lived to become its chief London administrator. He was active also in the formation of the political party known as the Philosophical Radicals, who were influential in passing the Reform Bill of 1832. In his major work, Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind (London 1829), Mill defended and developed Hartley's associationism. Denying innate differences, he believed in unlimited perfectibility through education; for an account of the remarkable education he gave his own children, see his son John's Autobiography (1873). In political theory, Mill, like Bentham, rejected all notion of "natural rights," and in his famous 1820 Britannica article on "Government" he attempted one of the very first defenses of representative government along purely utilitarian, Benthamite lines.

See Also: mill, john stuart.

Bibliography: Other Works. An Essay on Government (Cambridge, Eng. 1937); A Fragment on Mackintosh (London 1835); Elements of Political Economy (London 1821). Literature. a. bain, James Mill: A Biography (London 1882). l. stephen, The English Utilitarians, 3 v. (London 1900) v.2.

[r. l. cunningham]

Mill, James

views updated May 29 2018

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

Mill, James

views updated May 17 2018

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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