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Lecture 13: February 20.John Stuart Mill was born in London in 1806. He never attended school but was educatedby his father James Mill, himself a philosopher and a friend and disciple of JeremyBentham, the founder of utilitarianism: the doctrine according to which the greatest goodis the greatest balance of pleasure over pain for all humans (or even all sentient creatures—though here we will limit ourselves to considering humans), and in all circumstancesthe right course of action is the one that best approximates the greatest good. Hiseducation included starting the study of Greek at three and of Latin at eight; at twenty hewent to France to learn the language, as well as to study chemistry and mathematics. In1823 he became a clerk in the East India Company, where he worked until 1858,eventually becoming department chief. In 1831 he was introduced to Harriet Taylor, thewife of a successful merchant and mother of several children. They became close friendsand, after Harriet’s husband died in 1849, they got married (in 1851). Harriet died inAvignon, France, during a trip, and Mill bought a house nearby so he could be close toher grave. In 1865 he was invited to stand for election to Parliament as an independentmember for Westminster. He accepted and, although he refused to campaign, contributeto expenses, or defend his views, he won, and served until the next election in 1868,when he was defeated. As a member of Parliament, he vigorously advocated women’ssuffrage, though without success: women were not to be granted full voting rights inEngland until 1928. Though Mill never attended a university, let alone teach in one, someof his books (System of Logic, 1843, and Political Economy, 1848) were often used asuniversity textbooks. His other major works were On Liberty(1860), Utilitarianism48
(1861), and The Subjection of Women(1869). He was also the author of anAutobiography(1867) which has (as indeed his other texts) considerable literary value.On Libertyis dedicated to Harriet Taylor. It is an essay on “civil, or social liberty: [on]the nature and limits of the power which can be legitimately exercised by society over theindividual” (L1). In ancient times liberty “meant protection against the tyranny of thepolitical rulers” (L1), since the latter “were conceived … as in a necessarily antagonisticposition to the people whom they ruled” (L1). More recently, “men ceased to think …that their governors should be an independent power opposed in interest to themselves”(L2) and conceived of them instead as “their tenants or delegates, revocable at theirpleasure” (L2); consequently, “some persons began to think that too much importancehad been attached to the limitation of the power itself” (L3). After all, they reasoned,“[t]he nation did not need to be protected against its own will” (L3). But this created anew problem, as “[t]he will of the people … practically means the will of the mostnumerous or the most active partof the people” (L4); and hence, if no limits are