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Title: Thought imitates life : the case of John Stuart Mill
Author: Reeves, Richard
Awarding Body: University of Warwick
Current Institution: University of Warwick
Date of Award: 2013
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In this essay, I relate material in the original published work – John Stuart Mill – Victorian Firebrand (Atlantic Books, 2007) to the claim that the central features of Mill’s thought can be seen more clearly through a biographical lens. The original contribution of the main work lies in the excavation and application of biographical material to the development of Mill’s philosophy. The poor development of Mill’s utilitarianism results in part from a lack of personal investment and aspiration. Mill’s motivation was to atone for earlier, premature assaults on Jeremy Bentham’s philosophy - rather than to develop it further. As a consequence, his mature utilitarianism is hard to integrate with his liberalism, which was where his primary interest lay. Elements of Mill’s liberalism also bear a biographical imprint. The central emphasis on self-creation in Mill’s liberal ethic results, in part, from his own ‘crisis’ and subsequent departure from the rationalist utilitarianism of his father and Bentham. Similarly, Mill’s focus on individuality stemmed in part from a concern to demonstrate he was not, himself, a ‘made man’. Openmindedness became a central liberal virtue, for Mill, following his criticism of Bentham’s (and his father’s) narrowness of thought. Character was also essential to liberty, since only those of strong character could create themselves and express their individuality, rather than succumbing to custom. Mill’s partner and later wife, Harriet Taylor Mill, had an influence on Mill’s thought. The experience of gossip and ostracism, in the years before their marriage, strengthened Mill’s opposition to the ‘despotism of custom’. More substantively, Harriet’s views on socialism, the ballot and feminism clearly influenced Mill’s own treatment. Without Harriet, he would have been a less committed socialist and feminist – and would have remained a supporter of the right to vote in secret.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available
Keywords: B Philosophy (General)