John Stuart Mill; His Life and Works

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Mr. Mill altered all this. He demonstrated that the general type of reasoning is neither from generals to particulars, nor from particulars to generals, but from particulars to particulars. "If from our experience of John, Thomas, &c., who once were living, but are now dead, we are entitled to conclude that all human beings are mortal, we might surely, without any logical inconsequence, have concluded at once from those instances, that the Duke of Wellington is mortal. The mortality of John, Thomas, and others is, after all, the whole evidence we have for the mortality of the Duke of Wellington. Not one iota is added to the proof by interpolating a general proposition." We not only may, according to Mr. Mill, reason from some particular instances to others, but we frequently do so. As, however, the instances which are sufficient to prove one fresh instance must be sufficient to prove a general proposition, it is most convenient to at once infer that general proposition, which then becomes a formula according to which (but not from which) any number of particular inferences may be made. The work of deduction is the interpretation of these formulas, and therefore, strictly speaking, is not inferential at all. The real inference was accomplished when the universal proposition was arrived at.

It will easily be seen that this explanation of the deductive process completely turns the tables on the transcendental school. All reasoning is shown to be at bottom inductive. Inductions and their interpretation make up the whole of logic; and to induction accordingly Mr. Mill devoted his chief attention. For the first time induction was treated as the opus magnum of logic, and the fundamental principles of science traced to their inductive origin. It was this, taken with his theory of the syllogism, which worked the great change. Both his "System of Logic" and his "Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy" are for the most part devoted to fortifying this position, and demolishing beliefs inconsistent with it. As a systematic psychologist Mr. Mill has not done so much as either Professor Bain or Mr. Herbert Spencer. The perfection of his method, its application, and the uprooting of prejudices which stood in its way,—this was the task to which Mr. Mill applied himself with an ability and success rarely matched and never surpassed.

The biggest lion in the path was the doctrine of so-called "necessary truth." This doctrine was especially obnoxious to him, as it set up a purely subjective standard of truth, and a standard—as he was easily able to show—varying according to the psychological history of the individual. Such thinkers as Dr. Whewell and Mr. Herbert Spencer had to be met in intellectual combat. Dr. Whewell held, not that the inconceivability of the contradictory of a proposition is a proof of its truth co-equal with experience, but that its value transcends experience. Experience may tell us what is; but it is by the impossibility of conceiving it otherwise that we know it must be. Mr. Herbert Spencer, too, holds that propositions whose negation is inconceivable have "a higher warrant than any other whatever." It is through this door that ontological belief was supposed to enter. "Things in themselves" were to be believed in because we could not help it. Modern Noumenalists agree that we can know nothing more of "things in themselves" than their existence, but this they continue to assert with a vehemence only equalled by its want of meaning.

In his "Examination of Sir William Hamilton's Philosophy," Mr. Mill gives battle to this mode of thought. After reviewing, in an opening chapter, the various views which have been held respecting the relativity of human knowledge, and stating his own doctrine, he proceeds to judge by this standard the philosophy of the absolute and Sir William Hamilton's relation to it. The argument is really on the question whether we have or have not an intuition of God, though, as Mr. Mill says, "the name of God is veiled under two extremely abstract phrases,—'The Infinite' and 'The Absolute.'" So profound and friendly a thinker as the late Mr. Grote held this raising of the veil inexpedient, but he proved, by a mistake he fell into, the necessity of looking at the matter in the concrete. He acknowledged the force of Mr. Mill's argument, that "The Infinite" must include "a farrago of contradictions;" but so also, he said, does the Finite. Now undoubtedly finite things, taken distributively, have contradictory attributes, but not as a class. Still less is there any one individual thing, "The Finite," in which these contradictory attributes inhere. But it was against a corresponding being, "The Infinite," that Mr. Mill was arguing. It is this that he calls a "fasciculus of contradictions," and regarded as the reductio ad absurdissimum of the transcendental philosophy.

Mr. Mill's religious tendencies may very well be gathered from a passage in his review of Auguste Comte, a philosopher with whom he agreed on all points save those which are specially M. Comte's. "Candid persons of all creeds may be willing to admit, that if a person has an ideal object, his attachment and sense of duty towards which are able to control and discipline all his other sentiments and propensities, and prescribe to him a rule of life, that person has a religion; and though every one naturally prefers his own religion to any other, all must admit, that if the object of his attachment, and of this feeling of duty, is the aggregate of our fellow-creatures, this religion of the infidel cannot in honesty and conscience be called an intrinsically bad one. Many indeed may be unable to believe that this object is capable of gathering round it feelings sufficiently strong; but this is exactly the point on which a doubt can hardly remain in an intelligent reader of M. Comte: and we join with him in contemning, as equally irrational and mean, the conception of human nature as incapable of giving its love, and devoting its existence, to any object which cannot afford in exchange an eternity of personal enjoyment." Never has the libel of humanity involved in the current theology been more forcibly pointed out, with its constant appeal to low motives of personal gain, or still lower motives of personal fear. Never has the religious sentiment which must take the place of the present awe of the unknown been more clearly indicated. It is this noble sentiment which shines out from every page of Mr. Mill's writings and all his relations to his fellow-creatures: the very birds about his dwelling seemed to recognize it. It is this noble sentiment which infuses a soul of life into his teachings, and the enunciation and acting-out of which constitute him, not only the great philosopher, but also the great prophet of our time.




The two chief characteristics of Mr. Mill's mind are conspicuous in the field of morals and jurisprudence. He united in an extraordinary degree an intense delight in thinking for its own sake, with an almost passionate desire to make his intellectual excursions contribute to the amelioration of the lot of mankind, especially of the poorer and suffering part of mankind. And yet he never allowed those high aims to clash with one another: he did not degrade his intellect to the sophistical office of finding reasons for a policy arising from mere emotion, nor did he permit it to run waste in barren speculations, which might have excited admiration, but never could have done any good. This is the reason why so many persons have been unable to understand him as the prophet of utilitarianism. A man of such exquisite feeling, of such pure conscientiousness, of such self-denying life, must surely be an advocate of what is called absolute morality. Utilitarianism is the proper creed of hard unemotional natures, who do not respond to the more subtle moral influences. Such is the view natural to those who cannot dissociate the word "utilitarianism" from the narrow meaning of utility, as contrasted with the pleasures of art. The infirmity of human language excuses such errors; for the language in which controversy is conducted is so colored by sentiment that it may well happen that two shall agree on the thing, and fight to the death about the word. We need the support of such reflections when we recall the history of such a word as "pleasure." To pursue pleasure, say the anti-utilitarians, is a swinish doctrine. "Yes," replied Mr. Mill, "if men were swine, and capable only of the pleasures appropriate to that species of animals." Those who could not answer this argument, and at the same time cannot divest themselves of the association of pleasure with the ignoble, took refuge in the charge of inconsistency, and, finding there was not less but more nobility in Mr. Mill's writing than their own theory, accused him of abandoning the tradition of his school. Mahomet would not go to the mountain, and they pleased themselves with the thought that the mountain had gone to Mahomet. Such a charge is really tantamount to a confession that popular antipathy was more easily excited by the word than by the real doctrine. Nevertheless Mr. Mill did an incalculable service in showing not less by his whole life, than by his writings, that utilitarianism takes account of all that is good in man's nature, and includes the highest emotions, as well as those that are more commonplace. He took away a certain reproach of narrowness, which was never in the doctrine, and which was loudly, though perhaps with little reason, urged against some of its most conspicuous supporters. An important addition to the theory of morals is also contained in the book on "Utilitarianism." His analysis of "justice" is one of the happiest efforts of inductive definition to be found in any book on ethics. From any point of view, it must be regarded as a valuable addition to the literature of ethical philosophy.

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