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Appendix D: A Few Observations on Mr. Mill (1833) - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume I - Autobiography and Literary Essays, ed. John M. Robson and Jack Stillinger, introduction by Lord Robbins (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981).
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A Few Observations on Mr. Mill (1833)
appendix c in Edward Lytton Bulwer, England and the English (London: Bentley, 1833), Vol. II, pp. 345-55. Unsigned; not republished; not listed in Mill’s bibliography. In a letter to Carlyle (2 Aug., 1833), Mill mentions his contributions on Bentham to England and the English (in CW, Vol. X, pp. 3-18, and 499-502), saying that he does not intend to acknowledge them as his; he then continues. “I furnished him also at his request with a few yet rougher notes concerning my father, which he has not dealt so fairly by, but has cut and mangled and coxcombified the whole thing till its mother would not know it: there are a few sentences of mine in it, something like what they were when I wrote them: for the sake of artistic congruity I wish there were not. This I still less own, because it is not mine, in any sense.” (EL, CW, Vol. XII, p. 172.) In the SC copy of England and the English there are no emendations or other marks.
At the end of this text we reprint Mill’s slight contribution to Andrew Bisset’s article. “James Mill,” in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, 7th ed. (Edinburgh: Black, 1842), Vol. XV, pp. 77-80 (Mill’s sentences are on p. 78).
For further comment, see the Introduction, p. xxxiii above.
Mr. Mill has been frequently represented as the disciple of Bentham. With truth has he been so represented in this respect—he was one of the earliest in adopting—he has been one of the most efficient in diffusing—many of the most characteristic of Bentham’s opinions. He admits without qualification—he carries into detail with rigid inflexibility, the doctrine that the sole ground of moral obligation is general utility. But the same results may be reached by minds the most dissimilar; else why do we hope for agreement amongst impartial inquirers?—else why do we hope to convert one another? why not burn our lucubrations, or wait to establish a principle until we have found an exact resemblance of ourselves?
In some respects Mr. Mill’s mind assimilates to Bentham’s, in others it differs from it widely. It is true that Mr. Mill’s speculations have been influenced by impressions received from Bentham; but they have been equally influenced by those received from the Aristotelian Logicians, from Hartley, and from Hobbes. He almost alone in the present age has revived the study of those writers—he has preserved, perhaps, the most valuable of their doctrines—he is largely indebted to them for the doctrines which compose, for the spirit which pervades his philosophy. The character of his intellect seems to partake as much of that of either of those three types of speculative inquiry, as it does of the likeness of Bentham.
As a searcher into original truths, the principal contribution which Mr. Mill has rendered to philosophy, is to be found in his most recent work, The Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind. Nothing more clearly proves what I have before asserted, viz.—our indifference to the higher kind of philosophical investigation, than the fact, that no full account—no criticism of this work has appeared in either of our principal Reviews.
The doctrine announced by Hartley, that the ideas furnished by Sense, together with the law of association, are the simple elements of the mind, and sufficient to explain even the most mysterious of its phenomena, is also the doctrine of Mr. Mill. Hartley, upon this principle, had furnished an explanation of some of the phenomena. Mr. Mill has carried on the investigation into all those more complex psychological facts which had been the puzzle and despair of previous metaphysicians. Such, for instance, as Time and Space—Belief—the Will—the Affections—the Moral Sentiments. He has attempted to resolve all these into cases of association. I do not pause here to contend with him—to show, or rather endeavour to show, where he has succeeded—where failed. It would be a task far beyond the limits of this Book—it is properly the task of future metaphysicians.
The moment in which this remarkable work appeared is unfortunate for its temporary success. Had it been published sixty years ago—or perhaps sixty years hence, it would perhaps have placed the reputation of its author beyond any of his previous writings.
There is nothing similar to these inquiries in the writings of Mr. Bentham. This indicates one principal difference between the two men. Mr. Mill is eminently a metaphysician; Bentham as little of a metaphysician as any one can be who ever attained to equal success in the science of philosophy. Every moral or political system must be indeed a corollary from some general view of human nature. But Bentham, though punctilious and precise in the premises he advances, confines himself, in that very preciseness, to a few simple and general principles. He seldom analyses—he studies the human mind rather after the method of natural history than of philosophy. He enumerates—he classifies the facts—but he does not account for them. You read in his works an enumeration of pains and pleasures—an enumeration of motives—an enumeration of the properties which constitute the value of a pleasure or a pain. But Bentham does not even attempt to explain any of the feelings or impulses enumerated—he does not attempt to show that they are subject to the laws of any more elementary phenomena of human nature. Of human nature indeed in its rarer or more hidden parts, Bentham knew but little—wherever he attained to valuable results, which his predecessors had missed, it was by estimating more justly than they the action of some outward circumstance upon the more obvious and vulgar elements of our nature—not by understanding better than they, the workings of those elements which are not obvious and not vulgar. Where but a moderate knowledge of these last was necessary to the correctness of his conclusions, he was apt to stray farther from the truth than even the votaries of common place. He often threw aside a trite and unsatisfactory truism, in order to replace it with a paradoxical error.
If, then, the power of analysing a complex combination into its simple elements be in the mental sciences, as in the physical, a leading characteristic of the philosopher, Mr. Mill is thus far considerably nearer to the philosophic ideal than Mr. Bentham. This, however, has not made so great a difference as might have been expected in the practical conclusions at which they have arrived. Those powers of analysis which, by Mr. Bentham, are not brought to bear upon the phenomena of our nature at all, are applied by Mr. Mill almost solely to our common universal nature, to the general structure which is the same in all human beings; not to the differences between one human being and another, though the former is little worthy of being studied except as a means to the better understanding of the latter. We seldom learn from Mr. Mill to understand any of the varieties of human nature; and, in truth, they enter very little into his own calculations, except where he takes cognizance of them as aberrations from the standard to which, in his opinion, all should conform. Perhaps there never existed any writer, (except, indeed, the ascetic theologians,) who conceived the excellence of the human being so exclusively under one single type, to a conformity with which he would reduce all mankind. No one ever made fewer allowances for original differences of nature, although the existence of such is not only compatible with, but a necessary consequence of, his view of the human mind, when combined with the extraordinary differences which are known to exist between one individual and another in the kind and in the degree of their nervous sensibility. I cannot but think that the very laws of association, laid down by Mr. Mill, will hereafter, and in other hands, be found (while they explain the diversities of human nature) to show, in the most striking manner, how much of those diversities is inherent and inevitable; neither the effect of, nor capable of being reached by, education or outward circumstances.* I believe the natural and necessary differences among mankind to be so great, that any practical view of human life, which does not take them into the account, must, unless it stop short in generalities, contain at least as much error as truth; and that any system of mental culture, recommended by such imperfect theory in proportion as it is fitted to natures of one class, will be entirely unfitted for all others.
Mr. Mill has given to the world, as yet, on the subject of morals, and on that of education, little besides generalities: not “barren generalities,”[*] but of the most fruitful kind; yet of which the fruit is still to come. When he shall carry his speculations into the details of these subjects, it is impossible that an intellect like his should not throw a great increase of light upon them: the danger is that the illumination will be partial and narrow; that he will conclude too readily that, whatever is suitable food for one sort of character, or suitable medicine for bringing it back, when it falls from its proper excellence, may be prescribed for all, and that what is not needful or useful to one of the types of human nature, is worthless altogether. There is yet another danger, that he will fail, not only in conceiving sufficient variety of excellence, but sufficiently high excellence; that the type to which he would reduce all natures, is by no means the most perfect type; that he conceives the ideal perfection of a human being, under some only of its aspects, not under all; or at least that he would frame his practical rules as if he so conceived it.
The faculty of drawing correct conclusions from evidence, together with the qualities of moral rectitude and earnestness, seem to constitute almost the whole of his idea of the perfection of human nature; or rather, he seems to think, that with all other valuable qualities mankind are already sufficiently provided, or will be so by attending merely to these. We see no provision in his system, so far as it is disclosed to us, for the cultivation of any other qualities; and therefore, (as I hold to be a necessary consequence,) no sufficient provision for the cultivation even of these.
Now there are few persons whose notion of the perfection to which a human being may be brought, does not comprehend much more than the qualities enumerated above. Most will be prepared to find the practical views founded upon so narrow a basis of theory, rather fit to be used as part of the materials for a practical system, than fit in themselves to constitute one. From what cause, or combination of causes, the scope of Mr. Mill’s philosophy embraces so partial a view only of the ends of human culture and of human life, it belongs rather to Mr. Mill’s biographer than to his mere reader, to investigate. Doubtless the views of almost all inquirers into human nature are necessarily confined within certain bounds by the fact, that they can enjoy complete power of studying their subject only as it exists in themselves. No person can thoroughly appreciate that of which he has not had personal consciousness: but powers of metaphysical analysis, such as Mr. Mill possesses, are sufficient for the understanding and appreciation of all characters and all states of mind, as far as is necessary for practical purposes, and amply sufficient to divest our philosophic theories of everything like narrowness. For this, however, it is necessary that those powers of analysis should be applied to the details, not solely to the outlines, of human nature; and one of the most strongly marked of the mental peculiarities of Mr. Mill, is, as it seems to us, impatience of details.
This is another of the most striking differences between him and Mr. Bentham. Mr. Bentham delighted in details, and had a quite extraordinary genius for them: it is remarkable how much of his intellectual superiority was of this kind. He followed out his inquiries into the minutest ramifications; was skilful in the estimation of small circumstances, and most sagacious and inventive in devising small contrivances. He went even to great excess in the time and labour which he was willing to bestow on minutiæ, when more important things remained undone. Mr. Mill, on the contrary, shuns all nice attention to details; he attaches himself exclusively to great and leading points; his views, even when they cannot be said to be enlarged, are always on a large scale. He will often be thought by those who differ from him, to overlook or undervalue great things,—never to exaggerate small ones; and the former, partly from not being attentive enough to details, when these, though small, would have suggested principles which are great.
The same undervaluing of details has, I think, caused most of the imperfections, where imperfections there are, in Mr. Mill’s speculations generally. His just contempt of those who are incapable of grasping a general truth, and with whom the grand and determining considerations are always outweighed by some petty circumstance, carries him occasionally into an opposite extreme: he so heartily despises those most obtuse persons who call themselves Practical Men, and disavow theory, as not always to recollect that, though the men be purblind, they may yet “look out upon the world with their dim horn eyes”[*] and see something in it, which, lying out of his way, he may not have observed, but which it may be worth while for him, who can see clearly, to note and explain. Not only a dunce may give instruction to a wise man, but no man is so wise that he can, in all cases, do without a dunce’s assistance. But a certain degree of intellectual impatience is almost necessarily connected with fervour of character and strength of conviction. Men much inferior to Mr. Mill are quite capable of setting limitations to his propositions, where any are requisite; few in our own times, we might say in any times, could have accomplished what he has done.
Mr. Mill’s principal works besides the Analysis already mentioned, are, 1. The History of British India, not only the first work which has thrown the light of philosophy upon the people and upon the government of that vast portion of the globe, but the first, and even now the only work which conveys to the general reader even that knowledge of facts, which, with respect to so important a department of his country’s affairs, every Englishman should wish to possess. The work is full of instructive comments on the institutions of our own country, and abounds with illustrations of many of the most important principles of government and legislation.
2. Elements of Political Economy. Mr. Mill’s powers of concatenation and systematic arrangement peculiarly qualified him to place in their proper logical connexion the elementary principles of this science as established by its great masters, and to furnish a compact and clear exposition of them.
3. Essays on Government, Jurisprudence, Education, &c. originally written for the Supplement to the Encyclopædia Britannica; the most important of them have been several times reprinted by private subscription.[*]
These little works, most of which are mere outlines to be filled up, though they have been both praised and animadverted upon as if they claimed the character of complete scientific theories, have been, I believe, more read than any other of Mr. Mill’s writings, and have contributed more than any publications of our time to generate a taste for systematic thinking on the subject of politics, and to discredit vague and sentimental declamation. The Essay on Government, in particular, has been almost a text-book to many of those who may be termed the Philosophic Radicals. This is not the place to criticise either the treatise itself or the criticisms of others upon it. Any critical estimate of it thoroughly deserving the name, it has not yet been my fortune to meet with; for Mr. Macauley—assuming, I suppose, the divine prerogative of genius—only entered the contest, in order to carry away the argument he protected in a cloud of words.[†]
Mr. Mill’s more popular writings are remarkable for a lofty earnestness, more stern than genial, and which rather flagellates or shames men out of wrong, than allures them to the right. Perhaps this is the style most natural to a man of deep moral convictions, writing in an age and in a state of society like that in which we live. But it seems, also, to be congenial to the character of his own mind; for he appears, on most occasions, much more strongly alive to the evil of what is evil in our destiny, than to the good of what is good. He rather warns us against the errors that tend to make us miserable, than affords us the belief that by any means we can attain to much positive happiness. He does not hope enough from human nature—something despondent and unelevating clings round his estimate of its powers. He saddens the Present by a reference to the Past—he does not console it by any alluring anticipations of the Future;—he rather discontents us with vice than kindles our enthusiasm for virtue. He possesses but little of
The vision and the faculty divine;[‡] —
nor is it through his writings, admirable as they are, that we are taught
To feel that we are greater than we know.[§]
* * * * *
[Mill contributed the following paragraph to Andrew Bisset’s article on James Mill in the 7th ed. (1842) of the Encyclopaedia Britannica:]
Mr. Mill’s ingenuity as a very acute and original metaphysician was abundantly displayed in his Analysis of the Phenomena of the Human Mind, published in 1829. In this work he evinced analytical powers rarely, if ever, surpassed; and which have placed him high in the list of those subtile inquirers who have attempted to resolve all the powers of the mind into a very small number of simple elements. Mr. Mill took up this analysis where Hartley had left it, and applied the same method to the more complex phenomena, which the latter did not attempt to explain. From the general neglect of metaphysical studies in the present age, this work, which, at some periods of our history, would have placed its author on a level, in point of reputation, with the highest names in the republic of letters, has been less read and appreciated than any of his other writings.
[* ]I venture to recommend to the notice of the Reader an able paper on the character of Dr. Priestley, published in several recent numbers of Mr. Fox’s excellent Monthly Repository. [James Martineau, “On the Life, Character, and Works of Dr. Priestley,” Monthly Repository, n.s. VII (Jan., Feb., Apr., 1833), 19-30, 84-8, 231-41.]
[[*] ]Cf. Bacon, Novum Organum, Bk. I, Aph. xxii, in Works, Vol. I, p. 160 (Latin), and Vol. IV, p. 50 (English). See also p. 25 above.
[[*] ]Carlyle, “Biography,” p. 255.
[[*] ]The first collection (London: printed Innis, ) included “Government,” “Jurisprudence,” “Liberty of the Press,” “Prisons and Prison Discipline,” “Colonies,” “Law of Nations,” and “Education.”
[[†] ]The reference is to T. B. Macaulay’s three essays in the Edinburgh Review attacking James Mill’s “Government”; see p. 165n above.
[[‡] ]Wordsworth, The Excursion, in Poetical Works (1827), Vol. I, p. 6 (Bk. I, 1. 78).
[[§] ]Wordsworth, Sonnet XXXIV, “After-Thought,” of The River Duddon, ibid., Vol. IV, p. 156 (1. 14).