John Stuart Mill and the Formation of Scientific Psychology

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Table of Contents

  • The Author
  • The Central Thesis of the Book
  • Argumentation Structure
  • Chapter 1. The Introduction
  • Chapter 2. on the Liberty of Thought and Discussion
  • Chapter 3. Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being
  • Chapter 4. On the Limits to the Authority of Society Over the Individual
  • Chapter 5. Application
  • Sources

The Author

John Stuart mill was born on May 20th, 1806 at London and died on May 7th, 1873 at Avignon, France. He was a British philosopher, economist and exponent of Utilitarianism (ethical theories according to which an action is right if it tends to promote global happiness and wrong if it tends to produce the reverse). Mill was one of the leading thinkers of his time and he is considered as one of the most influential thinkers in the classical liberalism framework. He contributed widely to social, economy and political theories. Known as the most influential English-speaking philosopher in the nineteenth century, John Stuart Mill's conception of liberty was mainly based on the freedom of the individual.

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The Central Thesis of the Book

Published in 1859, the central idea of the book is the ethical system of Utilitarianism to society and state. In fact, John Stuart Mill tried to show that Utilitarianism can provide a strong protection of right. Therefore, individuality should be protected. It is about this idea that how much control should society or government exhibited over individuals? How much freedom should we have? A topic important emphasis by Mill is the idea of personal liberty of expressing unpopular opinions and repercussions for holding some viewpoints. For the author, negative opinionated ideas, questioning about social issues or more generally how things are and what is taking for granted are essential for society to developed itself. Mill emphasis that whatever might be a really unpopular opinion today that could be a prevalent one tomorrow. Therefore, you can't know when someone opinion is wrong. That's why every individuals' opinion should not be shut down. The only restriction of someone's liberties should only be done by the state in the only case of the harm of someone else.

Argumentation Structure

Chapter 1. The Introduction

Probably one of the most important part of his theory is developed in the introduction. Mill began with an overview of the liberty concept through Rome, Athens and England and the major issues about the concept. Mill underlining the struggle between individuals and society about how individuals' action should be limited/controlled or even struggle between liberty and authority. For him, liberty applies when people can learn from freely discussion. Mill's argumentation about freedom is justified by liberty utilitarian. It is not the claim of an abstract and natural right but rather linked to utility for the whole society and humankind. Nevertheless, liberty is somewhat limited only when it interferes with another individual's liberty or self-protection. He concludes the introduction part by three important pillars for liberties: The freedom of thought and emotion, the freedom to pursue our own preferences no matter how the society perceived it and the freedom to be part of a community.

Chapter 2. on the Liberty of Thought and Discussion

In this part, Mill underlining the sovereignty of individual and defend free speech. He argued that it is essential that all opinions, whatever right or wrong, should be heard and the omissions of them is hurting society. Mill justified this idea by the fact that in the past history, some past popular opinion which were widely widespread and popular are now rejected, and inversely. Men can misunderstand or misjudge potential good ideas, that's why every individual should be allowed to express his opinion, to debate and argue again the most basic and popular beliefs of a present society. Finally, he pointed out that on the one hand religion and integrity is not correlated and on the other hand explained that Christian faith should not overpass the personal integrity and individual's consideration.

Chapter 3. Of Individuality, as One of the Elements of Well-Being

Mill defends individual's liberty nevertheless, there are some limitations. Freedom is not permitted when someone do harm to others wither their action. Moreover, Mill argued that every human is different, and it is important for individuals to have his own desires and impulses because they produce energy, change and activity. Indeed, for him, original thoughts are crucial for the human society and sometimes it does not fit into the usual mold. Mill raise the religion issues and he conclude that any will, religious or not, that negatively impacts individuality is tyrannical.

Chapter 4. On the Limits to the Authority of Society Over the Individual

In this chapter Mill explained how an individual can easily distinguish what aspect of life should be governed by himself or by the society. Moreover, he clearly points out that individual is free to pursue his own interest, but liberty is not the purpose of selfish indifference, rather it is the constant judgment of the consequences of our action over the society. Individual has an obligation to the community not to violate others right otherwise government has the duty to punish him. If government can't punish him so society's opinion and judgment will be served like a punishment. Finally, Mill described what is a good society and what its duty. For him, society is accountable for his members, it should be the duty of society to raise good and fellow citizens through institutions.

Chapter 5. Application

This conclusion is about application of Mill's principles. He exposes the biggest challenges and questions for society. He suggests plenty measures that are used in modern society. Mill applied his principles explained in previous chapters to some practical social questions like a successful government should have restricted actions, how someone's' action is permitted only if it does not harm another and even about the duty of state about education.


Mill had been influenced by Germans authors like Goethe and Humboldt. But mostly by his father. His father, James Mill, was a Scottish philosopher, historian and economist. John Stuart Mill was educated by him with an extremely rigorous upbringing. The father's aim was to create a genius intellect who would defend the Utilitarianism cause and its propagation. Mill was also influenced by his father's friends like David Ricardo, Jeremy Bentham and Francis Place. Ricardo and Mill had a good relationship and Ricardo used to invite the young Mill to his house to talk about political economy. It is also well known that Mill had a connection with France. He used to stay in Montpellier for attended some courses and also came to Paris to meet the famous Jean Baptiste Say. Finally, one the greatest influence of Mill was his wife, Harriet Taylor. His relationship with her developed Mill's advocacy of women's right.

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