European Intellectual History Syllabus

42.346 Spring 2002 Study Questions

Mill, Autobiography


In this introduction the editor tries to fit Mill into-the broader framework of early 19th century European thought.  How does the editor fit Mill into the context of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, Utilitarianism, and Utopian socialism?

Chapter 1

How does Mill describe the era into which he was born?  What does he mean by this?

How does Mill describe his father's place in English society?  Describe the stages of Mill's education between   age 3 and 14.  What subjects did he learn, in what order, and how?

What was his father's basic method of instruction?  What was the goal?

What sort of contact did Mill have with others of his age?  Why?  What did Mill do "for enjoyment" as a child?  Explain.

Think back to our discussions of the Enlightenment and of ideas about education.  In what ways was Mill's   education a product of the Enlightenment?


Chapter 2

What or who was the major moral influence on Mill as a youth?

With what sort of spiritual beliefs was the young Mill raised?

Did Mill grow up without any clear moral standards?  Explain.

How did his father differentiate good from bad, etc.?

How would describe the emotional atmosphere of Mill's youth?  How does Mill explain this?

What effect did living in France in 1820 have upon the young Mill, and why? 

How did it shape his opinions of life in England as opposed to life on the continent?


Chapter 3

What effect did study of the French Revolution have on Mill's life and ideas and why?

Just what about Benthamism was so attractive to Mill?  Why did it give "unity to [his] conception of things"?

What were the major interests linking young Mill to his friends Grote and Austin, Tooke and Roebuck, etc.?

What did Mill do for a living?  Explain the relationship between his livelihood, his father's livelihood, and their   common philosophical beliefs.


Chapter 4

What about English public life in the early 1820s did Mill and his compatriots find unjust and irrational?

What was the Westminster Review, and what was its general editorial aim?

In what sense did the Westminster Review represent a radical-Liberal perspective?  What sort of positions, for instance, did it take on issues of representation?  Freedom of thought?  Free trade?

What means of disseminating Benthamite and other left-Liberal ideas does Mill explain in this chapter?

How did Mill"s father's argument for democracy differ from the "classical" liberalism we have discussed?

What was the basis of the debates between Mill's cohort and the Owenites?  What were there positions in these debates?


Chapter 5

How old was Mill when he had his "mental crisis"?   What caused his crisis?  What question did he ask himself, how did he answer, and what was the result?  Why?

Mill says that the experience of his breakdown had two major effects on his viewpoints.  What were these?  Explain.  How did he think a person could become happy?  What did he now consider important that he had previously ignored?

Think about Mill's crisis--how would you link the issues that he suffered over to what we read of and by the Romantics?  Point out passages in which Mill himself suddenly sounds like a Romantic.

In what ways did Mill now turn against British Enlightenment traditions in the analysis of politics?

What ideas about the relationship between society, power, and state institutions did Mill now borrow from French  radical thinkers like Saint-Simon?

How did Mill's understanding of history change after studying French radicalism?

What criticisms of classical liberal political economy did Mill begin to consider based on his reading of French  radicals?

Mill says that he hoped that the poor would adopt the philosophy of the (utopian) socialists--why?


Chapter 6

To whom does the title of this chapter refer and why?

What effect did reading de Tocqueville have on Mill and why?

What in the thought of the founder of Logical Positivism, Compte, did Mill find troubling and why?


Chapter 7

What did Mill the philosopher have to say as an adult about the idealist concept of "external" truths known through intuition,, and why?

Why does Mill say that he had been a democrat but not a socialist?  Explain.

What soured Mill on the chance of continental Europe leading the democratic movement?

Did Mill believe that the job of drafting laws should be given to a democratic representative legislature?  Explain.  What was Mill's view of the rights of women?

What did Mill seem to think of the English working class?


OK, now let's connect this to our earlier readings and discussions:

1)  What elements in Mill's methodology and in his basic ideas are clearly rooted in the traditions and ideas of the Enlightenment?

2)  What aspects of Mill's ideas appear to be rooted in (or at least resonate with) Romanticism?

3) In what ways were Mill's views a response to the internal political contradictions in European society highlighted by the French revolution?

4) In what sense were Mill's views a response to the internal social contradictions in European society highlighted by the industrial revolution?

5) Where do you fit Mill into Perry's discussion of political and philosophical positions in mid-19th century Europe?  

European Intellectual History Syllabus