The Great Philosophers

John Stuart Mill: The utilitarian prodigy

Reading Greek at the age of three and Latin at eight, John Stuart Mill was set to become one of Britain’s leading philosophical thinkers

Tuesday 26 October 2021 21:30
<p>John Stuart Mill circa 1870</p>

John Stuart Mill circa 1870

John Stuart Mill’s (1806-1873) father, James Mill, was an outspoken advocate of utilitarianism and a friend of Jeremy Bentham, its founder. John Mill was born into a household steeped in utilitarian thinking, particularly Bentham’s views on education.

It was the aim of Mill’s father to educate the boy himself, in his own words, to turn him into “a mere calculating machine”. This James Mill more or less did, with alarming consequences.

John Mill could read Greek at the age of three and Latin at eight. By his early teens, he had read all the major Greek and Latin works, made an extensive survey of history and become well versed in jurisprudence, psychology, economics, mathematics and logic, according to his autobiography. His father lectured him on such subjects during long walks, requiring him to write up the lectures for the father’s consideration the next day. James Mill based a book, Elements of Political Economy, on a set of these papers. John Mill was just 14 at the time.

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