John Stuart Mill was born on this day in 1806. He is best known for classical liberal writings like On Liberty and The Subjection of Women. College students today also learn about his philosophy of utilitarianism, inherited from father James Mill and family friend Jeremy Bentham.
Mill had an unusual life story, told in one of the most compelling autobiographies in literature. John’s father gave him an intensive education that, for example, had him reading ancient Greek at age three. John never had any formal schooling, and the only children with whom he was allowed contact were his siblings.
His father’s pedagogical experiment worked in that it gave John one of the most formidable intellects of his age. But it failed in other ways. His strict upbringing resulted in a nervous breakdown at age 20 that set him back years. He was always socially awkward, and didn’t marry until age 45 — itself an interesting story.
Mill made important contributions to economics, political science, and philosophy. A deep love of liberty runs through them all. I don’t personally agree with everything he wrote (utilitarianism leads to absurd conclusions when taken too far), but he remains one of brightest lights in the classical liberal pantheon. Happy birthday, John Stuart Mill.