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History
IN OUR TIME'S GREATEST PHILOSOPHER VOTE
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GREATEST PHILOSOPHER

 
John Stuart Mill (1806-1873)
advocated by Alan Ryan

 Listen to Alan Ryan say why you should vote for John Stuart Mill

'Conservatives are not necessarily stupid, but most stupid people are conservatives.'

John Stuart Mill. J.S. Mill probably had the most precocious education in the history of philosophy. He was taught Greek at the age of 3, Latin and arithmetic at 8, logic at 12, and political economy at 13.

In his adult writing he championed individual liberty against the authority of the state and 'the tyranny of the majority' (a phrase he coined). His ethical philosophy was utilitarian.

Mill believed that morals are not innate but that the basic moral norm is the principle of utility. This states that an action is right provided it maximizes the greatest happiness of the greatest number of people.

However, Mill tried to accommodate this to a sense of moral obligation between people and to a belief that humans are not necessarily driven by a sense of their own happiness. He pointed out 'it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a fool satisfied'.

Finally, his System of Logic, which discussed the limits of meaningful discourse, made a significant contribution to analytic philosophy and was much admired by Bertrand Russell.

Mill also found time to get elected to parliament, campaign for woman's suffrage, have a period of acute depression, appreciate the poetry of Wordsworth and regularly speak at the Westminster debating society.

Works by John Stuart Mill on Project Gutenberg: Utilitarianism and other works

Read about John Stuart Mill on Wikipedia

Read about John Stuart Mill on the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Read about John Stuart Mill on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Please note: the BBC accepts no responsibility for the content of external websites.

 Listen to Alan Ryan say why you should vote for John Stuart Mill

Alan Ryan

Professor Alan Ryan is Warden of New College, Oxford University and formerly Professor of Politics at Princeton Univeristy. He is a fellow of the British Academy. His many books include: The Philosophy of John Stuart Mill (Third edition 2005); A History of Political Philosophy (2001); J.S.Mill (1975); Liberal Anxieties and Liberal Education (1999). He has edited publications such as Utilitarianism and Other Essays by Mill and Benthan (1987); The Idea of Freedom (1979); and has contributed essays on J.S.Mill to publications such as Founding Fathers of Social Sciences (1978) and Mill in a Liberal Landscape (1997).

 
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