The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill which includes On Liberty, the Subjection of Women and Utilitarianism written by legendary English philosopher and political theorist John Stuart Mill is widely considered to be three of the greatest books of all time. These great classics will surely attract a whole new generation of John Stuart Mill readers. For many, On Liberty, the Subjection of Women and Utilitarianism is required reading for various courses and curriculums. And for others who simply enjoy reading timeless pieces of classic literature, the combination of these three gems by John Stuart Mill is highly recommended. Published by Classic Books America and beautifully produced, The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill: On Liberty, the Subjection of Women and Utilitarianism would make an ideal gift and it should be a part of everyone's personal library. ... Read more
Customer Reviews (10)
This collects three of John Stuart Mill's best-known and most influential essays:On Liberty, Utilitarianism, and The Subjection of Women. The main topics are different, but the essays are tightly connected - not only written close together but fitting to a greater or lesser extent the ambitious philosophical system outlined in Mill's A System of Logic. His life project was essentially to adapt the utilitarian moral/political philosophy inherited from Jeremy Bentham via his father James Mill to mid-Victorian social problems. This involved significant changes and substantial liberalizing, making Mill a classical liberalism exponent and strong forerunner of all subsequent liberal ideals and practices. Together and individually, the essays have had an immense impact on political, moral, philosophical, and economic thought. Reading them together is instructive and interesting. The writings are also held together by Mill's consistently lucid, smooth, and articulate style. This is a pleasant surprise given his fearsomely learned reputation. He relies almost exclusively on words the average reader understands, and his prose is remarkably readable a century and a half later, lacking the overblown floweriness and excessive stiltedness that now make much Victorian writing, especially non-fiction, insufferably dull.
On Liberty is a profound and engaging philosophical and practical defense of personal liberty, epitomized by the famous Harm Principle that all are free to do as they wish provided it does not harm others. It is the state's job to ensure the former right is upheld and the latter transgression punished. Mill's argument is very strong - convincing not only as an inherent right but also as a practical advantage to individuals and society. This is probably now his most famous work, and it is very easy to see why; his argument is not only compelling philosophically but widely applicable and, at about 140 pages, easily read by nearly all. Everyone from pure philosophers to political theorists to practical politicians to general readers can find something to like and learn.
Utilitarianism is Mill's most direct attempt to refine his inherited doctrine. Even more concise than On Liberty, this also essentially picks up where it left off, delving into the practical problem of how to deal with conflicting liberties. Mill retains the core utilitarian tenet that what brings the most happiness for the most people should be acted on - a very appealing doctrine in itself and put forth more palatably and persuasively than by the prior generation. However, utilitarianism's many critics will find little to convince them; however ideally attractive, many practical problems arise when issues such as relative happiness and harm turn up, as well as the thorny problem of how to enforce utilitarianism and punish transgressions. Mill makes some headway, covering nearly all conceivable ground in general principles but leaving much practical application unaddressed. It may be the most spirited utilitarianism defense ever but unfortunately is not complete, however admirable in many ways.
The Subjection deals exclusively with a subject at least implied in the prior essays - female oppression. This classic essay is the culmination of an issue Mill had been passionately involved in since youth, when he was arrested for distributing literature about contraception. It is the most important, famous, and influential feminist text between Mary Wollstonecraft's Vindication of the Rights of Woman and Betty Friedan's The Feminine Mystique, coming about halfway between them. That it was written by a man, one born to a substantial amount of privilege and who was around very few women until adulthood at that, is of course all the more incredible. Going well beyond his prior call for suffrage, it pushes for nothing less than full equality, not even stopping at legal equality but valiantly trying to change thought and custom. Mill's suffrage arguments are numerous and near-irrefutable. He has the noble distinction of being the first MP to propose female suffrage - in the 1860s! He would surely be glad to know the substantial progress since made, however disappointed - if not surprised - he may have been to know it would take sixty years to be realized.
However, the vast majority of the essay deals with the rest of female oppression, a far more formidable barrier - one that, indeed, has sadly still not been fully crossed. The arguments are again very strong. Following a short historical overview of female oppression and a blunt survey of its then current forms, Mill proceeds to demolish its basis. In perhaps the most brilliant and admirable application of utilitarianism ever, he convincingly shows that female oppression is not only a great evil to women but also to men and all of society. He uses many examples and arguments to show that ending it is both a moral necessity and a prescription for many social ills. The many later advances have proven much of what he said, even if he was perhaps too optimistic in some respects. It is a sad comment on human progress that several of the ideals he passionately and articulately argued for, such as equality of intellect in marriage, are still uncommon and even scorned.
Though Subjection is admitted even by Mill's many detractors to be his argumentative tour de force, it has a few limitations. First, one of his main arguments is that Victorian - nay, all historical - assumptions about inherent differences between men and women, as well as the latter's inferiority, are premature because women had never existed in a state of social equality with men. This is certainly true as far as it goes - indeed, irrefutable at the time. Though he argues forcefully for equality in any situation, he does not even address the substantial question of what, if anything, should or must be done if inherent differences are found. This defect was then nothing more than abstract and, in fact, very subservient to the cause of advancing female rights. However, the near-equality women now have in developed countries means we must look at the issue somewhat differently. The question of inherent differences, much less relative superiority, is still far from answered - may indeed be even less clear. Even so, many of the issues Mill left unaddressed because moot are now very real, even pressing. They may leave his central arguments untouched - one would in fact be very hard-pressed to find a better argument for female equality anywhere -, but the essay is certainly more incomplete now, though still substantially valuable. Finally, though Mill's liberalism on the question is almost unbelievable for a man of his time and place, some of his statements and suggestions, not least his claim that the arrangement of man as breadwinner/woman as domestic engineer - to use the (I believe) currently politically correct term - probably is best after all, will rankle current feminists. To be fair, he does not say it prescriptively - indeed refrains from ruling anything out for women in any respect -, but Victorianism's ugly specter sneaking in even here is bound to disturb some. This of course hardly negates the rest, and The Subjection is still - and surely always will be - essential for anyone even remotely interested in women's struggle.
Anyone curious about Mill or any of these issues must read these essays.
Probably the Worst Printing of Any Book I Have Ever Purchased
Perhaps I received by mistake a bad printing, but this book's errors are far too many to list in a review of this length. They include:
1) No introduction, notes, index, or indeed any pages that do not contain the text of the book, save the title page.
2) A typo-per-page ratio rivaled by 2nd-grade essays, appearing to insist that "t" is a word in the English language.
3) Multiple printing errors, causing several sections to be printed multiple times. I have no guarantee that the entire text of these works is in fact contained in the book.
4) Extremely uncomfortable margins that give the feel of an edition produced by a press more accustomed to printing single sheets of paper than books.
5) The lack of any names inside the book whom I could hold accountable for such a farcical edition of a classic writer being released.
If you think I'm making any of this up, just look at the top of the book's amazon page at the product description. It is by far the most poorly written "professional" description of a book I have ever come across--and that is the exact text that appears on the back of my book.
Do yourself a favor and buy any edition of Mill's work but this one.
Classic Books America Edition is Riddled With Errors!
I bought the Classic Books America paperback entitled The Basic Writings of John Stuart Mill, my intent being to read The Subjection of Women, one of the three works by Mill included here. The first two pages had three sentences that were either missing words or otherwise garbled. there are many editions of Mill available - don't buy this one!
Every Politician Should Read This
These three (fairly long) essays on the liberty of the individual, practical ethics, and the role of women are absolutely fundamental. Though written in the mid-19th-century, Mill still has a message for today, and that for three reasons:
(1) He was ahead of his time and his thoughts helped shape our society. By reading him, we are looking at and appreciating our foundation.
(2) His lucid thoughts are a good reminder not to lose our values when we (and especially our governments) are in danger of doing so by unnecessarily infringing on the liberty of the individual.
(3) Some of his critiques are even more applicable today than back then. For example, Mill shows that technological progress, too, can be an infringement on individuality. Said he,
"The circumstances which surround different classes and individuals, and shape their characters, are daily becoming more assimilated. Formerly, different ranks, different neighbourhoods, different trades and professions, lived in what might be called different worlds; at present, to a great degree in the same. Comparatively speaking, they now read the same things, listen to the same things, see the same things, go to the same places, have their hopes and fears directed to the same objects, have the same rights and liberties, and the same means of asserting them. Great as are the differences of position which remain, they are nothing to those which have ceased. And the assimilation is still proceeding. All the political changes of the age promote it, since they all tend to raise the low and to lower the high. Every extension of education promotes it, because education brings people under common influences, and gives them access to the general stock of facts and sentiments. Improvements in the means of communication promote it, by bringing the inhabitants of distant places into personal contact, and keeping up a rapid flow of changes of residence between one place and another."
Reading the same things, listening to the same things, seeing and doing and thinking the same things - that is even more true today than in the 19th century. I think it's safe to say that Mill would have been horrified at much of today's pop culture, pop thinking, and pop politics. Horrified not as some kind of self-righteous purist, but as someone who believed in the value of individuality and who saw individuality destroyed by pop sameness.
One area in which he applied this danger of sameness was education. For me, this is especially interesting, since I live in Germany. For various reasons, my wife and I want to homeschool our children, which is illegal here. Germany does not just have mandatory education, but mandatory *schooling* (a holdover from Hitler, by the way).
Now this is what Mill said about sameness vs. individuality in education:
"If the government would make up its mind to require for every child a good education, it might save itself the trouble of providing one. It might leave to parents to obtain the education where and how they pleased, and content itself with helping to pay the school fees of the poorer classes of children, and defraying the entire school expenses of those who have no one else to pay for them. The objections which are urged with reason against State education, do not apply to the enforcement of education by the State, but to the State's taking upon itself to direct that education: which is a totally different thing.
"That the whole or any large part of the education of the people should be in State hands, I go as far as any one in deprecating. All that has been said of the importance of individuality of character, and diversity in opinions and modes of conduct, involves, as of the same unspeakable importance, diversity of education. A general State education is a mere contrivance for moulding people to be exactly like one another: and as the mould in which it casts them is that which pleases the predominant power in the government, whether this be a monarch, a priesthood, an aristocracy, or the majority of the existing generation, in proportion as it is efficient and successful, it establishes a despotism over the mind, leading by natural tendency to one over the body.
"An education established and controlled by the State should only exist, if it exist at all, as one among many competing experiments, carried on for the purpose of example and stimulus, to keep the others up to a certain standard of excellence. Unless, indeed, when society in general is in so backward a state that it could not or would not provide for itself any proper institutions of education, unless the government undertook the task: then, indeed, the government may, as the less of two great evils, take upon itself the business of schools and universities, as it may that of joint stock companies, when private enterprise, in a shape fitted for undertaking great works of industry, does not exist in the country.
"But in general, if the country contains a sufficient number of persons qualified to provide education under government auspices, the same persons would be able and willing to give an equally good education on the voluntary principle, under the assurance of remuneration afforded by a law rendering education compulsory, combined with State aid to those unable to defray the expense."
Before I end up quoting the whole essay on Liberty, let me draw rein here.
As for the other two essays, in "The Subjection of Women," Mill mainly says (I paraphrase), "Why should we deny women certain rights and positions on the ground that they are supposedly unfit for them? If they are unfit, they will prove their unfitness by trying. If they succeed, they succeed. This means that forbidding them rights is completely superfluous if they are not equal to the task and completely unjust if they are equal."
And the point of the essay "Utilitarianism" is not, as I had previously thought, a justification of the means by the end. It is not a kind of morality that, because it teaches the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people, inevitably leads to the tyranny of the majority over the minority. In fact, like the essay on Liberty, it is a plea for the opposite: for a society that respects and protects the individual as much as possible.
Needless to say, it was a great read. I wish every politician in the world made this their bed-time literature. Come to think of it, it wouldn't hurt to lose a little individuality by *everyone* reading this book.
Mill has a point
"On Liberty," "The Subjection of Women," and "Utilitarianism" contain important information on human liberty. It's also important for the world of today because most or us are sick and tired of racism and government suppression. John Stuart Mill talks of the individual's rights in "On Liberty," the women's rights in "The Subjection of Women," and government control in "Utilitarianism". He makes good points on many things, including marriage, trade, freedom of religion, etc. Now, the author's writing is complex, so a dictionary MUST be handy. And a few parts don't really make sense (the notes do help a lot). But all in all, the basic writings of Mill shouldn't be forgotten.
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