Response to Mill’s Autobiography

In chapter five of John Stewart Mill’s Autobiography, he explains in detail the reasons behind a long period of depression he suffered through. Mill goes step by step through the process of recognition he went through himself of realizing his unhappiness was extremely prevalent and then attempting to find out why. He claims that associations that we make toward an idea for whatever direct or indirect reason can greatly influence our outlook on life. At least the associations Mill made during his life made him believe that they took away from his general happiness.

He continues to create and explain a complicated theory of a series of events and recognitions that led to his life-altering transformation that he speaks of very quickly into chapter five. When Mill reached the point of wanting to change the way he was living life, he brings up the concept of analysis. He says that “[analysis] enables us mentally to separate ideas which we have only casually clung together” (paragraph 5). He believed that any “mental and moral feelings” that a person possessed existed within them not by natural ties, but by associations, by “clinging of pleasurable or painful ideas to those things” (5). Essentially, Mill lost track of his happiness by trying to be happy in things virtually unrelated to himself. As words of caution, he suggests that analyzing something you have strong convictions about can allow you to see why you feel that way and then decide whether that object or idea is worthy of the feelings you previously held.

In a complex manner, it seems as if Mill is using this chapter of his autobiography to discuss his theories on life and his advice to anyone who has lost the happiness in his life. Mill also establishes with the title of chapter five and then shortly into the first paragraph that this time of depression and subsequent transformation greatly changed and improved himself not only as a person but also as a writer: A Crisis in My Mental History. One Stage Onward.

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