Reading Questions: Mill’s Autobiography

John Stuart Mill, Autobiography ch. V, 1-12

Mill (1806-1873) is perhaps best known as a political philosopher, author of On Liberty and The Subjection of Women. A child of the Utilitarian philosopher James Mill, John Stuart Mill’s early childhood education was something of an experiment in Utilitarian philosophy—and by most measures it was a remarkable success, as the younger Mill began studying Greek by the age of three and both Latin and geometry by eight. As he recounts in his Autobiography, however, he later came to believe that this educational regime had taken a toll on him as he fell into a deep depression in his early twenties. The selections we are reading focus on the period of his depression and recovery. As you read this section, you may want to consider the following questions:

What metaphors for the self does Mill employ, and to what effect?

What is the specific relationship he imagines between his education and his mental state? (And, are we subject to the same problems?)

Although Mill is not as closely identified with Utilitarianism as his father, he still employs Utilitarian philosophy throughout his writing. What do you know about Utilitarianism, and what can you infer from his writing? How does he think about the concept of value?

Why does Mill think his depression is important? What is the relationship he imagines between his personal crisis and the state of humanity? What leads him to this belief?